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How does climate change affect our lives? | Ask Dr. Universe


Dear Dr. Universe,

What exactly is climate change? How does it affect the way we live?

Pranav, 10, Melbourne, Florida

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, so I’ll put on my rubber boots. Other days it’s really sunny, so I’ll grab my sunglasses.

When we look at the patterns of these weather conditions over a long time – sometimes more than hundreds and 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 here at Washington State University who researches climate change.

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

Imagine for a moment that you are a fisherman. You have to fish to make a living and make sure people have a source of food. But, as the ocean warms up, 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. We lose fish and other kinds of marine life.

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 affects animals in these polar regions, but also humans who live on coasts.

Maybe you are like me and live kind of far from the ocean. Our planet is big and home to a lot of people from all kinds of places. As the water 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 heat waves in the summer. 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 that if you are a farmer, your plants struggle to grow. 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 that will affect the way we live because it will vary depending on which part of the country or planet you are from.

Some of my friends at Washington State University are finding ways to help with these challenges. Scientists are looking at ways to grow food and plants 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 such as 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.

Ask Dr. Universe is a science-education column from Washington State University written by Dr. Wendy Sue Universe, a curious cat who investigates questions about our world. Send in a question of your own at, or contact Dr. Universe’s assistant Rachel Webber at


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