20 small acts to fight climate change

On Wednesday, April 22, people from around the world will celebrate Earth Day. The day marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in April 1970, when 20 million Americans took to the streets to demand a healthy, sustainable environment.

In today’s social-distanced world, Earth Day 2020 is going digital. Despite the novel coronavirus, it’s still possible to join the fight against climate change—even if you have to start at home.

The challenges can’t be understated. Since 2015, the United States has left the Paris accord and reports from around the world show that countries are not moving fast enough to hit those targets. The situation may seem bleak, but there’s still hope. More than ever before, individual actions—including mobilizing for political transformation—can make a difference.

20 Small Acts to Fight Climate Change

Curbed searched communities across the country and around the world, consulted experts and advocates, and pulled from our voluminous coverage on sustainable cities to create a go-to guide for climate action.

Our goal is to provide practical, implementable advice on an individual level, as well as to illustrate the power of collective commitments.

Think of it as your must-do action plan for this year, and every other year.

20 Small Acts to Fight Climate Change

1. Add solar panels to your house.

How we can combat climate change

Last year’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sounded the alarm: The world has until 2030 to implement “rapid and far-reaching” changes to our energy, infrastructure and industrial systems to avoid 2 degrees Celsius of warming, which could be catastrophic.

But the scale of the challenge can appear so overwhelming that it’s hard to know where to start. The Post asked activists, politicians and researchers for climate policy ideas that offer hope.

Radical change from one state, or even the whole United States, won’t address climate change on its own, but taking these actions could help start the planet down a path toward a better future.

11 policy ideas to protect the planet

Set local emissions goals

By Peter Buckland and Brandi Robinson

In June 2017, the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors passed a resolution recognizing the risk and threats of failing to draw down carbon emissions.

As a local government in Pennsylvania, the third-largest greenhouse-gas emitter in the United States despite having a right to a clean environment guaranteed in its state constitution, we knew we had to act.

Our resolution calls for carbon neutrality as soon as feasible but no later than 2050.

Peter Buckland is the chair of the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors. Brandi Robinson is the chair of the Ferguson Township Climate Action Committee.

Passing the resolution provided the opportunity and, arguably, the imperative to integrate emissions impacts into all township decision-making.

By setting such a goal at the local level, governments can figure out what solutions fit their community’s needs and work within their state’s legislative landscape.

For Ferguson Township, this has meant 100 percent wind power, designing a LEED Gold public works building, working on zoning changes to incentivize green building, low-impact stormwater infrastructure, and working with local school kids, teachers and families to plant trees.

Ferguson Township also created a Climate Action Committee that has conducted a municipal-wide greenhouse-gas inventory. Inventorying emissions establishes a credible baseline from which we can measure our progress.

But equally important and less easily quantifiable benefits lie beyond this policy’s tangible and predictable outcomes. Effective climate action plans require that residents, public officials, businesses and other stakeholders cultivate trusting working relationships with one another.

The policy directive created the inspiration and framework for change, but all of us in Ferguson Township must embrace it and take action to achieve results.

Be smart about your air conditioner

By Durwood Zaelke

Air conditioners have a high impact on the climate, both in the energy and refrigerants they use — super greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons.

HFCs are short-lived pollutants, but they have an impact on global warming that’s hundreds to thousands of times more potent than that of carbon dioxide by mass. Yet as the world gets hotter, air-conditioner demand is growing, with experts projecting we’ll have 4.

5 billion units by 2050, up from about 1.2 billion today. Some states, including California, are taking action to address this problem now.

Durwood Zaelke is the founder and president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.

Globally, a phasedown of HFC refrigerants could avoid up to 0.5 degree Celsius of warming by 2100; the Montreal Protocol now requires countries to reduce the use of these chemicals starting in January. Parallel efforts to improve the efficiency of air conditioners can double this climate benefit, with the potential to avoid up to a full degree Celsius by the end of the century.

In addition to buying only super-efficient air conditioners — which over the lifetime of the unit will save you money and reduce climate impacts and air pollutants — you can encourage your state legislators to follow the model of California, which requires a 40 percent reduction in HFCs by 2030.

