Climate change has been a hotly contested debate for many years. But what is the definition of climate change? Is it naturally occurring, or does human activity cause it? I would like you to read this article and see if you still have the same perspective afterward.
I’m willing to bet you don’t know the whole story, no matter what side of the fence you stand on. I will add to this article in the future, as there is so much to cover.
Climate change, simply put, is a long-term shift in global temperature and weather patterns. We are currently in a steep warming trend. Let’s take a look at the cause.
Global Warming: From the Beginning
This isn’t something new that has popped up over the last 20 to 30 years. Scientists have been looking into the recent warming trend for 150+ years. Below are a few citations showing how long scientists have worked on climate change and how they collectively formed their opinion. Note the dates; they go back as far as 1824. I’m listing these primarily for perspective; research on climate change has long been a concern in the scientific community.
In 1824, Joseph Fourier calculated that a planet the size of the Earth should be much colder. Saying that something in the atmosphere must be acting like a blanket, keeping it warm.1
In 1856, Eunice Foote discovered what the blanket was. Showing that carbon dioxide and water vapor were mixing in the atmosphere, trapping infrared radiation from the Sun.2
In 1896, a Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, first predicted that changes to the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could significantly alter the ground temperatures.3
In 1938, Guy Callendar published a paper titled “The artificial production of carbon dioxide and its influence on temperature.” The report argued that the artificially producing carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels raised temperatures. He stated that approximately three-quarters of CO2 emitted through such means would remain in the atmosphere.
The radiation absorption coefficients of carbon dioxide and water vapour are used to show the effect of carbon dioxide on “sky radiation.” From this the increase in mean temperature, due to the artificial production of carbon dioxide, is estimated to be at the rate of 0.003°C. per year at the present time.
The temperature observations at zoo meteorological stations are used to show that world temperatures have actually increased at an average rate of 0.005°C. per year during the past half-century.Guy Callendar – 1938 4
In 1941, Milutin Milankovic was able to link ice ages to the Earth’s orbital characteristics. Showing that tiny wobbles in the Earth’s orbit caused ice ages.5
In 1956, Gilbert Plass formulated the “Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climate Change“.6
The list goes much longer, but I wanted to list some of the earlier papers written on the subject as they give you an idea of how the scientific community came to their conclusion.
A recurring theme
Even if you didn’t read all those citations, you could see from the dates that scientists have suspected the recent warming trend was being caused by something unnatural.
What warming trend?
Scientists have been able to piece together global average temperatures going back well over 100 years.
The Earth has always had hot and cold cycles
The Earth has always gone through warming and cooling cycles. It has typically been hotter than it is today. So why even bother worrying about it? The speed of the warming is what is causing scientists to raise alarms. It takes thousands of years for normal warming and cooling cycles to change temperatures even a few degrees. Life on Earth could adapt to the slow warming or cooling cycles as they occurred in most cases.
A few oddities, such as significant volcanic eruptions, cooled the planet rapidly. But those events were corrected within a few years. The Earth is actually much cooler today than it has been historically. The image below shows the average temperature going back over 400 million years.
The data used to build these long-term graphs was gathered using ice core samples from Antarctica. Also, data from ocean sediment, ancient tree rings, corals, boreholes, stalactites, and stalagmites were compiled into these models.
Looking at the graph above, take a look at the third box. Starting in the Pliocene Era, the temperature dropped less than 10 degrees over a four-million-year timeframe. The drastic drop you see in green killed all life on Earth, including nearly all dinosaurs.
This graph can also be misleading because it looks as if temperatures are flowing up and down gradually. But keep in mind the years at the bottom. The timespans are much longer at the beginning, which can be misleading.
Below is another graph of temperatures going back 2,000 years. The recent trend is more pronounced. It’s harder to cherry-pick an argument from this graph. The recent spike has been significant.
But is climate change human caused?
I think most people today agree that the Earth is warming. The debate seems to be stemming from whether or not it’s caused by humans. So let’s look at both arguments.
