Have a question?
Ask MIT Climate
Straightforward answers to your questions about climate change.
Ask MIT Climate is here to answer your questions about how our planet is changing, how it will impact life on Earth and what we can do about it. Whether it's simple or sticky, about science or solutions, ask us! We work with MIT faculty and scientists to give you clear, no-nonsense answers grounded in the best scientific information. New answers posted every month.
What does the COVID-19 pandemic mean for climate change?
The Covid-19 pandemic has completely upturned daily life for millions of Americans: confining us to our homes, keeping our children out of school, changing the ways we work and socialize, and making travel much harder. It’s no surprise these changes have also affected the climate. Roads, skies, and factories have all emptied, lowering the United States’ daily CO2 emissions by 15%, the steepest fall in recorded history. But right now, say Professors Christopher Knittel and Jing Li of the MIT Sloan School of Management, we’re setting ourselves up for an economic recovery that not only bounces our emissions right back to where they started, but may even leave them higher in the long run. “The longer the economy is shut down,” they say, “the worse impacts we’ll see.”
How is climate change affecting the weather today?
The Earth has warmed roughly 1.8 ℉ since 1850. This means that people almost everywhere are, on average, experiencing warmer weather. But this rise in temperature is also changing humidity and rainfall, with consequences for extreme weather events, says Professor Paul O’Gorman of the MIT Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate.
Why don't we just plant a lot of trees?
It’s well understood that the carbon dioxide (CO2) we’re emitting into the atmosphere is causing the planet to warm. We also know that trees absorb CO2. So why not plant enough trees to take back all the CO2 we’re dishing out? Unfortunately, “while the idea sounds nice and definitely helps to some extent, we will never be able to counterbalance the amount of fossil fuels we burn by only growing trees,” says Charles Harvey, MIT Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who specializes in environmental management.
Do we have the technology to go carbon neutral today?
What would our world look like if we became completely carbon neutral? Could we still enjoy today’s electricity, transportation, heat and manufacturing if we put no more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than we take back out? “Unfortunately, these are not solved problems,” says Desiree Plata, MIT Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “While we do have the technology to make a lot of systems nearly carbon neutral, none of these systems can run the same way they do today and the cost to implement [some of today’s solutions] is prohibitively high.”
Why is the ocean so important for climate change?
Since the 1700s, humans have raised the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by almost 50%, trapping a huge amount of heat on Earth. But only a tiny fraction of that heat has actually stayed in the air. “The ocean has taken up about 90% of the heat that’s been trapped in our atmosphere,” says Dr. Stephanie Dutkiewicz, senior research scientist at the MIT Center for Global Change Science, whose research focuses on phytoplankton in oceans. Without the ocean absorbing heat, our planet’s air temperature would be changing much faster.