Its latest efforts further prohibit refrigerants with high global warming potential in new air conditioners and commits to supporting other states to adopt similar prohibitions. New York, Maryland and Connecticut have followed suit, and other states can, too.

You can also encourage your legislators to require the highest energy efficiency standards for air conditioners, and to use their buying power to insist on only the most efficient equipment.

Encourage electric vehicles

By Constantine Samaras

20 Small Acts to Fight Climate Change

Americans are driving more miles in the same old cars, and because we use fuels made from oil to power most of our transportation system, moving people and goods around is the largest source of U.S. carbon emissions.

Because we use little oil to make electricity, and the power grid is getting cleaner as natural gas and renewables replace coal, electrifying as much of the transportation sector as possible could speed up an energy transition.

Constantine Samaras is an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and a fellow at the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University.

There is a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 to get people to buy electric cars, but it is starting to phase out for some types of cars.

Combined with incentives in some states, these tax credits have been helpful, but electric vehicles still make up only a few percent of all vehicle sales.

Getting more electric vehicles on the road requires expanded federal tax credits and making them available for buyers when they’re at the car dealership, rather than in their tax returns the following year.

This would help more low- and middle-income car buyers make the jump to electric. The federal government could also once again offer tax credits or direct infrastructure grants to local governments and firms to build a robust charging-station network so that these new electric car owners have a place to plug in.

State and local policymakers can mirror these efforts but can also accelerate transportation electrification in other ways.

There are more than 8 million fleet vehicles in the United States; governments could electrify a majority of their vehicles and induce businesses to follow their lead.

State and local governments could also experiment with electric-only delivery zones and use other innovative incentives to encourage electrification of freight, shared hailed vehicles and, eventually, automated vehicles.

Creating a transportation system where we can move around without oil is going to be challenging. But we’ll get cars that are more fun to drive, cleaner air and a climate we can recognize.

Be smart about nuclear power

By Steve Clemmer

My organization, the Union of Concerned Scientists, recently released an analysis offering a sensible way for the United States to help combat climate change: Keep safely operating nuclear plants running until they can be replaced by other low-carbon technologies.

Steve Clemmer is the director of energy research and analysis for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ climate and energy program.

20 Small Acts to Fight Climate Change

An estimated tens of thousands of people showed up in Washington, DC in the spring of 2017—in solidarity with an additional nearly 400 sister marches that spread across the globe—to have their voices heard in support of taking bigger steps toward protecting our planet – and our future – from the now inevitable onset of climate change. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, spanning back over the past 150 years, the United States is the number one cumulative producer of carbon dioxide worldwide and still produces 16% of the current CO2 emissions despite making up just 4% of global population. China currently produces the most CO2 of any country (with the US in second) but the US more than doubles those emissions per capita.

Despite our dominating role in CO2 emissions, the U.S. as a nation has been slow to adopt firm and lasting measures to address the realities of climate change. The large and diverse participation in the Climate March suggests that people are ready for that change.

This readiness perhaps comes in part because people in the US and worldwide are already starting to notice first hand the changes brought on by a warming climate.

According to the National Climate Assessment, a 2014 report produced by more than 300 experts together with a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee and reviewed by the public, experts, federal agencies, and a panel of National Academy of Sciences, US residents are already regularly observing longer, hotter summers,  more intense rain storms, more acidic oceans (sea water which is more corrosive), longer, more severe seasonal allergies, and differences in plants species that thrive in their yard or neighborhood.

Given how steeply global average temperatures are already rising, large-scale policy changes and solutions are necessary to move toward a cooler climate. But does that mean that there’s nothing we can do as individuals other than hope for the best? Let’s look at 20 ways you can have a positive impact on reducing carbon emissions and safeguarding the future of our planet.

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As an Individual

1. Be informed. At the start of 2017, the US Environmental Protection Agency provided extensive online information on the results of decades of scientific studies on the impacts and risks of climate change.

Now, however, that information has been entirely removed and replaced with a note stating that “we are currently updating our website to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt.

” However, much of the information is still available (although not maintained and updated) via snapshots of the previous pages. The Canadian government also maintains a site with basic climate change information.

