Climate Change


According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Climate Change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. In other words, climate change includes major changes in temperature, precipitation or wind patterns, among other effects, that occur over several decades or longer.”

To prevent confusion, it is important to remember that climate and weather are separate. Climate is the long-term systemic course, while the weather is the daily event. Weather may be variable, but climate will demonstrate long-term trends. Distinguishing these concepts is essential to understand that although weather conditions will vary, the evidence for climate change accumulates over many years. Just because we have record cold temperatures one season does not mean that the Earth is not heating up.

Some climate change happens naturally. Research provided by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) shows that there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat in the last 650,000 years. However, the same research shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have increased exponentially since the Industrial Revolution, and the only possible source is the drastic increase of human activity. This increase in CO2 has caused what is known as the “greenhouse effect” and increased the rate at which the Earth is heating up by trapping heat instead of allowing it to be released into space. It is this increased heat that is causing what is known as anthropogenic (meaning caused by human activity) climate change.

North America is seeing the effects of climate change in many places, including severe and unusual weather patterns, but also in long-term changes to climate. A study released by Science Magazine in April of 2020 drew a direct connection between anthropogenic climate change and the megadrought that affected southwest North America between 2000 and 2018. Increased atmospheric and oceanic temperatures are leading to stronger hurricanes, more rainfall and snowfall, longer wildfire seasons and more frequent droughts. In the winter, increased temperatures are leading to the disruption of the polar vortex, allowing it to break down and send frigid Arctic air into more places more frequently. These same climate changes are happening around the world. In Australia, climate change raised the risk of bushfires by more than 30% in 2019-2020. In 2020, Asia experienced some of the worst monsoons in recorded history. In Russia, record-setting warmth led to hundreds of fires burning through the Siberian wilderness. And in Europe, climate change has contributed to increased drought, heavier rains and flooding and more wildfires.

Key Facts

  • Human activity – especially carbon-based emissions – has increased dramatically in the past 70 years. Based on samples taken from ice cores, atmospheric carbon dioxide had never exceeded 300 parts per million. However, readings in 2020 found that the average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration was more than 400 parts per million.
  • The Earth is getting warmer, resulting in additional vulnerabilities – particularly for the elderly and people with disabilities and functional needs. Research by the United Kingdom’s Meteorological Office found that the record-breaking temperatures that country experienced in 2018 were made 30 times more likely – a 3000 percent probability increase because of climate change.
  • Indoor temperatures are directly related to increased mortality during heatwaves. Although outdoor temperatures often ease during the evening and overnight hours, extreme heat can be retained inside older buildings and those without air conditioning. As a result, people inside those buildings don’t experience a reprieve from the extreme temperatures, increasing their risk of death. People with disabilities and functional needs, along with those who do not have easy transportation options are also at increased risk because they cannot access cooling centers and other resources.
  • We are very quickly reaching the point of no return to prevent or mitigate permanent impacts to our world because of climate change. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that the impacts of climate change could be irreversible by as soon as 2030.
  • The cost of not acting on climate change could be more than twice the United States’ national debt. A 2015 report by Citigroup, a U.S. banking corporation, found that the cost of not acting on climate change could be as much as $44 trillion by 2060.

How to Help

  • Invest in multi-system prevention and mitigation measures. Investing in things like urban forestry, community gardens and natural land preservation not only helps pull carbon out of the atmosphere, they can also help reduce surface heat, feed communities, slow down the passage of water through soil and stabilize the soil around them – reducing the risk of flash flooding.
  • Support initiatives to create more resilient critical infrastructure systems. Extreme temperatures can put additional stress on critical infrastructure systems, causing them to fail when they are most badly needed to reduce the impacts of extreme weather.
  • Fund projects at the local scale, especially ones that reduce carbon emissions and stabilize indoor temperatures. There are many facilities that would like to add clean power in the form of solar panels or windmills but are unable to afford the upfront cost. There are also many facilities that look after vulnerable populations, which are unable to afford an appropriate Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system.
  • Support racial justice, Black Lives Matter and other movements that seek to eliminate inequities in society. Climate change in North America disproportionately affects people in the Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) community. Climate justice works to embed issues and knowledge from BIPOC communities in the climate change movement. Elizabeth Yeampierre, the co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance, said this in an interview with Yale Environment 360: “Climate change is the result of a legacy of extraction, of colonialism, of slavery. A lot of times when people talk about environmental justice, they go back to the 1970s or ‘60s. But I think about the slave quarters. I think about people who got the worst food, the worst health care, the worst treatment, and then when freed, were given lands that were eventually surrounded by things like petrochemical industries. The idea of killing black people or indigenous people, all of that has a long, long history that is centered on capitalism and the extraction of our land and our labor in this country. For us, as part of the climate justice movement, to separate those things is impossible. The truth is that the climate justice movement, people of color, indigenous people, have always worked multi-dimensionally because we have to be able to fight on so many different planes.”

What Funders Are Doing

  • Through the ongoing Global Recovery Fund, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) donated $500,000 to the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) to support community-initiated and -led projects that support the long-term recovery from Australia’s 2019-2020 Bushfire season that was made much worse because of climate change.
  • The Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA), “works with members and partners to promote effective environmental philanthropy by sharing knowledge, fostering debate, cultivating leadership, facilitating collaboration, and catalyzing action.” They have a number of resources and events available to support Grantmakers.
  • Madre donated $70,000 to the Indigenous Information Network in Nairobi, Kenya in 2020 to build the capacity of indigenous women in Kenya to adapt to the impact of climate change through conservation and traditional knowledge exchange. This is a particularly important project because it focuses on the traditional knowledge of Indigenous women, a group of people whose wisdom and insight are often neglected when working to combat climate change.
  • In 2018, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority received $1 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as part of a project to create affordable housing that puts equity, affordability and climate solutions in the center of economic strategy.
  • The Walter and Elise Haas Fund provided a $100,000 grant in 2017 to the Center for Popular Democracy’s Hurricane Maria Community Relief and Recovery Fund to help organize support for rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Maria. This fund prioritizes women, people of color and other historically disinvested communities and backs proactive measures to protect Puerto Rico from future climate change-related natural disasters.
  • Global Greengrants Fund donated $2,778 to Familias Afectadas Lucia Zenteno in Oaxaca, Mexico to help rebuild homes after the 2017 earthquake to make the homes more resilient towards future earthquakes and to help them shed heat better as a result of the changing climate.

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(Photo: A calving glacier. Source: NOAA)

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