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Climate Change: Let's Get Real

Updated on September 7, 2015

Scam? No, it isn't.

The Climate is Changing

The climate is changing: this is a fact. The point is not debatable. Anyone claiming that climate change is not real, is a hoax, is a scam, or is witchcraft is detached from reality. They are insane. This is not a rhetorical attack. I am not calling these people insane in the same sense that I might call someone a jerk. I am stating that anyone who denies that the climate is changing is suffering from a serious psychological break with reality.

This represents one extreme. The other extreme that believes the whole of global climate change (or perhaps the vast majority) is human driven. Such people point to the pollutants that man expels into his environment and attempt to establish causation while illustrating (at most) correlation.

Even a superficial perusal of history demonstrates that the climate of the world has shifted — becoming warmer or cooler over time — completely independent of human activity (or even human existence).

The idea that humans are the primary cause of climate change is (in my opinion) not true.

The minimum sea-ice coverage for 2012 (as compared to previous years)
The minimum sea-ice coverage for 2012 (as compared to previous years) | Source

Despite the fact that climate change is obvious and observable there remain those that claim otherwise. How can someone deny the undeniable? The answer, it turns out, is simple. There are two groups of people who deny climate change:

Arctic Sea Ice: white = current (Feb 2014); pink = median (February 1981-2010)
Arctic Sea Ice: white = current (Feb 2014); pink = median (February 1981-2010) | Source
  1. The Powerful: these people read the reactions of the extremists and see the carbon taxes and other power-grabbing schemes proposed to combat man-made climate change. The impacts of these proposals inspire fear. They fear the loss of money and power if the so-called solutions are implimented. As a result, they put forth the idea that the whole thing is a hoax (this is a dangerous point of view to take). The even provide evidence for their untenable position. This is much akin to tobacco companies putting forth evidence that cigarettes are not addictive.
  2. The Conservative base. So much of this group is more than willing to believe liberals are stupid, that all it takes is the powerful suggesting it to make it so in their minds. Powerful people put forth their trumped up evidence (including the occasional piece showing how a group of overzealous scientists were willing to falsify temperature data) and the meme is solidified. Liberals, they will tell you, are elitists attempting to use climate change as a vehicle for wealth redistribution.

Declining Ice Coverage
Declining Ice Coverage | Source

With that, let me set to rest the idea that the climate of this planet is not changing. To the right is a look at the average (mean) amount of sea-ice coverage the arctic region has had during the month of February in the years 1979 to 2014. The blue 'trend line' is rather remarkable. In the last 35 years, the amount of ice coverage has been reduced by over one million square kilometers. An approximately 6% reduction. In 35 years.

This is not data that has been faked or shifted by some scientist attempting to maintain his research grant. This is the observed data collected via satellite over the last 35 years as the National Snow and Ice Data Center tracks conditions in the arctic. The data collected by NASA is similar. Perhaps even more disturbing (see below).

Seasonal Average Arctic Sea Ice Extent
Seasonal Average Arctic Sea Ice Extent | Source

Arctic sea-ice coverage has dropped ~10% in the winter months; ~5% in the spring months, ~15% in the summer months; and ~20% in the autumn months. This is real. This is not deniable.

"This is the arctic!" you say. "Why do I care about the ice coverage in the arctic?" you ask. Here are a few reasons it matters.

Source

Albedo

Albedo is a measure of how reflective something is. Lightly colored objects reflect more heat and light than darker colored objects. Overall, the earth has an albedo of 0.39 — the earth reflects 39% of the light and heat that strikes it; it absorbs 61% of the heat and light. While the arctic ice is prevalent, the poles are white. When the coverage shrinks, the coloration of the poles darkens.

Now, imagine you are in a barren desert. The sun is beating down on you and the heat outside is oppressive. You have a choice of two cars you can use to drive across this wasteland. Do you want the light colored car (e.g., white, silver), or the dark colored car (e.g., black, dark-gray)?

Source

Ocean Currents

Like your circulatory system moved blood around your body, the oceans act as a heat transference system using a system called Thermohaline Circulation. In other words, the current climate conditions of the arctic impact the current climate conditions world-wide. Heat absorbed (or the lack there-of) in the arctic has a drastic impact on the heat transferred (or dissipated) by this system.