Knowing what to expect from rising global temperatures can help you make more informed choices to protect yourself and your family.

2. Choose your information carefully. Despite our shared planet, climate change has surprisingly become a controversial issue so always check your sources.

Does a source make claims without citing the research? Who funded that research? For example, if a source cites reliable studies showing that CO2 emissions or global average temperatures are on the rise but suggests that humans are not the cause, does that source propose any mitigating or adaptive action? What is the real motivation behind a call not to act if we can agree that the threat exists?

3. Contact your representatives both locally and nationally to find out their stance on the climate change issues that matter most to you. Ask them, for example, what plans they have to inspire economic innovation or to create new jobs in the face of a changing climate.

Do they have plans aimed at mitigation (for example, providing incentives for individuals and corporations to lower CO2 emissions through carbon taxes) or aimed at adaptation (i.e.

, preparations for cities that are vulnerable to sea level rise? If you’re not impressed by their response, tell them so and consider that response when they are up for re-election.

4. Donate to causes that are working to address the climate change issues that affect or matter to you. Are you a fan of camping? Donate to a national or state park. Do you prefer to keep it local? Find organizations that are advocating for river or beach clean up, wildlife preservation, or cleaner air in your town or city.

5. Tell others what you are doing. Sometimes the hardest part of tackling issues that seem as large as climate change is taking that first step. Let others know that you are making that step and that they can do it too.


20 things we could do right now to reduce climate change

There is a lot of fear and uncertainty going around about the future of our planet.

Sea levels are rising, we could soon face a “Hothouse Earth” scenario and severe flooding from torrential rains is expected to get worse. If the atmosphere keeps heating up, some towns could even be threatened by wayward icebergs.

But Chad Frischmann does not think things are so bleak.

Sharing the full story, not just the headlines

He is vice president of an initiative called Project Drawdown: a group of scientists, researchers, and writers who have calculated how to cool the planet over the next 30 years by reducing the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. The two-pronged plan is designed to both cut planet-warming emissions from fossil fuels and also suck more carbon dioxide into the ground, largely via photosynthesis.

“Drawdown is a new way of thinking about and acting on global warming,” Mr Frischmann told an audience gathered at TED's New York conference stage last week. As he spoke, world leaders were gathered on the other side of Manhattan at the United Nations, debating the best ways to solve extreme poverty, disease, and malnutrition.

Filmmakers use 100-year-old photograph to map effect on climate change on a glacier

Mr Frischmann said solving those issues and tackling climate change are part of the same puzzle. He is convinced his drawdown plan can improve lives around world by feeding the hungry and educating young minds, all while reducing the Earth's temperature a bit for future generations.

He listed the top 20 ways everyone — consumers, policy makers, food growers and energy providers — could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the solutions he proposed are already in use; these include universal education, family planning, sustainable refrigerants, better farming methods and more wind power.

“We have real, workable technology and practices that can achieve drawdown,” Mr Frischmann said. The problem is that the necessary changes to the ways we put food on the table and generate energy aren't happening fast enough.

“What we need is to accelerate the implementation,” he said.

A wish list for the planet

Individual action on climate change

What people can do personally to help stop global warming
A demonstrator at the People's Climate March (2017).

Individual action on climate change can include personal choices in many areas, such as diet, means of long- and short-distance travel, household energy use, consumption of goods and services, and family size. Individuals can also engage in local and political advocacy around issues of climate change.

As of 2020[update], emissions budgets are uncertain but estimates of the annual average carbon footprint per person required to meet the target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees by 2100 are all below the world average of about 5 tonnes CO2-equivalent.[1][2][3][4]

The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report emphasises that behavior, lifestyle and cultural change have a high mitigation potential in some sectors, particularly when complementing technological and structural change.[5]:20 In general, higher consumption lifestyles have a greater environmental impact, with the richest 10% of people emitting about half the total lifestyle emissions.[6][7]

Several scientific studies have shown that when people, especially those living in developed countries but more generally including all countries, wish to reduce their carbon footprint, there are a few key “high-impact” actions they can take such as:[8][9] having one fewer child (58.

