Climate Change in Fewer Than 200 Words

NASA image of earthrise as seen from lunar orbit.

Some time ago, I was presented with the challenge of explaining climate change in fewer than 200 words. This is what I came up with:

Climate change explained in fewer than 200 words: Plants “breathe in” carbon dioxide and “breathe out” oxygen. The carbon becomes part of the plant’s new growth and the oxygen is good for animal life as well. Over the course of millions of years, the accumulation of dead vegetation became the coal, oil, and natural gas fields that now fuel our modern lifestyle. Burning these “fossil fuels” takes oxygen out of today’s atmosphere and puts carbon dioxide back in. In just one hundred years we have largely reversed a natural process that was millions of years in the making. Carbon dioxide is a “greenhouse gas”. It traps heat in the atmosphere and causes the earth’s average temperature to rise. This warming has taken place so quickly that it is disrupting weather patterns and making storms and droughts more severe. It is also changing regional climates too quickly for plants and animals to adapt. Furthermore, since carbon dioxide turns into carbonic acid when it rains, the oceans are becoming more acidic, thereby killing off corals and shellfish — an important part of the food chain. Life as we know it is in danger! We must stop burning fossil fuels!

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