Severe Weather

When you combine the two things above — less ice means more heat absorbed; more heat means a shift in the way the ocean currents move heat around — what you get is more severe weather.

Weather is, at its most basic, an attempt by the earth to re-balance some system that has gotten out of balance. Cold and hot air mix in specific ways, and what you get is a typhoon or hurricane. Mix in another way, along with variations in pressure, and you get a tornado.

When scientists first started talking about climate change, they called it global warming. This is an accurate term. However, when laymen would see temperatures unusually cold in a particular place, they would ask how global warming could make something colder. They would laugh, even, at the elitist scientists for their odd theory. This is ignorance (an ignorance I was guilty of for many years).

When the temperature at the poles warms up, it means that the engine that moves heat around the world (ocean currents, above) speeds up. As water currents and air flows speed up, the extremes of our weather will be pushed. It also means that the pathways they once took get moved — just like a river with too much water, it will over-flow its banks, or change course all together. Places that might have gotten warmer may become hotter instead; places that might have gotten cooler may become colder instead.

But this is not all! Places that might have gotten warmer may dip into cooler or colder; places that might have gotten cooler rise into warmer or hotter. As these things shift, weather patterns change. Storms brew up as hot and cold air mix in ways and in places they had not mixed before. And so on.

Quaternary Galciation

Quaternary glaciation also known as the Pleistocene glaciation or the current ice age, refers to a series of glacial events separated by interglacial events during the Quaternary period from 2.58 million years ago to present. During this period, permanent ice sheets were established in Antarctica and perhaps Greenland, and fluctuating ice sheets occurred elsewhere (for example, the Laurentide ice sheet). The major effects of the ice age are erosion and deposition of material over large parts of the continents, modification of river systems, creation of millions of lakes, changes in sea level, development of pluvial lakes far from the ice margins, isostatic adjustment of the crust, and abnormal winds. It affects oceans, flooding, and biological communities. The ice sheets themselves, by raising the albedo, effect a major feedback on climate cooling. — Wikipedia

Man Made?

So if it is a forgone conclusion that the climate of the earth is changing, how can someone state (definitively) that man is — or is not — the root cause? He cannot. What he can say is that the odds of man having a significant impact is very, very low. Consider:

Ice Ages

The earth has undergone at least four major ice ages:

  1. The Huronian Ice Age started ~2.4 billion years ago, and lasted ~300 million years.
  2. The Cyogenian Ice Age started ~850 million years ago, and lasted ~200 million years.
  3. The Andean-Saharan Ice Age started ~460 million years ago, and lasted ~30 million years.
  4. The Karoo Ice Age started ~360 million years ago, and lasted ~100 million years.

In each of these events, the earth's climate severely shifted to become vastly colder than it had been. And over time, it shifted again to be much warmer. And man did not even exist.

Homo-sapiens arrived on the earth ~200 thousand years ago. The Karoo Ice Age ended ~260 million years ago. Man had nothing to do with climate change then. Nothing at all.

We are in an ice age now, known as the Quaternary Glaciation. It is not clear if this is a major ice age (since it has many glacial events separated by inter-glacial events; see right). But the fact remains: the climate cooled without man; the climate has shown time and again man is not necessary for it to warm up again.

Loss of Martial Magnetic Fields
Loss of Martial Magnetic Fields | Source

Other Planets

You might be thinking: "Just because man is not needed for the climate to change does not mean he is not involved. Certainly man can be contributing to the current climate shift." You are quite right. Proving man is not a required component does not prove man is not a component. But if you are going to claim that man is a primary component of global climate change, you are going to need to explain to me how he is having an impact on he climate of Venus. And Mars.

Venus and Mars are both undergoing climate change; both are warming up. Could this be man-made? Is the fact that the ratios of temperature shift are in keeping with current model predictions based on distance from the sun and density of the atmosphere (as compared to earth) mean that (perhaps) the primary cause of climate change is solar-based, not man-based? I think this is a safe bet.

If, for example, Earth climate changes were drastically faster than those of Venus and Mars (adjusted for distance and atmospheric density), I could see an argument for man being (if not the primary) a significant contributor. But the evidence is simply not there to support such a claim.

Climate change...