6 tonnes),[dubious – discuss]
living car-free (2.4 tonnes), avoiding one round-trip transatlantic flight (1.6 tonnes), and eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tonnes).

These differ significantly from much popular advice for “greening” one's lifestyle, which seem to fall mostly into the “low-impact” category.[8][9]

Some commentators have argued that individual actions as consumers and “greening personal lives” are insignificant in comparison to collective action, especially actions that hold the fossil fuel corporations accountable for producing 71% of carbon emissions since 1988.[10][11][12]

Others say that individual action leads to collective action, and emphasize that “research on social behavior suggests lifestyle change can build momentum for systemic change.”[13]

Suggested individual target amount

Some estimates of the annual carbon footprint per person required to meet the Paris Agreement are: 4.5 tonnes by 2030,[1] 3 tonnes[3] and 2.1 tonnes by 2050.

[4] As of 2020[update] this is somewhat more than the average person in India, somewhat less than the average person in France or China, and vastly less than the average person in the USA or Australia. The global average annual carbon footprint per person in the late 2010s was 0.7 tonnes CO2eq food, 1.1 tonnes from the home, 0.

8 tonnes transport and 0.8 tonnes other.[14] However within a country the emissions of a rich person tend to be much more than that of a poor person.[15][16]

Family size

The examples and perspective in this section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. You may improve this section, discuss the issue on the talk page, or create a new section, as appropriate. (November 2019) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and other resources.

—William J. Ripple, lead author of the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice, BioScience, 2017.[17]

Although having fewer children is arguably the individual action that most effectively reduces a person's climate impact, the issue is rarely raised, and it is arguably controversial due to its private nature. Even so, ethicists,[18][19] some politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,[20] and others[9][21][22][23] have started discussing the climate implications associated with reproduction.

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It has been claimed that not having an additional child saves “an average for developed countries”[a]
of 58.6 [b]tonnesCO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year[8][dubious – discuss

Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children

The greatest impact individuals can have in fighting climate change is to have one fewer child, according to a new study that identifies the most effective ways people can cut their carbon emissions.

The next best actions are selling your car, avoiding long flights, and eating a vegetarian diet. These reduce emissions many times more than common green activities, such as recycling, using low energy light bulbs or drying washing on a line. However, the high impact actions are rarely mentioned in government advice and school textbooks, researchers found.

Carbon emissions must fall to two tonnes of CO2 per person by 2050 to avoid severe global warming, but in the US and Australia emissions are currently 16 tonnes per person and in the UK seven tonnes.

“That’s obviously a really big change and we wanted to show that individuals have an opportunity to be a part of that,” said Kimberly Nicholas, at Lund University in Sweden and one of the research team.

The new study, published in Environmental Research Letters, sets out the impact of different actions on a comparable basis. By far the biggest ultimate impact is having one fewer child, which the researchers calculated equated to a reduction of 58 tonnes of CO2 for each year of a parent’s life.

The figure was calculated by totting up the emissions of the child and all their descendants, then dividing this total by the parent’s lifespan. Each parent was ascribed 50% of the child’s emissions, 25% of their grandchildren’s emissions and so on.

Climate Change in California: Facts, Effects and Solutions

No other state in the U.S. can match what California offers in terms of natural beauty, miles of coastline and idyllic weather. We’re also home to world-renowned entrepreneurs, inventors and dreamers—the kind of people who believe we can do anything once we set our minds to it.

It’s easy to see why we love living in California. But the California we love is threatened.

 Climate change is already contributing to increased air pollution, deforestation, ocean acidification, more wildfires, droughts, heat waves and sea-level rise, which threaten our health, our livelihoods and our future.

Scientists and other experts agree that we need to reduce carbon pollution if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and there’s no time to waste. We have to find ways to work together to make real, substantive changes to protect what we have today and preserve our natural resources for future generations.

So how do we achieve such an ambitious goal? It will take effort and dedication from every Californian and company doing business here. We all need to play a part in successfully increasing energy efficiency, embracing clean energy and supporting clean technology.

In achieving these goals, we’ll also enjoy the benefits that come with being early adopters of a clean-energy future. Besides fighting the effects of climate change, our collective efforts can boost our local economy by keeping clean-energy investments, jobs and innovation in California.

