Teens and young adult leaders are key to the climate control challenge- Part 6

Youth have an important leadership role to play in advancing solution based public policies and effective societal responses to a changing climate system.

As outlined in “Climate Literacy – The Essential Principles of Climate Sciences,” a report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, states that that “climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes.”   During the record setting heat events in the U.S.in 2012, weather, global warming and climate change were topics that often came up in conversations and news stories.  For many people, understanding the connection, and differences, between weather and climate remains a murky subject.  In the context of climate science literacy, knowing the differences between weather and climate helps youth to understand how changes in one affects the other.  A great deal of scientific research has occurred that helps us understand the different processes that cause changes in the weather and climate.  Some of these processes are caused by the activities of humans, while others are the result of events and processes outside of the influence of human activity. 

According to NASA, “the difference between weather and climate is a measure of time.  Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere ‘behaves’ over relatively long periods of time.”  Weather is a description of the conditions of the atmosphere at a particular location, during a short period of time.  Weather includes sunshine, rain, cloud cover, winds, hail, snow, sleet, freezing rain, flooding, blizzards, ice storms, thunderstorms, steady rains from a cold front or warm front, excessive heat, heat waves and more.  Weather is usually described on a time-scale of “minutes to months.”

Climate is the average weather over time and space.  Climate can therefore be a description of the average weather conditions in terms of months, years, decades, centuries or greater lengths of time.  In addition to describing the differences in average weather conditions over different scales of time, descriptions of climate can also be applied to different scales of space.  For instance, climate can be described for cities and towns, regions, states, countries, hemispheres and globally. 

An easy way to remember the difference between weather and climate comes from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which says that knowing the “climate helps you decide what clothes to buy, weather helps you decide what clothes to wear.”  Weather forecasts in the news often provide information based on expected weather events as well as past climate conditions.  For instance, a “seven day forecast” might include the high and low temperatures that are expected for each of the next seven days (a description of weather). When a meteorologist says that temperatures are expected to be hotter or colder “than average,” the “average” they are referring to is a measurement of the average temperature for any given day, over a long period of time (usually 30 years). 

To view more resources and lesson plans on teaching or learning about the second Essential Principle of Climate Science, visit the CLEAN website.  The 4-H Youth Development program of Michigan State University Extension offers youth a variety of research-based educational programs and learning opportunities that can assist youth in developing the character and competencies needed to engage in leadership roles in the community, country and world.

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