Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is Climate Change?

A: Climate change refers to long-term changes in temperature, precipitation, wind patterns, and other elements of the earth's climate system. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines climate change as "any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity." An ever-increasing body of scientific research attributes these climatological changes to greenhouse gases, particularly those generated from the human production of, and use of, fossil fuels.

Q: How are the terms climate change, global warming, and global change different?

A: The term climate change is often used as if it means the same thing as the term global warming. According to the National Academy of Sciences, however, "the phrase 'climate change' is growing in preferred use to 'global warming' because it helps convey that there are [other] changes in addition to rising temperatures." Climate change refers to any distinct change in measures of climate lasting for a long period of time. In other words, "climate change" means major changes in temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind patterns lasting for decades or longer. Climate change may result from:

  • natural factors, such as changes in the Sun's energy or slow changes in the Earth's orbit around the Sun;
  • natural processes within the climate system (e.g., changes in ocean circulation);
  • human activities that change the atmosphere's makeup (e.g, burning fossil fuels) and the land surface (e.g., cutting down forests, planting trees, building developments in cities and suburbs, etc.).

Global warming is an average increase in temperatures near the Earth's surface and in the lowest layer of the atmosphere. Increases in temperatures in our Earth's atmosphere can contribute to changes in global climate patterns. Global warming is probably the most talked about climate change we are experiencing, but is just one of many changes along with precipitation levels, storm intensity, etc. Global warming can be considered part of climate change along with changes in precipitation, sea level, etc.

Global change is a broad term that refers to changes in the global environment, including climate change, ozone depletion, and land-use change. 

Q: Is the Earth Warming?

A: Yes. The global temperature record shows an average warming of about 1.3°F (0.74ºC) over the past century. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. Within the past 30 years, the rate of warming across the globe has been approximately three times greater than the rate over the last 100 years. Past climate information suggests the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1,300 years in the Northern Hemisphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that warming of the Earth's climate system is now "unequivocal" (i.e., "definite"). The IPCC bases this conclusion on observations of increases in average air and ocean temperatures, melting of snow and ice, and average sea level across the globe.

Q: Are humans contributing to global climate change?

A: Human activity--such as burning fossil fuels--causes more greenhouse gases especially carbon dioxide to build up in the atmosphere. As more greenhouse gases accumulate, more heat is held in. Fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas are high in carbon and, when burned, produce carbon dioxide or CO2. A single gallon of gasoline, when burned, puts 19 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere

Q: What is the relationship between climate change and wildlife?

A: Florida's forests, rivers and creeks and coastal waters are vital to fish and wildlife. Florida's unique position -- surrounded by ocean on three sides and many miles of low-lying coastal areas -- make the state extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and more intense storm surges, which are some of the predicted outcomes of climate change. Florida's fish and wildlife are on the front line of these changes, even those occurring in inland areas only. As the coasts shift, so will habitat and the wildlife it supports.

Q: What can wildlife managers do now to assist wildlife to adapt to the impacts of climate change?

A: Wildlife managers can start by acknowledging that the climate is changing and recognizing that management decisions must be adaptable. Baseline data can be collected and monitoring of species and habitats should provide timely feedback. The landscape can be managed for wildlife resiliency, which requires wildlife managers to be involved in local land-use planning. Landscape corridors should be created and maintained.

Q: Does preparing for climate change involve a change of focus for the FWC?

A: The change would be to incorporate adaptive strategies that recognize climate change as a dynamic force occurring faster than wildlife can adapt. The management strategies required for adaptation are good management practices regardless of individual beliefs regarding the magnitude or predictive models for climate change in Florida.

Q: How can individuals help lessen the impacts of climate change on Florida's resources?

A: While climate change and the damage already created through greenhouse gas emissions cannot be reversed, individuals can do small everyday things to help slow down the process. Adjusting thermostats, planting natives trees, driving more fuel-efficient cars, turning off the drying cycle on dishwashers and recycling can all help slow down some of the inevitable effects.

Q: How can I find out my individual carbon footprint?

A: The Nature Conservancy provides a carbon footprint calculator on their Web site at

Q: What are the most immediate concerns for Florida as the climate changes?

A: The most immediate concerns for Florida are sea level rise and the increased intensity of storms. Those are impacts of climate of climate being felt right now. Scientists report that since 1930, the sea leve has risen 10 inches on Florida coasts.  A growing number of scientists predict a rise of four or five feet by the year 2100 is likely.

Q: Will there be any changes to hurricane activities as the climate changes?

A: The National Wildlife Federation predicts that warming sea surface in the North Atlantic may lead to an increase in severity of tropical storms, bringing with it higher wind speeds, more precipitation and larger storm surge in the coming decades.

Q: How will exotic wildlife and invasive plants be impacted?

A: Invasive plant and wildlife species are often more aggressive and do a better job than native species at defending themselves in their new host environment. Already stressed native species, could be pushed over the threshold into extinction without careful management and monitoring of all nonnative species. Predictions show invasive species spreading at an accelerated rate with warmer temperatures and altered rainfall and humidity patterns associated with climate change. However, climate change also means extreme weather conditions. In Florida during the winter months of 2010, extreme cold temperatures lingered in South Florida and decimated populations of exotic wildlife, such as the Burmese python and the green iguana, that could not survive the extreme fluctuation of colder temperatures. Invasive plant species also were severely cut back during the cold spell. It is imperative that proactive monitoring, collaborative partnerships, public outreach and education and political support continue in the fight to stop the spread of invasive species in Florida.

Q: Will climate change have an impact on fishing and hunting activities in Florida?

A: Warmer air and water temperatures, changes in intensity, and duration of climatic events, such as hurricanes, could have an effect upon Florida's fish and wildlife. More extreme fluctuations in freshwater levels and sea level rise in coastal areas may impact both fishing and hunting opportunities. The habitats for all of Florida's fish and wildlife could be impacted.

Q: Are coral reefs being affected by climate change?

A: Coral reefs are sensitive ecosystems that are very vulnerable to climate change. Globally, reefs are being impacted by rising sea temperatures leading to mass bleaching events and the spread of infectious diseases. Climate change also causes ocean acidification which changes the ocean's chemistry and reduces corals' and other organisms' abilities to secrete reef building calcium carbonate. See NOAA for further details and links to additional information.

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FWC Facts:
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