There are things each of us can do to minimize our environmental impact. In California, our biggest areas of individual impact are related to reducing our energy use in homes, cars and businesses, while better leveraging the cleaner energy resources available across the state.

Energy Upgrade California® is making it easier for you to reduce your carbon footprint by providing you with a variety of ways to save energy and water. Your utility and municipality may also provide rebates and other resources to help you take action.

It doesn’t take much to make a huge difference if all of us get involved.

If every American home replaced one incandescent light bulb with a new ENERGY STAR energy-saving LED bulb, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that we could save enough energy to power three million homes for a year, save about $680 million in annual energy costs and eliminate nine billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

The California Climate Credit is part of California’s efforts to fight climate change. The credit is from a state government program that requires power plants and other large industries that emit greenhouse gases to buy carbon pollution permits from auctions managed by the California Air Resources Board.

Science and Climate

The seas are rising. The foods we eat and take for granted are threatened. Ocean acidification is increasing. Ecosystems are changing, and for some, that could spell the end of certain regions the way we have known them. And while some species are adapting, for others, it’s not that easy.

Evidence suggests many of these extreme climate changes are connected to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere — more often than not, the result of human activities.

Search below for key terms and definitions related to climate change.


Aerosols are small suspended particles in a gas. Scientists can detect them in the atmosphere. They range in size from one nanometer (one billionth of a meter) to 100 micrometers (one millionth of a meter).

Antarctic sea ice

Antarctic sea ice is nearly a geographic opposite of its Arctic counterpart because Antarctica is a landmass covered in ice surrounded by an ocean, and the Arctic is an ocean of sea ice surrounded by land.


Anthropogenic describes a process or result generated by human beings.


Aquaculture uses a body of water for the cultivation of plants and animals. (Compare to agriculture, which uses land to cultivate plants and animals.) Ponds, lakes, rivers, and the ocean serve as places to breed, rear and harvest aquatic species.


Aquifer is water-bearing rock from which water can be pumped.

Arctic sea ice

Arctic sea ice is an integral part of the Arctic Ocean and an important indicator of climate change. During winter’s dark months, sea ice will typically cover the majority of the Arctic Ocean.


Biofuels are renewable fuels derived from biological materials, such as algae and plants, that can be regenerated. This distinguishes them from fossil fuels, which are considered nonrenewable. Example of biofuels are ethanol, methanol and biodiesel.

Biogenic emissions

Biogenic emissions are emissions generated by living things.

Biological productivity

Biological productivity is a measure of the amount of plant and animal growth in a defined region and time.


Carbon is a configuration of molecules and an elemental building block of all organisms on Earth.

Carbon cycle

Carbon cycle describes the process by which living things absorb carbon from the atmosphere, sediments and soil, or food. To complete the cycle, carbon returns to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide or methane by respiration, combustion or decay.

Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide is the gas that accounts for about 84 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S. the largest source of carbon dioxide (98 percent) emissions is combustion of fossil fuels. Combustion can be from mobile (vehicles) or stationary sources (power plants). As energy use increases, so do carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon sequestration

Carbon sequestration is the process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in a fixed molecule in soil, oceans or plants. An organism or landscape that stores carbon is called a carbon sink. An organism or landscape that emits carbon is called a carbon source.

For example, soils contain inorganic carbon (calcium carbonate) and organic carbon (humus) and can be either a source or a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide, depending on how landscapes are managed. Because large amounts of carbon are stored in soils, small changes to soil can have major impacts on atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Climate change adaptation

Climate change adaptation refers to the adjustments societies or ecosystems make to limit the negative effects of climate change or to take advantage of opportunities provided by a changing climate. Adaptation can range from farmers planting more drought-resistant crops to coastal communities evaluating how best to protect themselves from sea level.

Climate forcing

Climate forcing refers to how climate affects the physical, chemical and biological attributes of a region.

Climate science

Climate science studies how changing climates affect the natural order on a global level. Rising global temperatures bring with them the potential to raise sea levels to raise sea levels, change precipitation and local climate conditions.


