Fast Facts: Climate Change,
Coal, Cars, and Corporate America
- Since pre-industrial times, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 31%. As the concentration of CO2 and other gases grows, more heat is trapped by the atmosphere and less escapes back into space – a phenomenon known as the greenhouse effect. This increase in trapped heat changes the climate, causing altered weather patterns that can bring unusually intense precipitation, dry spells, and more severe storms. [source: UCS]
Once in the atmosphere, CO2 remains there for a long time and the effects of its presence continue to play out. Even if CO2 emissions stabilize at 450 ppm in the next few decades, the Earth's temperature will still continue to increase, causing dangerous climate events. Some ecosystems will be permanently and irreversibly damaged.
Some have tried to deny that humans are responsible for climate change, because the Earth has its own natural cycle of warming and cooling. However, after extensive research throughout the world, scientists are finding that the Earth is warming at an unprecedented rate; the top 10 warmest years in the past century have occurred in the last 15 years. According to NOA, 2010 is on pace to become the hottest year on record. [source: UCS]
Climate change impacts are happening right now, resulting in damage to fragile ecosystems and human communities. The largest known insect infestation in North American history is happening now, says the Canadian Forest Service. Millions of acres of Mountain Pine are dying, turning the once-lush green landscape of British Columbia to a sickly burnt orange, all because of a tiny beetle. Consistently mild winters are resulting in uncontrolled reproduction. The infestation has destroyed more trees than wildfires and logging, drastically inhibiting the forest’s future growth and worsening the Earth’s ability to balance its changing climate. . [source: Washington Post]
- The Antarctic ice sheet is losing as much as 36 cubic miles of ice a year in a trend that scientists link to climate change. [source: Washington Post] Two of NASA’s satellites estimate that the amount of water melting from the ice sheet into the ocean is equal to the amount of water the US uses in three months. This melting is causing global sea levels to rise 0.4 millimeter a year. Antarctica holds 90% of the world’s ice. Even if its smallest sheet were to melt, the worldwide sea level would be expected to rise 20 feet. [source: NASA]
- The global passenger car fleet now exceeds 539 million vehicles, and is growing by as many as 9 million vehicles annually. The US is home to a quarter of the world’s cars but only 5% of the world’s population. Cars and light trucks account for 40% of US oil use and contribute about as much to climate change as the entire Japanese economy—the world’s fourth-largest carbon emitter. [source: WorldWatch]
Search Responsible Shopper for profiles of major car manufacturers.
- US cars and light trucks together consume 8.2 million barrels of oil each day. This translates to over 300 million metric tons of carbon that comes from our cars and trucks every year. [source: HybridCars.com]
- If fuel economy were improved by 5 mpg, American consumers would save 1.5 million barrels of oil per day and reduce carbon emissions by 55 million metric tons per day. [source: HybridCars.com]