Climate change is a certified contentious subject, known to polarize, and incite division, debate and public outcry. As humans dealing with this environmental issue, there are three main categories we fall into: Climate Change Deniers, Climate Change Accepters, and the Uninformed. Unfortunately, the uninformed (which I, at the time of writing this sentence, am currently apart of), often side with the stronger proponents of this issue, based on what they’ve heard, or what side of the argument others are backing. Join me on this tiny investigation into CLIMATE SCIENCE.
First things first – some definitions:
WEATHER: The way the sky is behaving today (hot, windy, snowing, etc).
CLIMATE: Prevailing weather conditions and patterns known to affect an area during certain times of the year, i.e. what you might expect during certain seasons.
CLIMATE CHANGE: changes in the typical and expected climate, occurring due to a range of factors.
GREENHOUSE GAS EFFECT: increased CO2 levels = gets warmer
GLOBAL WARMING: increased warming happening on a global scale (affecting all climates)
Everyone agrees climate change is a thing. There was an Ice Age, accompanied by a family friendly film franchise. This is evident from the fossil record, among other environmental artefacts. The controversy begins when people started suggesting that we, the human population, might be contributing to climate change.
Enter, stage left – Svante Arrhenius. It is the late 1890’s. In an attempt to explain the ice ages, Svante Arrhenius, generates an intense equation that suggests cutting CO2 levels in half would lower European temperatures 4-5oC – enough to return to an ice age. Colleague Avante Högbom had the genius idea to take that equation and determine human contributions to CO2 levels through industrial sources, and found that we were contributing to current levels at a rate about the same as environmental processes at the time. Arrhenius estimated that in roughly three thousand years, the additional CO2 we were generating would result in an increase in global temperature. This was not received as alarming information, and colleague Walter Nernst, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, welcomed the idea and suggested setting fire to coal seams to expedite the process.
Insanity, right? In response to the suggestions put forth regarding human impact on global climate, scientists argued against the idea that weak, tiny, human contributions could have such a large and significant impact upon the ENTIRE world. The back and forth about human-induced climate change has occurred from this point onward. The argument gained significant traction when we realised that our CO2 contributions, and other massive terraforming activities (read: deforestation, diversion of rivers, altering flooding patterns, creating artificial lakes, large scale agriculture, et cetera) could possibly impact the environment in a meaningful way.
The back and forth between scientists, arguing for and against human contribution to climate change have resulted in vast outputs of research, spanning new calculations, theories, models and CO2 measurement technology. Jumping forward 100 years to the 1980’s, Climatologists made disturbing projections that indicated we would experience detectable warming from our personal CO2 deposits in global atmospheric banks. International recognition of the importance of climate change materialised as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That was around twenty or thirty years ago. What have we done since then?
To put it bluntly, we have more or less bickered over semantics. Given that climate is something observed over years, and our capabilities of measuring climate have been changing (and so the measurements of the past aren’t as nicely comparable to those taken on the instruments of today) there is always room for debate. The IPCC has consistently said, growing in certainty with each review of available evidence, that the climate is and has been changing. The world is getting warmer – human influence is almost irrefutably related to this fact, and we should probably be doing something about it if we can. Ultimately, whether or not you believe that humans are involved, given that the hotter it gets, the greater the impact on us and our environmental and socioeconomic prospects, it is advisable for all of us to take precautionary measures against global warming.
What are we doing now? In 2015, 196 nations signed the Paris Agreement, agreeing that they ‘should’ set some goals to cut emissions. Given the incredibly non-threatening and neutral implications of that wording (how many times have you told yourself you should get around to brushing your teeth and instead fallen asleep in a sleep-deprived haze at 2AM with an obscure sub-section of YouTube being burned through on your phone through that handy ‘auto play’ feature), we can only wait with baited breath, or petition our local government representatives to take action to stop the world heatin’ up so fast.
Words by Jade Newton, art by Lilli Foskett
This article first appeared in print volume 88, edition 1 HEAT