Dimethylsulfide is the most abundant biological sulfur compound emitted to the atmosphere, mostly from phytoplankton, and encourages cloud formation.

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services are the benefits or “services” of an ecosystem to human life, such as clean water and the decomposition of organic matter.


Electrolytes are chemical substances containing free ions that conduct electricity.


Emissions are substances released into the air and are measured by their concentrations, or parts per million, in the atmosphere.


Feedstock is raw material, usually plant or agricultural waste, that can be processed into fuel or energy.

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Glaciers and ice caps form on land. Glaciers accumulate snow, which over time becomes compressed into ice. On average, glaciers worldwide have been losing mass since at least the 1970s.

Global temperature

Global temperature is an average of air temperature recordings from weather stations on land and sea as well as some satellite measurements. Worldwide, 2006-2015 was the warmest decade on record since thermometer-based observations began nearly 150 years ago.

Global warming

In the early 1960s scientists recognized that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was increasing. Later they discovered that methane, nitrous oxide and other gases were rising. Because these gases trap heat and warm the Earth, as a greenhouse traps heat from the sun, scientists concluded that increasing levels of “greenhouse gases” would increase global warming.

Global Warming Potential (GWP)

Global Warming Potential (GWP) is the ability of a greenhouse gas to absorb heat compared to carbon dioxide over a specified period of time, from 20 to 500 years. The timeframe is important because each gas has a different rate at which it is removed from the atmosphere.

For each time period, carbon dioxide is always set at “1”, and other greenhouse gases are compared to carbon dioxide for the same timeframe. For example, the sulfur hexafluoride’s GWP at 20 years is 15,100, meaning it has 15,100 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide in that timeframe.

Greenhouse gases

The main greenhouse gases are water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Water vapor is the most plentiful at about one percent.

The next most plentiful is carbon dioxide at 0.04 percent. The effect of human activity on global water vapor concentrations is too small to be important. The effects of human activity on the other greenhouse gases, however, is large and very important.

These gases are increasing faster than they are removed from the atmosphere.

Hydrologic cycle

Hydrologic cycle is the process by which water moves around the earth. The cycle includes evaporation, precipitation, runoff, condensation, transpiration and infiltration.

Hydrologic model

Hydrologic model is a computer analysis of large amounts of historical data. It helps predict how variables such as temperature, rain, and carbon dioxide levels might affect the hydrologic cycle.

Ice Loss

Ice loss refers to the retreat of sea ice and land ice mass from its historic extents. This retreat of sea ice and land ice is one of two major causes of the current sea level rise.

Ice Sheet

An ice sheet forms on land and extends over tens of thousands of miles. Greenland and Antarctica have vast ice sheets that together contain more than 99 percent of the freshwater ice on Earth. In Greenland, today’s record summer melts bring rapid and widespread ice sheet loss. In Antarctica, the melt is slower and more localized for now.

Ice Shelf

An ice shelf forms from the outflow of land ice and floats on the sea at the land’s edge. It creates a barrier that slows the flow of land ice into the ocean. In the last thirty years, both rapid disintegration of ice shelves and ice shelf collapses have been observed along Canada and the Antarctic Peninsula.


Methane is a gas and represents about 8 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The largest sources are wood burning in stoves and fireplaces, livestock digestive systems, and decomposition in landfills.


Mesoscale is a measure of distance useful for local winds, thunderstorms and tornadoes. It ranges from a few to a few hundred miles.


A micron, also called a micrometer, is one millionth of a meter, or a thousandth of a millimeter. It is a common measure for particulate matter in the atmosphere. Particles measuring only 2.5 microns (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair) lodge deeply into the lungs.

Mitigation potential

Mitigation potential is a measurement of the amount of carbon that can be stored in order to balance the release of carbon. It is important in discussions about power plants and vehicles.


Nano refers to nanometer, one billionth of a meter or a hundred-thousandth of a millimeter.

Nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide is one of six gases addressed by the Kyoto Protocol international agreement and the main regulator of stratospheric ozone. Animal waste and nitrogen fertilization of soil are the largest contributors. Nitrogen emissions have nearly 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide over 100 years.

