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surprising climate facts

Five Climate Facts that May Surprise You

What you don’t know about the climate crisis – and its solutions – may come as a bit of a shock.


There’s a lot of information (and just as much misinformation!) out there about the climate crisis.

You know the Earth is already warming, and that it’s going to take a lot of hard work to keep that warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. You’re probably aware that it was largely the burning of too many fossil fuels that caused the climate crisis in the first place. And you likely know that shifting to clean, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar is the best chance we have to turn the tide and create a sustainable future for us all.

You know a lot of the facts and are pretty adept at spotting the myths, but what you don’t know about the climate crisis – and its solutions – may surprise you. Read on for more! 

1. Renewable energy is MUCH older than you may think.

In the US, we can trace the first electricity-generating wind turbine to 1888! This first turbine was built on a 60-foot tower with a 58-foot rotor, weighing in at 80,000 pounds, and was able to generate up to about 12 kW of electricity. Of course, today’s modern wind turbines produce electricity at an exponentially higher rate. And with so many nations beginning to realize their incredible wind potential, a new renewable energy economy is forming.

Learn more: Six Wind Power FAQs That Will Make You a Major Fan

For proof, we can look to South and Central America as a crisp example. Argentina recently held renewable energy auctions to triple its current wind capacity from 215 MW to 600MW; Venezuela has installed 50 MW as of 2015, and plans to source 500 MW from wind by 2019; and Mexico boasted 3,000 MW of installed wind capacity in 2015 and could reach 9,500 MW by the end of 2018. 

Here’s to many blustery days ahead!

2. Solar panels work even if it’s cold or cloudy

There’s a common myth that solar panels can only produce energy when it is hot and the sun is shining especially bright. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Photovoltaic cells (PVs for short) function just fine when it’s cold and even cloudy.

From the Arctic North in Russia to the warm shores of South Africa, solar panels are aimed towards the sky, ready to receive rays and produce power, whatever the weather. Today, Italy is one of the largest users of solar electricity in the world, with PVs even installed on the Vatican. Japan is experiencing a solar boom – with the country’s solar PV capacity increasing nearly sevenfold between 2011-2015. Germany – a country not exactly known for its tropical climate – ranks second in the world for the most solar PV capacity.

And other countries are making big plans. India recently multiplied their solar goal for 2022 by nearly five, targeting an ambitious 100GW. 

3. China is the leader in global wind and solar energy

China – a country with a staggering population of nearly 1.4 billion people – is the world’s largest emitter of the greenhouse gases fueling the climate crisis. With destructive air pollution, water shortages, and desertification, the country and its people are facing some serious environmental and climate issues. But did you know that lately they’re also extremely committed to making positive changes, particularly when it comes to renewable energy?

The country reached an astounding 503 GW of renewable energy capacity in 2015 – more than double its capacity from 2009. Through a series of ambitious five-year plans, China has aimed to reduce its energy intensity, increase its use of non-fossil fuel energy, and cut CO2 emissions per unit of GDP. And for the first time ever, China announced it would cap its total primary energy consumption by 2020 – setting a limit of 5 billion metric tons of standard coal equivalent. As if all that wasn’t impressive enough, the country is also hoping to launch the world’s largest carbon-trading market in 2017.

These developments are important and impressive and more than a little surprising. China is sometimes blamed for the failure of the Copenhagen climate negotiations in 2009, but despite recent events, China has strongly re-affirmed its commitment to climate action and the Paris Agreement. 

4. Russia has labeled 2017 the “Year of the Environment.”

Clocking in as the fourth highest emitter of greenhouse gases, as well as the world’s largest producer of crude oil, Russia is warming faster than the rest of the planet on average. And while the nation isn’t known for its ambition in its commitments to reduce emissions in the past, President Vladimir Putin has named 2017 the “Year of the Environment,” with the stated purpose of attracting public attention to Russia’s environmental issues, preserving biodiversity, and ensuring environmental security. This is a huge opportunity to create momentum for a green technology revolution in a country rich with natural resources, a highly skilled work force, and incredible potential and capacity for renewable energy.

5. The Paris Agreement has been signed by 193 parties.

One hundred ninety three parties have signed on to the Paris Agreement. Just let that sink in a moment.

Countries like Antigua and Barbuda, Ghana, and Panama, all of which have negligible carbon emissions, have signed onto the agreement. While small, they understand they have a lot to lose if the climate crisis is not dealt with, so they have all agreed to do their part. And on the other end of the spectrum, giants like the US, China, India, and Canada have signed on. All countries have varying commitments to reduce their CO2 emissions and increase their renewable energy use, among several other changes happening at federal, state, or local levels. But the statement is loud and clear: the climate crisis is real and countries around the world are standing up to make a change.

We Can’t Let the US Go Backwards on Climate Action

How can you make a difference? Make a donation to The Climate Reality Project today to help us fight back against climate deniers. Thanks to a generous supporter, from now until December 31, your donation will be doubled – that means every dollar you give will go twice as far to help us protect the future of our planet.

Looking for more ways to take action? Download our free Make It a Reality action kit and find out what you can do in your region to make a difference and support a bright, sustainable future for generations to come.