How can you explain climate change to your kids? What clues can they look for to help them understand how significant this issue is? And what can they do, together with you and your family, to make a difference?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has pulled together one of the best sites I’ve seen for explaining climate change and its impacts. Though the site is aimed at kids, I find it valuable for people of all ages, thanks to its great graphics and clear explanations of what is going on with our climate and how families can make a difference.
For starters, EPA doesn’t dodge the cause of the problem. Though there are still “climate deniers” around, the federal agency responsible for protecting our environment definitely isn’t one of them. From EPA:
“The Earth is getting warmer because people are adding heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere, mainly by burning fossil fuels,”
“Warmer temperatures are causing other changes around the world, such as melting glaciers and stronger storms. These changes are happening because the Earth’s air, water, and land are all linked to the climate.”
“The Earth’s climate has changed before, but this time is different. People are causing these changes, which are bigger and happening faster than any climate changes that modern society has ever seen before.”
If you’re still trying to explain climate change to your kids, use EPA’s lingo, play “Where In the World is Climate Change Happening?”
Then, encourage your kids to look for clues so they can see the impact of climate change for themselves. Start in your neighborhood, but read the paper together to look for climate-related stories. Ask friends and family members who live in other parts of the country or the world about what they’re experiencing, too. Set up online pen pals with kids in a different country, maybe a completely different hemisphere, so you both can share information and stories. It will drive home the point that climate change is a global issue, one that requires the help of people in every country to solve.
8 climate change clues that families and kids can look for together!
- Stronger Storms Have you noticed that storms in your part of the country are becoming more fierce? Hurricanes and other tropical storms get their energy from warm ocean water. Thanks to climate change, the top layer of the ocean is getting warmer, causing hurricanes and other tropical storms to grow stronger, with faster winds and heavier rains.
- Changes in Backyard Birds and Other Animals Are your favorite birds showing up earlier in spring or leaving earlier in the fall? Are some animals moving out altogether to seek cooler temperatures farther north? Many animals are having their entire life cycle – from birth, to migration, to reproduction – disrupted because the increasing temperatures and climatic conditions are affecting not only how they live and die, but the availability of their food sources, too.
- More Rain and Snow – or a Lot Less As temperatures rise and the air becomes warmer, more moisture evaporates from land and water into the atmosphere. More moisture in the air generally means we can expect more rain and snow (called precipitation) in some areas, and less in others. On average, the world is already getting more precipitation now than it did 100 years ago: 6 percent more in the United States and nearly 2 percent more worldwide. If you live in the Northeast, for example, you’re probably seeing more rain and snow than you’re used to.
- More Droughts and Wildfires A drought is an extended period of dry weather caused by a lack of rain or snow. As temperatures rise due to global climate change, more moisture evaporates from land and water, leaving less water behind. Just like the Northeast is getting more rain, the Southwest is getting a lot less. Have there been water shortages in your community? Or restrictions on when you can water your lawn or wash your car? Those could be signs of climate change.
- Changes in Plants Have you noticed more poison ivy? Are the leaves bigger and the stems thicker? Many plants are responding to the increasing temperatures by increasing in size and, in the case of poison ivy, increasing in the intensity of the oil that causes you to itch. What other plants are you noticing that seem to be growing like crazy? Alternatively, what plants don’t seem to be able to thrive in your community any more?
- Higher Temperatures and More Heat Waves Does it seem hotter outside overall? It should. Temperatures have risen during the last 30 years, with2001 to 2010 the warmest decade ever recorded. Sometimes, these higher temperatures create heat for several unbearable days and nights. This can be dangerous. People can suffer heat cramps, heat stroke and even death.
- Rising Sea Level If you live near the coast, you may have already noticed that water is much closer to shore than it used to be. Maybe your neighborhood floods now, when it never used to. Perhaps your favorite beach is actually quite a bit narrower. As water gets warmer, it takes up more space. Sea level is also rising because melting glaciers and ice sheets are adding more water to the oceans.
- Warmer Oceans When you go to the beach, have you noticed that the water doesn’t feel as cold as it used to? That’s because, as the temperature of the air rises, oceans absorb some of this heat and also become warmer. Overall, the world’s oceans are warmer now than at any point in the last 50 years. Warmer oceans affect weather patterns, cause more powerful tropical storms, and can impact sea life such as corals and fish. Warmer oceans are also one of the main causes of rising sea level.
Once you’ve gotten your kids looking for clues and finding proof that climate change exists in their own backyard, hopefully they’ll want to take action to help bring it under control.
Here are 10 ways to reduce the climate change impact of your house…and you can start HERE!