Ocean acidification

Ocean acidification is the change in ocean chemistry due to decreasing pH levels, or increasing acidity, in seawater.


Ground level ozone is a gas produced through reactions between nitrous oxides (NOX) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when burning coal, gasoline and other fuels. VOCs are found in solvents, paints, hairsprays and more common items. Ozone consists of three oxygen atoms and is the main component of smog.

Stratospheric ozone is a gas found in a layer from six to 25 miles above the Earth’s surface. It acts as a barrier to global warming. Specifically, the ozone layer keeps 95-99% of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation from striking the Earth.

Ozone forming potential

Ozone forming potential is a measure of the reactivity of an individual chemical compound to the presence of other chemicals that form ozone together.

Particulate matter

Particulate matter (PM-10) are aerosols including dust, soot and tiny bits of solid materials that are released and move around in the air.

Sources are burning of diesel fuels, incineration of garbage, mixing and applying fertilizers and pesticides, road construction, steel making, mining, field burning, forest fires, fireplaces and woodstoves.

PM causes eye, nose and throat irritation and respiratory problems.

Polar Vortex

The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air around Earth’s North Pole. The phenomenom typically goes unnoticed by those of us living in lower latitudes except for when, every once in a while, the air pressure and winds shift.

Primary production

Primary production is the production of organic compounds from atmospheric or aquatic carbon dioxide, principally through the process of photosynthesis.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy is energy from sources that will renew themselves within our lifetime. Renewable energy sources include wind, sun, water, biomass (vegetation) and geothermal heat.

Sea ice

Sea ice, both Antarctic and Arctic seas, forms from salty ocean water. Overall, the Earth has lost a mass of sea ice the size of Maryland each year since 1979.

Sea level

Sea level is the average level between high tide and low tide where the surface of the sea meets a shoreline.

Sea level rise

Sea level rise describes an increase in the average level between high tide and low tide where the surface of the sea meets a shoreline.

Seed particles

Seed particles are tiny solid or liquid particles that provide a non-gaseous surface. The surface allows water to make the transition from a vapor to a liquid.

Sediment data

Sediment data are materials and measurements obtained from taking a vertical core of lake bottom sediment and analyzing the layers.

Sensitivity analysis

Sensitivity analysis is an interpretation of different sources of variation in the output of a predictive model.

Solar Cycle

The solar cycle describes the sun’s activity over its eleven-year period of movement and related variations. The cycle was first determined in 1843 by German astronomer Heinrich Schwabe. Scientists are trying to determine how much solar variations affect the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere.

Solar Power

Solar power refers to the energy harnessed from the sun, which can then be transformed into different types of energy, including thermal and electric.


Stratosphere is a layer of the atmosphere nine to 31 miles above the Earth. Ozone in the stratosphere filters out harmful sun rays, including a type of sunlight called ultraviolet B. This type of light causes health and environmental damage.


Synoptic is used to describe a large-scale weather system more than 200 miles across.

Thermochemical technologies

Thermochemical technologies are methods of capturing the energy potential of biomass.

Thermodynamic modules

Thermodynamic modules are the portions of models that predict changes in aerosols due to temperature.


Tillage refers to cultivation of the soil to improve production of crops.

Trace gases

Trace gases make up only one percent of the atmosphere. Most of the atmosphere is made up of nitrogen (78 percent by volume) and oxygen (21 percent by volume).


Transpiration is the evaporation of water into the atmosphere from the leaves and stems of plants. It accounts for approximately 90 percent of all evaporating water.

Transportation Control Measures

Transportation Control Measures describe travel demand management measures to help reduce air pollutants from transportation sources.

Volatile organic compounds

Volatile organic compounds, or volatile organic carbon, are chemical compounds from solids or liquids that are emitted as gases.

VOCs are emitted by thousands of man-made sources including paints, lacquers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials, furnishings, copiers, correction fluids, adhesives, permanent markers, cleaners and disinfectants, fuels, crude oil and cosmetics. Natural sources are trees, termites, cows (ruminants) and agricultural cultivation.

Water column

Water column is the full depth of a lake from the surface to the bottom.



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