Preface

We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors— we borrow it from our children.

This ancient Native American proverb and what it implies resonates today as it has become increasingly obvious that people's actions and interactions with the environment affect not only living conditions now, but also those of many generations to follow. Humans must address the effect they have on the Earth's climate and how their choices today will have an impact on future generations.

Many years ago, Mark Twain joked that "Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it." That is not true anymore. Humans are changing the world's climate and with it the local, regional, and global weather. Scientists tell us that "climate is what we expect, and weather is what we get." Climate change occurs when that average weather shifts over the long term in a specific location, a region, or the entire planet.

Global warming and climate change are urgent topics. They are discussed on the news, in conversations, and are even the subjects of horror movies. How much is fact? What does global warming mean to individuals? What should it mean?

The readers of this multivolume set—most of whom are today's middle and high school students—will be tomorrow's leaders and scientists. Global warming and its threats are real. As scientists unlock the mysteries of the past and analyze today's activities, they warn that future generations may be in jeopardy. There is now overwhelming evidence that human activities are changing the world's climate. For thousands of years, the Earth's atmosphere has changed very little; but today, there are problems in keeping the balance. Greenhouse gases are being added to the atmosphere at an alarming rate. Since the Industrial Revolution (late 18th, early 19th centuries), human activities from transportation, agriculture, fossil fuels, waste disposal and treatment, deforestation, power stations, land use, biomass burning, and industrial processes, among other things, have added to the concentrations of greenhouse gases.

These activities are changing the atmosphere more rapidly than humans have ever experienced before. Some people think that warming the Earth's atmosphere by a few degrees is harmless and could have no effect on them; but global warming is more than just a warming—or cooling—trend. Global warming could have far-reaching and unpredictable environmental, social, and economic consequences. The following demonstrates what a few degrees' change in the temperature can do.

The Earth experienced an ice age 13,000 years ago. Global temperatures then warmed up 8.3°F (5°C) and melted the vast ice sheets that covered much of the North American continent. Scientists today predict that average temperatures could rise 11.7°F (7°C) during this century alone. What will happen to the remaining glaciers and ice caps?

If the temperatures rise as leading scientists have predicted, less freshwater will be available—and already one-third of the world's population (about 2 billion people) suffer from a shortage of water. Lack of water will keep farmers from growing food. It will also permanently destroy sensitive fish and wildlife habitat. As the ocean levels rise, coastal lands and islands will be flooded and destroyed. Heat waves could kill tens of thousands of people. With warmer temperatures, outbreaks of diseases will spread and intensify. Plant pollen mold spores in the air will increase, affecting those with allergies. An increase in severe weather could result in hurricanes similar or even stronger than Katrina in 2005, which destroyed large areas of the southeastern United States.

Higher temperatures will cause other areas to dry out and become tinder for larger and more devastating wildfires that threaten forests, wildlife, and homes. If drought destroys the rain forests, the Earth's delicate oxygen and carbon balances will be harmed, affecting the water, air, vegetation, and all life.

Although the United States has been one of the largest contributors to global warming, it ranks far below countries and regions—such as Canada, Australia, and western Europe—in taking steps to fix the damage that has been done. Global Warming is a multivolume set that explores the concept that each person is a member of a global family who shares responsibility for fixing this problem. In fact, the only way to fix it is to work together toward a common goal. This seven-volume set covers all of the important climatic issues that need to be addressed in order to understand the problem, allowing the reader to build a solid foundation of knowledge and to use the information to help solve the critical issues in effective ways. The set includes the following volumes:

Climate Systems Global Warming Trends Global Warming Cycles Changing Ecosystems Greenhouse Gases Fossil Fuels and Pollution Climate Management

These volumes explore a multitude of topics—how climates change, learning from past ice ages, natural factors that trigger global warming on Earth, whether the Earth can expect another ice age in the future, how the Earth's climate is changing now, emergency preparedness in severe weather, projections for the future, and why climate affects everything people do from growing food, to heating homes, to using the Earth's natural resources, to new scientific discoveries. They look at the impact that rising sea levels will have on islands and other areas worldwide, how individual ecosystems will be affected, what humans will lose if rain forests are destroyed, how industrialization and pollution puts peoples' lives at risk, and the benefits of developing environmentally friendly energy resources.

The set also examines the exciting technology of computer modeling and how it has unlocked mysteries about past climate change and global warming and how it can predict the local, regional, and global climates of the future—the very things leaders of tomorrow need to know today.

We will know only what we are taught; We will be taught only what others deem is important to know; And we will learn to value that which is important.

—Native American proverb

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