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The Rational Response

I believe the climate is changing. I believe this is obvious and observable. You have to be willfully ignorant to deny it. I believe man is not the primary (or even a significant) contributor of this effect. Does this mean I believe man should continue on his merry way? Does this mean I think we should ignore global climate change? That we should not change his behavior?

Absolutely not. The acts of man in the modern era are abhorrent.

The point is this:

  • I know global climate change is real.
  • I believe man is not the cause.

As long as there remains even the smallest possibility that man is involved, we owe it to ourselves and our children to do as much as we can to curb it. But (and this is the most important point here), even if we are not involved, we owe it to ourselves and our children to have the smallest ecological footprint possible.

It is in our best interest to limit pollution. Assume that I am right — nothing we do will speed up or slow down global climate change. This does not render us immune to its effects! This does not render us immune to the other effects of pollution.

No den animal would pollute his living and eating space; yet we have the Scherer Power Plant in Georgia which throws out as much pollution as the entire state of Maine. This plant is the probable cause of elevated radon and uranium levels in the area; could this be why the rates of cancer in the area surrounding the plant are so much higher than the national average?

We need to prepare! Why, after Hurricane Katrina, did we rebuild New Orleans? This is insane! New Orleans is a coastal city with a mean elevation below sea level! We know the sea levels will rise! We know the Gulf Coast will produce hurricanes! Why would you not prepare for this? As temperatures rise, so will the sea. But we have time. It is a finite time, to be sure; but we have time to act. We are wating that time.

Why are we not moving people inland?

Why are we not taking places like coastal Florida and moving all permanent structures inland to higher ground while re-imagining the coastal regions to make them more tolerant of extreme weather events and adaptable to a changing ocean level?

We are the most technologically advanced species on the planet. Common sense suggests: with that title comes the responsibility to be good stewards of the earth.

Smog in Shanghai
Smog in Shanghai | Source

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    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 3 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Well done, except from what I've read the majority of scientists appear to me to believe that anthropomorphic factors are a significant factor, and of course one that we can and should be doing something about.

    • melpor profile image

      Melvin Porter 3 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Well written article. I agree with Ralph. The activities of man is contributing significantly to climate change today; considering the fact that there are now more than seven billion humans on the planet. Volcanic activity was the primary driving force in climate change when the earth was young and today volcanic activities occurs a lot less frequently. It is obvious that man-made air pollutants and all the additional heat output from seven billion humans plus the animals must have some impact on the climate of the world.

    • FitnezzJim profile image

      FitnezzJim 3 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      Well done article. Whether man is the primary cause or not, climate change will eventually occur. The real question is whether we'll stop wasting time and energy arguing about the cause, or will we begin to focus on adapting.

    • KDLadage profile image
      Author

      K David Ladage 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, IA

      My point exactly, FitnezzJim -- what is causing it is immaterial. What needs to happen is reducing our impact on the environment (independent of, and in conjunction with, any potential climate impact), and making adjustments based on what we *know* is coming.

      Seriously... I am still astounded at the choice to rebuild after Katrina... with no significant shift in... well... in anything.

    • Michael Murcott profile image

      Michael Murcott 3 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      One slight amendment to Melpor's comment that volcanic activity was the driving force in climate change. Volcanoes have either a very short term impact on the climate (1-5 years) or a longer very slow predictable effect. The Milankovitch cycles have a more dramatic effect on historic climate change though at a much slower rate than humans are having. Also the heat output from living organisms has almost no effect on the climate a single sunspot more or less has more impact then body heat of animals. Their gas emissions on the ozone layer however is another point entirely.

    • swordsbane profile image

      William Grant 3 years ago from Wisconsin

      Good article. One exception I have to take is to the idea that Climate Change is not man-made and/or that it doesn't matter what is causing it.

      It is very important what is causing it, because that is the only way that you understand the process so that you can A) try to stop or slow it and B) understand what you're in for and prepare for it if you can't stop it. That is basic survival.

      As to Climate Change not being man made, that is another form of insanity. A couple of indisputable facts not denied by anyone except those who think Climate Change is a myth: The average global temperature is growing FASTER than at any other point in time that we know of. The temperature tracks (caused by or not depending on your politics) CO2 emissions... which are also rising faster than at any other point in time. CO2 rise began with the industrial revolution, and so did the temperature rise.

