Climate science, Part 1

What is climate literacy?

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are actively engaged in addressing the issues relating to climate change and its potential impacts on our lives, our communities, and our environment. This is the first in a series of articles that will examine climate, climate change, climate literacy, and the essential principles of climate science.

To begin, it is important to understand the difference between weather and climate. Weather and climate are not the same, though they are directly related. Weather represents day-to-day conditions at a specific place, while climate is the weather that prevails in a region over a long period of time. In other words, climate is average or typical weather. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, daily weather observations eventually become climate records. Climate is determined by averaging a set of weather observations collected over a long time period. So when we talk about climate change, we are referring to long-term changes in weather conditions.

To help people understand climate and climate change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) co-sponsored the development of "Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science." These principles focus on information important for individuals and communities to know regarding Earth’s climate, impacts of climate change, and approaches to adaptation or mitigation. These principles can serve as discussion topics, launching points for scientific inquiry, or ways for educators to use climate science to meet content standards in their science curricula.

What is climate literacy? It is simply an understanding of your influence on climate and climate’s influence on you and society.

Are you climate literate? According to NOAA, a climate-literate person is someone who:

• understands the essential principles of Earth’s climate system,

• knows how to assess scientifically credible information about climate,

• communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way, and

• is able to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate.

We all are affected by climate and climate change, and we should all strive to be climate literate. In the next article in this series, we will examine how the Earth’s climate varies, and why we should care.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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