Signs of Climate Change

The evidence of climate change is all around us. Here’s a rundown of the dramatic problems we now face, and why we need solutions, not more debate.

| August/September 2011

Climate Change Effects

If left unaddressed, the current signs of climate change will progress into more devastating, permanent effects that will dramatically change our way of life.


Our planet is undergoing dramatic changes right before our eyes. I am concerned about the connection these changes have with climate change, and I believe we can’t ignore the evidence or climate change science any longer. Misinformation and political debate surround this topic, despite consensus among respected scientific societies including the American Meteorological Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To better understand the current phenomena and to better analyze climate-related headlines, let’s start by looking at the basic science of how our planet’s climate works.

Climate Change Science

The sun provides the solar radiation required for Earth to maintain a stable, life-supporting temperature. Solar radiation is cyclical; it stops at night. Earth’s atmosphere contains greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapor), which help maintain the planet’s stable temperatures. These greenhouse gases cloak Earth like a blanket and allow shortwave radiation from the sun to pass through the atmosphere and warm the planet. They also absorb some of Earth’s outgoing radiation and then reradiate some of this absorbed energy — which would otherwise be sent into outer space — back to the Earth’s surface. Without the right mix of greenhouse gases, Earth would be too cold to support life.

Increased concentrations of greenhouse gases are now causing the planet to get warmer. This current warming is primarily the result of human actions, especially the release of carbon dioxide when humans burn carbon-based fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas). The extraction, processing and burning of fossil fuels has created an atmospheric overload of greenhouse gases.

Humans started using fossil fuels as an energy source during the Industrial Revolution. Before then, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide were about 285 parts per million (ppm). In 2009, the level reached 390 ppm — substantially higher than any time in the past 800,000 years. (See the climate change chart in the Image Gallery.) Since 1850, Earth’s surface temperature has risen 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and the 20th century was warmer than any time period in the past 400 years.

The Effects of Climate Change

Climate change is not just about rising temperatures. It is also about other rapid changes happening now. Unless we make drastic adjustments, these changes will make Earth a more hostile place to live. What follows are the signs that climate change is already affecting the planet we live on, and the changes we can expect if global warming continues unchecked.

Sea Level Rise

Rising sea levels are due to thermal expansion of ocean water and melting of continental ice, primarily in Greenland and western Antarctica. The global rate of ice loss since 1990 is more than double the rate of the previous 30 years.

helen wheeling
9/7/2011 5:11:11 PM

Mr. Richard Hilderman, PH.D., should apologize to his parents for wasting their money in college. It is evident he did NOT get the recent report which indicate ALL OF HIS CLAIMS in his article have been proven to be FALSE. The IPCC is WRONG on Climate Change/Global Warming, Al Gore is WRONG and the other 'greenies' who waste mote money than doing good on the idea that the world is in crises.Over 2,000 qualified scientists and meteoroloists across the world now have concrete proof these enviro-terrorists are way off base with their claims of disaster.Hilderman is just another one in a long list of whackos.

9/7/2011 4:45:07 AM

An educated public is esential to democracy:

9/7/2011 1:57:48 AM

Another outstanding article by MEN. I am puzzled that readers of an environmental publication don't care about our environment.

kirt griffin
9/5/2011 9:58:54 AM

How refreshing it is to see other readers have done their homework and question the basis of this article. As Moderator of "It's the Sun", an on-line forum for solar scientists, it is quite clear the Sun is responsible for the changes to our climate. One of our members, Piers Corbyn, does long range weather forecasting. For instance, he forecasted all of the snowstorms to hit New England last year to the day, mostly a month in advance. Three months befor Irene formed he predicted the location and the date she began as well as the path and strength along the way.How does he perform these miracles? The details he guards closely but it is from the data he collects from the Sun and the position of the Moon.It is something like the Farmer's Almanac who also guard their secret formula.It's the S.U.N not the S.U.V.

jason opliger
8/22/2011 4:22:00 PM

I have been reading Mother Earth News for 16 years. I find a lot of articles quite informative and interesting. In your recent article: "Signs of Climate Change" by Richard Hilderman, PH.D., in the August/September 2011 issue, I found it to be interesting, but kind of lacking in credible sources to look at for more information. Interesting none the less. Also in the same article, the picture of the dead forest was not killed by pine beetles. This photo is of Horseshoe Lake in the Inyo National Forest. The forest is in a CO2 kill zone that is caused by underground volcanic activity in the Long Valley Caldera. I know this because I worked there as a forestry technician and was one of many areas I patroled. Just to let you know and it reminds me of home.

larry dean
8/7/2011 8:11:28 PM

As a long-term fan of Mother I am surprised at the slant in this editorial. I would expect a little more caution about an issues that swings trillions of dollars in the balance. Do any of the mathematical models work if applied backward to any prior random time period? No. Do any of the models consider the thermosphere... that large chunk of earth's atmosphere that ranges between 2500 and 4000 degrees? Is this a global warming issue or just Northern Hemisphere? Where are the melting glaciers going? I saw the map of flooding but the ocean levels have not raised. finally... if there is a global warming crisis is the really anything we can do to prevent it outside of killing off large percentage of the human population? I was a debater about 30 years ago and our topic was global cooling and as I recall there was massive agreement in favor of global cooling among the scientists then.

kirt griffin
7/31/2011 1:17:07 PM

"Signs of Climate Change" by Dr.Hilderman should have been titled "Cherry Picking". His ability to pick a piece of data from some point in history was incredible. He describes Climate Change (AGW) in terms of a very tiny portion of the planet's atmosphere, CO2, while ignoring effects of the Sun and the Oceans. He shows a chart where human emmisions dwarf the overall concentration. Concentrations have nothing to do with emmissions. Natural emmisions that dwarf the human contribution is not even discussed. No mention that more than half these emmisions fall to natural sinks. Alarmists like to comment on glaciers melting and other signs of warming but never demonstrate that the warming is man made. There is no proof of this. Dr. Hildman, there used to be a mile of ice over Connecticut but,oh my God, it melted!!! The sea level comment of "0.4" to 0.8"" in the past 3000 years is the peak of cherry picking. Sea level has risen 100 meters in the past 18,000 years. In the last interglacial it was 7 meters higher than today. Did we do that? He also failed to mention that sea level is actually decelerating lately.As for the ice free Arctic, I guess he expects that to happen before the Himalayas melt which was just another IPCC lie. As for extreme weather, NASA determined the past winter storms were unrelated to AGW. ALso, the hurricanes which are currently at a very low level, tornados too, due to cold air masses, are unrelated to AGW according to NASA. It's the Sun!

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