      There is other evidence of human causation, but if you just take in those facts and try to say that human activity and the rise in temperature are not related, then I have to question your grasp on reality. It would be an unprecedented coincidence if Climate Change was happening without humans.

      Sun activity, volcanic emissions, carbon sink disruption, etc... none of these account for both the level and the RATE at which temperatures are rising. The ONLY significant correlation we have found is CO2 emissions from the industrial revolution. Whether you believe CO2 emissions are a direct cause or not, you cannot ignore that they must be related somehow. We KNOW the effect CO2 can have. Even without other evidence, it makes sense that CO2 must be the major contributor to temperature rise. It's the only thing that does make sense.... at least so far.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 3 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Natural causes of climate change are unpredictable and uncontrollable. The effects of Greenhouse gas emissions are quite predictable and within our control. Let's get busy before it's too late!

    • swordsbane profile image

      William Grant 3 years ago from Wisconsin

      I don't get it when people say "How can we possibly control nature?"

      We have been the single greatest influence on nature since we began planting crops. There are 7 BILLION on us on the surface. We have been wiped out gigantic forests. We've created islands. We've destroyed islands. We change weather patterns when we build our huge cities... hunted entire species of animals to extinction... and now we produce CO2 faster than any other single source on the planet.

      The arrogance is thinking that we can do all that and NOT affect the climate. The attitude that we can do anything we want and the environment we live in will just clean itself up is the epitome of arrogance and irresponsibility. My mind boggles every time someone says that it's crazy to think us mere humans can affect our planet. I can only think that those people don't read history and don't know what we"mere humans" have done, and don't know anything about science and.... don't WANT to know.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 3 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      I think we're on the same track. What I meant by not being able to control nature is that we don't know how to control natural forces such as sunspots, volcanoes, huge meteorites striking earth, etc., that have affected our climate in the past and continue to do so. Since the industrial revolution man has increasingly affected the earth's climate in various ways, mostly negative. The climate at any particular period is the result both of man made and natural forces.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 3 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      "If the faces of renewable energy critics are not red yet, they soon will be. For years, these critics — of solar photovoltaics in particular — have called renewable energy a boutique fantasy. A recent Wall Street Journal blog post continues the trend, asserting that solar subsidies take money from the poor to benefit the rich.

      "But solar-generated electricity is turning into a powerful environmental and economic success story. It’s also threatening the balance sheets of electric utility companies that continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

      "As their costs per kilowatt hour have fallen through the floor, solar arrays have hit the rooftops.

      "The average price of a solar panel has declined an estimated 60 percent since the beginning of 2011, and this year the total photovoltaic capacity in the United States is projected to reach 10 gigawatts, the energy equivalent of several nuclear power plants. (By one estimate, photovoltaic costs crossed over to become cheaper than electricity generated by new nuclear plants about four years ago.)..."

      http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/10/the-r...

    • swordsbane profile image

      William Grant 3 years ago from Wisconsin

      That doesn't surprise me. In the last year or so, stock prices for a lot of solar companies have been rising steadily and it is being under reported in the media. It seems everyone wants to be in favor of solar and wind, but no one really wants it to succeed.

      I'm not a conspiracy nut, but that looks fishy even to me.

    • profile image

      Polyonymous 3 years ago

      I disagree that your opinion deserves as much consideration as the evidence of scientists who study climate change. A study last year found that 97% of professional scientific journal papers endorse both the reality of global warming and the fact that humans are causing it. I highly recommend Dr. Phil Plait’s Slate column, where he occasionally discusses this issue for a non-scientist audience. http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/05/1...

      Also, your own links do not support your assertion that “(perhaps) the primary cause of climate change is solar-based, not man-based?” Please let me know if you ever want to wager on your “safe bet.” In fact, “At this time, there is little empirical evidence that Mars is warming.” http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-on-... And, “Claims that solar system bodies are heating up due to increased solar activity are clearly wrong. The sun’s output has declined in recent decades. Only Pluto and Neptune are exhibiting increased brightness. Heating attributed to other solar bodies remains unproven.” http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-oth...

    • KDLadage profile image
      Author

      K David Ladage 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, IA

      I will look into those... I have been moving toward a "man has a definitive and measurable impact" but I am not to the "man in the primary cause" just yet...

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