A while ago, a friend of mine said in passing that climate change is my passion. That’s true, as far as it goes, but something about it got me thinking. While I am concerned about how we are changing the climate, my real passion is for the truth, and the global warming “controversy” is an example of facts being distorted to protect profits of the fossil fuel companies. That would be bad enough, but worse is that these distortions have cost lives, and will cost many more.
Here are the facts. More accurate measurements show the total ice mass in Antarctica is declining more slowly than had been estimated, but it is declining. West Antarctica is warming as fast as anywhere on the planet. Arctic regions have been warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. Surface air temperature worldwide has increased only slightly recently, because the oceans have been absorbing more of the excess heat. The rise in global heat content has been accelerating, and shows no sign of abating.
There are those who object that the scientific community is not to be trusted on this issue. I consider these “denialists” to be believable as conspiracy theorists, and won’t waste time here to revisit their claims. I recommend this summary on Skeptic, How We Know Global Warming is Real and Human Caused, that responds to the common arguments against the consensus of scientific opinion.
Good News, Bad News, and Bad News
The data I have referred to are observations that have been measured, not predictions. These measurements support the accuracy of current climate models, which give us an idea of how bad conditions are going to get. The good news is that we can stop feeding the beast of climate change. An article from Skeptical Science shows quite clearly how global temperature would quickly level off if we were to stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere. There are two items of bad news that accompany that. First, temperature will not return to pre-warming levels for hundreds, or perhaps thousands of years, so whatever point of warming we have reached when we stop the madness is what we are stuck with for generations.
Second, we are not going to stop emitting CO2 tomorrow, or this year, or next, which means that global temperatures are going to continue to rise while we decide whether to get serious about addressing the problem, and when we do, that is the temperature we will be stuck with. This isn’t just a lack of political will. Most of the problem is economic; we can’t suddenly switch to renewable energy, we have to adapt the infrastructure and continue developing the necessary technology to make it practical.
The U.S. has begun work on the problem. One might be encouraged by the fact that our CO2 emissions have decreased somewhat, which we have accomplished by switching from coal to natural gas, largely because gas has become cheaper. That is good news locally, but we haven’t stopped mining coal, we are just selling it to feed China’s appetite for energy. The net effect is that China is more than making up for our reductions. And natural gas is only a stopgap measure. If extracted and handled carefully, its use generates half the emissions of coal. That is better, but it’s still a lot of emissions.
If we want a world that is nearly as comfortable as what we grew up with, we need to reduce CO2 emissions to zero. So far, although some countries are making progress, global emissions are still increasing. There are projects in the works that we have to stop if we want to avoid a radically changed Earth. DesmogCanada reports on the Canadian tar sands and other projects that “would increase global CO2 emissions by 20 percent, placing the world on the path of a 5 or 6 degree Celsius temperature rise.”
It’s Not Complicated
Climate change explained in 15 minutes:
It sounds bad, and it will be if we continue in our present path. There are things we can do to avoid catastrophe, like voting anti-science politicians out of office. Go to The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change to support the effort of stand-up economist Yoram Bauman and illustrator Grady Klein. You can see an excerpt there, to give you an idea of how the finished product will look.
Title image credit: Celsias°.