Dear Dr. Universe: What exactly is climate change? How does it affect the way we live? –Pranav, 10, Melbourne, Fla.

Dear Pranav,

If you’re anything like me, one of the first things you’ll do in the morning is check the weather. Sometimes it’s rainy and I’ll put on my rubber boots. Other days it’s really sunny and I’ll grab my sunglasses. When we look at the patterns of these weather conditions over a long time—sometimes over hundreds of years—we can learn about a place’s climate.

My friend Marc Kramer is really curious about how the land, ocean, air, and living things are connected—especially when it comes to climate. Kramer is an environmental scientist at Washington State University who researches climate change.

When gases in the air trap heat, air temperatures can rise. These changes can affect the way we live in different ways, Kramer said.

Imagine for a moment, you are a fisherman. You have to fish to make a living and make sure people have a source of food. But as warmer air warms up the ocean, it makes living conditions hard for the fish. Fisherman can’t catch and sell seafood like they used to, which means less food for people to buy, too.

Meanwhile, lots of animals who live in polar regions see changes in their habitats. As air temperatures get warmer, polar ice caps and ice sheets melt. This not only impacts animals in these polar regions, but also humans who live on coasts. As ice near the poles melts, we see more flooding and people having to flee their homes.

As the air temperature rises, scientists note that snow melts earlier and there are more really hot summer days. Rain, snow and other kinds of precipitation start to fall in unusual patterns. Heat and drought make it harder for plants to grow. This means if you are a farmer, your plants struggle. Farmers feed a lot of us, so these changes affect people who like to eat dinner, too.

Kramer said the warming of our planet will produce many surprises in the weather and the ways we live. It’s hard to know exactly how, because it will vary with where you live.

Some of my friends at Washington State University are finding ways to help with these challenges. Scientists are looking at ways to grow food in severe heat or drought. Engineers are coming up with ways to power our planet with new fuels. They are working on all kinds of big questions about how climate change affects us. Sometimes that means investigating questions about water, health, and all kinds of living things.

Kramer told me about a few things we can do to help, too. One thing we can do is ask great questions like yours. We can take actions like using solar panels to power buildings. We can use electric cars. We can buy food that is produced close to our homes and that was grown in earth-friendly ways. We can also help others look for new ways to make changes, big or small, that can help this planet we call home.

Sincerely,
Dr. Universe