As I mentioned in my last post, I’m very concerned about climate change and have decided it’s time for me to actually do something about it. My plan for the immediate future, therefore, is to get involved in climate change activism. But don’t worry, this blog isn’t going to become a climate change blog. Although I’m sure I’ll mention climate change on occasion, I still have plenty of other things I’m interested in and want to write about. Thus, my posts will continue to be about a wide range of topics. However, I’ve recently learned several things about climate change that are worth sharing, so this post is about climate science and the next one will be about climate change activism. Since these topics are on the main focus of my attention right now, it makes sense to write about them. I’ll warn you in advance that climate science is kind of a downer, so this post may be a bit heavy on the doom and gloom. Fortunately my next post will balance this out with a far more positive message.
I should probably start by quickly defining what I mean by climate change. According to Wikipedia, the term climate change can be broadly defined as “a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years.” These days, the term climate change is often used interchangeably with the term global warming, to refer specifically to long term variations in climate that are caused by human activity, as opposed to changes caused by the Earth’s natural processes. This man-made effect on weather patterns is what I mean when I say climate change.
Humans cause climate change when they release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases act like a blanket around the Earth. They trap energy in the atmosphere, which causes the planet to warm. The majority of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere come from humans burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas.
To really understand what climate change is, it’s important to understand the difference between climate and weather. Weather is what you see outside from day to day. Most places experience a mix of weather conditions, depending, in part, on what season it is; sometimes it’s hot and sunny, sometimes it’s cool and rainy, and sometimes it snows. The term climate, in contrast, refers to the average weather in any given location. A region’s climate includes typical patterns of weather, such as average temperature, average precipitation, average humidity, average wind, etc. Some variations in climate are normal, but the warming of the planet that is happening right now is not.
Since the planet is warming slowly and on a global scale, the daily weather in any specific place can’t be used as a reliable indicator of long term shifts in climate patterns. It is, therefore, incredibly misleading when climate change deniers say things like, “It’s snowing like crazy in Virginia today! I guess we don’t need to worry about global warming!” Statements like that are quite simply absurd.
The most important thing I’ve learned recently about climate change is that the problem is even bigger and more urgent than I had thought. Besides the fact that climate change is already increasing the incidence of extreme weather events all over the world, including in the U.S. (e.g., major storms, flooding, drought, etc.), it turns out that even if we were to cut carbon emissions to zero today, the planet will still heat up about 2º Celsius. This might not sound like much, but it’s enough to make many places where people current live uninhabitable, either because they will be too hot, or because they will be under water. A 2º temperature rise will also threaten agriculture and supplies of fresh water, and almost certainly lead to the extinction of many species.
Anyone who tries to say that the science on this issue isn’t settled is quite frankly full of shit. They are either ignorant, deluded, or dishonest. Over 97% of climate scientists agree that (a) climate change is happening, (b) human activity is the primary cause of this warming, and (c) the consequences of global warming are likely to be catastrophic for all species, including humans.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is a group of thousands of the world’s leading climate experts, has recently issued three reports describing what climate change is and what its effects will be. The first report confirmed that climate change is caused by humans burning fossil fuels, and to a lesser extent, deforestation. The second described how climate change is already effecting our environmental systems in extremely alarming ways, while also warning that the worst is yet to come. The third report basically said that if we stay on our current track, the world is going to heat up more than 2º Celsius, which would literally threaten our survival as a species.
So this is serious, people! We need to hurry up and do something to slow climate change, or we are all going to be completely and totally screwed. I apologize for the alarmist tone of this post, but this issue is truly alarming. Climate change is not a distant problem, happening way off in the future or in a different part of the world. This stuff is happening now and is going to get much, much worse within our lifetimes, unless we take serious action very soon.
I sincerely hope climate scientists are wrong when they say climate change is a problem. I like my lifestyle the way it is and don’t want to change it. I also don’t enjoy worrying about this issue and would prefer to ignore it entirely. However, the evidence that climate change is happening is just too compelling to ignore. In addition, the possible consequences of climate change are far too extreme to accept without a fight.
Please take a moment to indulge in a brief thought experiment with me: Imagine that after studying it for decades, thousands of the world’s most respected fire safety experts said your house was going to burn down. They were also quite certain that you, your family, and everything you value would be destroyed in the process. You’d probably want to move, right? If that weren’t an option for some reason, you’d probably do everything in your power to prevent your house from burning down. You’d also probably invest in the best homeowner’s insurance policy that you could possibly afford.
Why should preventing the destruction of the planet be any different? It is our home, and we can’t move to a different one. I’ll leave you with that thought for today, but please check back in a week or two for my next post, where I’ll discuss some strategies for how we can fight climate change. Until then, happy learning!