Argument: It’s Natural
Every winter, the jetstream will inevitably dip south, resulting in massive snowstorms. And every year I hear someone make a comment along the lines of “Where’s your global warming now?” I don’t understand this argument other than that these people don’t know the difference between “weather” and “climate.” Just in case this is you:
Weather: The state of the atmosphere at a place and time as regards heat, dryness, sunshine, wind, rain, etc.
Climate: The weather conditions prevailing in an area in general or over a long period of time.
“All scientists don’t agree on climate change” is another argument I hear. There have been large scale surveys of Earth and climate scientists going back 30 years now. The surveys tell the story. This is false.
“The media is pushing this crap on us” is another argument. While it is true, the media is set up to take advantage of bad news. That’s not a valid argument. Climate change IS bad news. So, of course, they would eat it up.
You could argue they have done a terrible job, as this has been an issue for over 150 years. Many scientists think we have hit the point of no return. It’s the same as arguing JFK wasn’t really killed because the news covered it so much. It doesn’t hold water.
Most other arguments I have heard don’t even deserve the time to be covered. Some people love conspiracies, and throwing facts at them will fall on deaf ears anyway.
Argument: It’s caused by human activity
It’s simple chemistry: if you burn carbon-based material, carbon dioxide is released, based on how much carbon based material we have extracted from the ground. Scientists have been pretty accurate in gauging temperature rises over the past 20 years. This is a pretty good indicator that they know what they are doing.
They have been measuring CO2 in the atmosphere, and we haven’t seen the levels we are at now in almost a million years. There has not been another disaster in the last million years or so to cause such an elevation of CO2 levels. So it must be the CO2 that we are releasing from burning fossil fuels and clear-cutting of land among other factors.
CO2 levels have been measured and suspected of coming from fossil fuels for over 100 years. You should read this7 paper if you get the chance. It was written in 1956 by Roger Revelle and Hans Seuss. It details carbon emissions from the middle of the 19th century through the middle of the 20th century. They suspected it was cause for alarm then. This isn’t a new issue.
Case in Point
Lake effect snow
If you live on the east coast of the Great Lakes, you may have noticed snow storms getting heavier. Blizzards are more frequent. That’s because the lakes themselves are warming up. Since they aren’t frozen in the winter for as long, they evaporate more moisture into the air. This is causing more lake-effect snow to the east of them.
If you live in the southwest of America, you will have noticed more frequent wildfires. A combination of factors causes this. The rising temperatures are causing the snow to melt faster in the mountains, causing grasses to die off earlier, which coincides with the driest, hottest part of the year. Snowfall itself is declining, keeping the area drier for longer. These and many more factors are causing the wildfire season to be longer and more intense than usual.
Ironically, North America may not see the warming that will occur elsewhere. We will still see a rise in forest fires and sea levels. Local weather will continue to become more intense. But the average temperature won’t rise as much. This will be because as the jet stream weakens, it will dip south more often, causing more winter weather events. This will keep the average temperature in check.
That doesn’t mean summer temperatures won’t continue to soar. Expect to see hotter summers and warmer winters with more severe cold snaps.
The cause for this is sitting in the Atlantic Ocean. As the oceans warm, the North Atlantic Oscillation weakens, letting the jet stream drop farther than it usually would. In the image below, you can see the cooling that occurred due to the weakened currents from 1990 to 2010.
Climate change isn’t going anywhere. We made a mess and need to find a way out of it. The impacts are expected to go into the trillions of dollars over the next century. Even if you don’t believe climate change is human-caused, you would surely want to see it under control. Globally, we have the power to do this. But we must work together and be on the same page to stand a chance.
Kicking the can down the road for our children to deal with is no longer an option.
- Joseph Fourier’s calculations on Earth predicted temperature
- Eunice Foote suggesting blanket in atmosphere
- Svante Arrhenius predicted changes to ground temperature
- Guy Callendar published a paper titled “The artificial production of carbon dioxide and its influence on temperature”
- Milutin Milankovicwas able to link ice ages to the Earth’s orbital characteristics
- Gilbert Plass formulated the “Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climate Change“.
- Revelle-SeussPaper on CO2 levels
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