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The Politics of Climate Change: Facts

Photograph by Twenty20

Climate change is already transforming the Earth. The loss of sea ice has caused oceans to rise. Countries are experiencing longer and more intense heat waves and droughts. Glaciers have shrunk, animal ranges have shifted and freakish outbreaks—from floods to wildfires—plague the planet. Scientists predict that global temperatures will continue to rise.

What can we do? So far, climate change has not been a prominent topic during election year debates. So what questions should candidates be answering? Before we ask, here are the facts we as humans—who, yes, are the cause of climate change—need to know:

The greenhouse effect is how the Earth is warm enough for humans to stay alive. It's caused by gases that retain heat from sunlight. Without such gases, the average surface temperature of the Earth would be below freezing.

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Though carbon dioxide is vital to living creatures and the photosynthesis of plants (remember, we breathe oxygen, plants breathe CO2), it also contributes more to the greenhouse effect than any other gas related to human activity.

Though the Earth does go through natural cyclical stages of warming and cooling, the warming of the past 50 years has largely been attributed by scientists to greenhouse gases produced by humans.

China is the top emitter of carbon dioxide emissions, followed by the U.S., European Union, India and Russia.

Globally, 13 of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2000.

The countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Senegal and Mozambique.

While 99 percent of all U.S. counties in the country "believe in" global warming, nearly 80 percent of those counties are unconvinced that it is caused "mostly by human activities."

Climate change costs the U.S. over $100 billion each year, largely to cover the consequences of extreme weather.

The U.S. is leading global efforts to address the threat of climate change. Since 2005, the U.S. has reduced its total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.

President Obama has proposed the toughest fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles in U.S. history, requiring an average performance of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Globally, 13 of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2000.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.

Global average temperatures have already increased more than 1.4° Fahrenheit over the past 100 years.

For about every two degrees of warming, we can expect a reduction in crops, more rains and flooding, and a huge increase in areas scorched by wildfires.

The greatest risks to children because of climate change include food shortages, lower air quality, less freshwater supply and conditions favorable to the spread of infectious disease.

Melting ice caps have caused sea levels to rise. More than 100 million people living in coastal regions would be displaced if levels rose by just one yard.

Animals that are very specialized in what they eat or where they live are most endangered. These include polar bears, koalas, penguins and salmon.

The burning of coal, natural gas and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Pregnant women are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including higher risk of infant and maternal mortality, birth complications and poorer reproductive health.

The greatest risks to children because of climate change include food shortages, lower air quality, less freshwater supply and conditions favorable to the spread of infectious disease.

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In December of 2015, the United Nations negotiated the Paris Agreement, a global pact to reduce climate change. The goal of the agreement is to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C.

The Paris agreement will become legally binding if signed by at least 55 countries that produce 55 percent of the world's greenhouse emissions. It is due to enter into force in 2020.

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