Climate change is the transformation of
climate patterns in different parts of the world. It occurs mainly due to a
combination of Earth’s position relative to the sun and the properties of Earth’s
atmosphere. Recent climate changes are largely accredited to increased levels
of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Variations in the amount of solar
energy reaching Earth, changes in the reflectivity of the atmosphere, and
changes in the greenhouse effect are all key factors as well. Climate changes
that took place prior to the Industrial Revolution can all be explained by natural
causes, but recent changes cannot be attributed to natural causes alone. It is
instead probable that human activities have been a driving force of that
warming.

Natural
long-term climate change is a type of climate change that has been happening
since the earliest Earth history. It functions on time frames that are often
millions of years long. According to the earliest records of the solar system,
the Sun was approximately one-third less luminous. Therefore, the temperature
on the surface of Earth was much lower than it is today. Changes in solar
lumosity “have been significant in Earth history and will be significant again
in the future.”1

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Medium
and short-term climate change are also important aspects of climate change. Differences
in Earth’s orbit around the Sun make the climate colder and warmer. These
cycles, called Milankovitch cycles, happen over the course of 10,000 to 100,000
years. They are related to the withdrawals and increases of the glaciers over
the course of Earth history. Changes in ocean circulation are also crucial to
climate change. They can drastically change patterns in the distribution of
heat on the planet. Many ocean currents are “driven by differences in temperature
and salinity of ocean waters, and these currents form a pattern of global
circulation known as thermohaline circulation.”2
Alterations in the pattern of thermohaline circulation can happen over as
little as 5 or 10 years, transitioning warm landscapes into cold ones or
melting tundra-like continents in a short period of time.

            Humans
also contribute significantly to climate change. Human-produced greenhouse
gases such as carbon dioxide caused much of the escalation in temperatures over
the past half century. “Few scientists would disagree that the planet has been
warming dramatically over the past century and that human contributions to
climate change have been accelerating to critical levels as the world becomes increasingly
industrialized.” As a result, the sea level is rising due to melting glaciers,
snow, and ice caps, as well as thermal expansion of ocean water.

            Some
of the effects of climate change have yet to be discovered, but it is accepted
that global temperatures will continue to heighten. Over the next century,
scientists estimate that the average temperature will rise 2.5 to 10 degrees
Fahrenheit. The increases in temperature will have advantageous impacts in some
areas of the world and be detrimental in others.

1 Kusky

2 Kusky, p. 20.

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