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Earth's temperature has gone up 1.4 degrees in the last century. That may not sound like a big deal. But if you've ever fallen through melting ice on a skating pond, you know what difference a few degrees can make.
As Earth heats up, the Sun sucks water from the land, creating droughts in some places. Warmer air absorbs the water like a sponge and then dumps it, big time, flooding other places.
Earth's climate works like a seesaw—hot stuff on one side, cold stuff on the other. The Sun, icebergs, oceans—even small clouds keep the planet's temperatures in balance.
Add weight to one side of the seesaw, and things go whoah! pretty quickly. For instance, greenhouse gases trap heat. Each second, cars and factories add more than a million pounds of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. That's a lot of weight to add to one side of a seesaw.
When you're driving a car, you can slow down just like that. When you're driving a planet's atmosphere, you need to slow down decades ahead.
Today's greenhouse gases will affect Earth's climate for another hundred years. We're committing ourselves to a long, hot future. How hot depends on how fast we put on the brakes.
Most of us tend to notice the things that are in front of us, right now. But climate change happens over many years, even centuries. And to measure those changes, you need to look at the globe as a whole.
So, yeah, it might be cold where we are today. But when we look at the Earth as a whole, the climate is warmer than it used to be on most days. And the forecast for the rest of the century is for a lot more heat to come.
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The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research under sponsorship by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.