Is it too late to stop climate change?

With its warm breezes, azure water and swaying palm trees, the tiny island of Tuvalu seems like the perfect tropical hideaway. Yet something is amiss on this speck of paradise halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Global warming is erasing Tuvalu from the map. Within 50 years, if sea levels continue to rise at the current rate, the ocean will completely swamp the 10-square-mile island.

On the next page, learn all about global warming.

Climate Change at a Glance

  • 2.4 billion years ago: first ice age begins
  • 100 million years ago: Earth's average temperature was 10 to 20 degrees cooler than today
  • 12,500 years ago: last ice age ends
  • 1896: Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius discovers the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere directly influences temperature
  • 1957: Scientists Roger Revelle and Hans Suess warn that fossil fuel emissions would cause Earth to warm
  • 2003: European heat wave kills 30,000
  • 2011: Second hottest summer on record -- and since 1895 -- in the United

What is global warming?

Global warming, fueled by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, is as real as a Texas-sized drought. While the planet’s temperature has increased just 1 degree Fahrenheit (.55 degrees Celsius) during the past century, Earth’s coldest regions have warmed significantly more. As a result, many plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction. Blizzards, floods and hurricanes have become more devastating. Ice is melting, oceans are rising, glaciers are tumbling and the weather has fluctuated wildly from balmy winters to brisk summers.

As Earth’s CO2 levels increase, so will the temperature, some 10 degrees Fahrenheit (5.5 degrees Celsius) by the end of the century. In fact, global temperatures are rising faster than at any other time in the past 1,000 years. Global warming has put many places, including Tuvalu, on the front lines in the war against climate change. While some scientists believe we’re close to the point of no return, others say it's not too late stop global warming. Cutting our current C02 emissions in half within the next 50 years might save the planet.

Can it be stopped?

But reducing those emissions is easier said than done. Climate change has become mired in politics as many policy makers don't want to admit that humans are to blame for Earth’s escalating temperature. They say warming is part of Earth’s natural cycle. Nevertheless, most reputable scientists agree that humans are responsible. For centuries we have been burning oil, coal and other fossil fuels to power our lives, and at the same time spewing tons carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere. Those gases act like an invisible blanket, trapping the sun’s heat close to Earth’s surface.

Yet all is not lost. In recent years, many countries have taken significant steps to reduce their carbon footprint. In addition, various industries are experimenting with alternative, cleaner-burning fuels, such as wind and solar, to power their factories. Car companies are now building hydrogen- and electric-powered cars to replace gasoline as the fuel of choice.

Cooling the Planet

Scientists are also studying new ways to cool the planet, including increasing Earth’s albedo, or its ability to reflect sunlight back into space. Scientists say increasing the planet’s albedo by 1 percent -- by painting roads and roof tops white -- might be enough to halt global warming. Some scientists have even gone as far as proposing to launch thousands of mirrors into Earth orbit to reflect the sun’s rays back into space. In addition one Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Paul Crtuzen, suggests that tiny particles called sulfates can act as a cosmic sunscreen by blocking the sun’s rays from reaching Earth. The key is to pump the atmosphere with tons of these Lilliputian particles.

While some of these ideas might sound off the charts, the underlying principle of stopping global warming is not. Whether it’s turning off a light when leaving a room or building windmills to replace coal-fired power plants, stopping global warming could be a matter of survival.