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Why do we need new sources of energy?
The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, which causes the earth’s
climate to warm. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen 41 percent since the Industrial
Revolution. Today’s levels are the highest in three million years—since before humans existed.1
What exactly are fossil fuels?
Fossil fuels—which include petroleum, natural gas, coal, and
methane—come from organic matter created hundreds of
millions of years ago. When burned, they transfer CO2 that
had been “locked up” in the ground for millennia directly
into the air.
How much atmospheric carbon dioxide do humans
produce by consuming energy?
The world’s output of carbon dioxide from human energy
consumption totaled about 32.5 billion tons in 2011. That
figure has been steadily rising.2
• Extinction of plant and animal species. Some 20 to 30
percent of species could be driven to extinction if global
temperatures rise more than 2°C or 3°C (3.6°F to 5.4°F)
above those of the preindustrial era. Temperatures have
already increased by nearly 1˚C.9
• Spread of disease. In the wake of heavy rainfalls, runoff
from land may contaminate water supplies and spread
waterborne infections. In addition, mosquitos that
transmit diseases such as malaria and dengue fever thrive
in warm climates. Warmer weather may be enabling
malaria to spread to higher elevations.10
What activities are the primary producers of
atmospheric carbon?
The electric power industry’s carbon emissions represent the
largest factor in the U.S. contribution to climate change—
about a third of the nation’s total emissions in 2011.3
In the United States, approximately 60 percent of each
person’s carbon footprint comes from the goods and
services they buy, while the other 40 percent comes from
their energy use at home, driving, and flying.4
How much has the Earth warmed as a result of
humans’ carbon output?
The Earth’s surface temperature warmed by 1.1°F to 1.6°F
between 1906 and 2005. The rate at which the temperature
is rising has almost doubled in the last 50 years.5
Will global warming stop immediately if carbon
emissions cease?
No. Even if carbon emissions stopped today, warming from
existing emissions would continue for many generations.
A significant portion of carbon emissions will persist in the
atmosphere for thousands of years. Atmospheric carbon
triggers deep-sea warming, which continues to raise the
earth’s average temperature even after emissions stop.6
What are the consequences of global warming?
• Extreme weather. If global warming continues, we’ll
experience more severe storms, frequent and intense
heat waves, droughts, and wildfires. Change is already
underway. Nearly 80 percent of Americans live in counties
stricken by a weather-related disaster since 2007.7
• Melting glaciers. In 2012, more than 90 percent of
Greenland’s ice-covered surface experienced melting, the
Arctic ice cap shrank to a record low, and the polar ice
that rims Antarctica melted at an alarmingly rapid rate.
If global warming continues and shelf ice in Greenland
and Antarctica are lost, the resulting rise in global sea
levels would devastate coastal areas worldwide.8
1. The New York Times, “Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears,“
May 10, 2013
2. U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics
3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Climate Change—Sources of
Greenhouse Gas Emissions”
5. NASA Earth Observatory, “Global Warming”
6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Future Climate Change”
7. Take Part, “Still True, Still Inconvenient: What We’ve Learned Since 2006”
June 9, 2013
8. Take Part, “What the Ice Is Telling Us,” June 13, 2013
9. Time, “Why a Hotter World Will Mean More Extinctions,” May 13, 2013
10. Harvard School of Public Health, Center for Health and the Global Environment,
“Climate Change and Infectious Disease”