Principles of Climate Literacy

Understanding how human activities are causing climate and other global changes requires a basic understanding of climate, how it differs from weather, and at least a little about how climate and related science is conducted.

Cover of Climate Literacy: Essential Principles of Climate Science

“Climate Literacy: Essential Principles of Climate Science” provides a framework for understanding the climate system in general and climate change in general. Reviewed and endorsed in 2009 by top scientists with the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a collaboration of over a dozen federal agencies, and vetted by education and communication experts, “Climate Literacy” offers seven Essential Principles:

  1. The Sun is the primary source of energy for Earth’s climate system.
  2. Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.
  3. Life on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate.
  4. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and human processes.
  5. Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling.
  6. Human activities are impacting the climate system.
  7. Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives.

There is also the Guiding Principle for Informed Climate Decisions:

Before these principles are considered, it is useful to understand (as a “zeroth” principle) that there is a distinction between weather and climate:

Continue to the next section to find out how weather and climate are different.