Climate Change Fast Facts

Image: tree canopy. Topic Climate Change Fast Facts

Greenhouse gas emissions come from burning of fossil fuels for energy and transportation, using fossil fuels in agriculture, and destroying forests, soil, and other places that sequester carbon. If we don’t take widespread, systemic action to reduce carbon emissions, the impacts of climate change will be severe.

Here are some fast facts on climate change, coal, and automobiles.

Climate Change

  • 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. 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]
  • Even if CO2 emissions stablize 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 irreversible 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; 19 of the hottest 20 years on record have occurred since 1980. [source: UCS]
  • 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]


  • US power plants are responsible for nearly 40% of the country's carbon dioxide emissions, and 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
  • In 2004, an estimated 350 new coal-fired power plants were expected to be online by 2012 in the US, India and China. Nearly 100 of these are expected to be built in the US. The output from these power plants would dwarf any greenhouse gas emission savings from the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Peabody Coal Company, which supplies 10% of US energy and 3% of the global energy, is seeking a permit to build its Prairie State Generating Station in Illinois. The proposed plant will be the largest coal-burning plant built in decades and will pump an additional 25,000 tons of toxic pollution into the atmosphere a year.
  • Brayton Point Station, a coal-fired power plant owned by Dominion, topped the list of the ten dirtiest power plants in the Northeast. In 2004, Brayton Point released 5.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air, making this one plant responsible for approximately 5% of the region's total carbon dioxide emissions. 


  • 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]
  • 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:]
  • 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:]

To learn more than the fast facts, visit our Climate page to fight dirty energy, increase renewable energy, and take action against polluting corporations.