Whenever the term “climate change” is brought up, most of us brace ourselves for an angry ‘war of words’ that will likely end up in unproductive dialogue, name calling, or quite resentment.
But why is this?
Is there really that much disagreement on the planets weather?
Or is it that we’re missing the bigger picture and asking the wrong questions?
Well, it’s not about whether you believe in it or not. The climate is changing, but that’s not what the argument is about. Even “climate change deniers” aren’t arguing if climate change is real. Science has proven beyond a doubt that our climate is definitely changing.
In this article we’ll look past politics to explore the truth behind climate change. In order to get the best understanding for what’s true, we’ll look at expert opinions, different perspectives, and the latest hard science behind global warming.
Lets dive in.
The Science of Climate Change Explained: Facts, Evidence and Real Proof
Ways Global Climate Change Is Measured
(How do we know climate change is really happening)?
Most people don’t fully understand the specifics behind how the global climate is measured. Turns out, there’s a few different ways.
1. The Average Global Temperature
The average global temperature is a key metric used to track climate change. It’s calculated by taking measurements of different surface temperature at various locations across the world. This data is collected through land-based weather stations, satellite measurements, and ocean buoys.
The average global temperature is a direct result of how much incoming solar radiation the Earth takes on versus how much outgoing infrared (heat) radiation the Earth lets out.
From the 1950’s until 2020 temperatures have been steadily rising. However in 2021 and 2022 average global temperatures have decreased from the years previous. Whether the trend will continue we’ll have to wait and see.
What we know for sure is, that this rise in average global temperature has had (and will have) profound impacts on the planet, including sea level rise and altered weather patterns.
2. The Size of Arctic Ice Sheets
The size and girth of the Arctic ice sheets are one of the most obvious indicators of climate change that we have today.
The ice caps on the North and South pole work like a scotch on the rocks. It’s good as long as the ice cubes don’t melt.
The overall size of the Arctic ice sheets are measured a few ways, including satellite imaging, aerial surveys, direct ice cores, and visual observation from people seeing the ice sheets with their own eyes over time.
Satellites images and LIDAR measurements can also provide continuous, long-term monitoring of the ice sheets, allowing scientists to track changes over time. This data is used to create models that predict future changes in the size and extent of the Arctic ice sheets.
Over the last 45-years of satellite records held by the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice has decreased an average of 2.5 percent per decade.
3. The Global Sea Level
The height of the oceans around the world are one of the most important indicators of climate change that we have available to us today.
Measuring sea level is commonly done relative to a fixed point on land. “Tide gauges”, as they’re called, can be found all over the world, and they provide researchers a continuous record of sea level changes over time. The data from tide gauges are used to create global sea level records.
The narrative doesn’t end with tide gauges. Modern age climate scientists use satellites that employ radar technology to measure the distance between their position in orbit and the ocean’s surface. This high-tech approach allows us to track changes in sea levels with astonishing precision.
As average air and water temperatures slowly start to rise, the ice caps start to melt, which at a massive global scale will raise global sea levels.
Sea level rise is a major consequence of climate change, and it is primarily driven by the warming of the planet’s oceans and the melting of Arctic ice.
The Long Ancient History and Main Drivers Behind Climate Change
Throughout the course of Earth’s 4.5 billion year history, the climate has undergone significant and often dramatic changes.
(side note: Scientists determine the 4.5 billion year age of the earth by analyzing rock particles at a sub-atomic level.)
Earth’s changing climate is a natural cycle that repeats itself over a period of give or take 100,000 years.
French climatologist Jean Jouzel demonstrated Earths natural cyclical temperature swings by measuring Antarctic ice cores that date back and reveal over 800,000 years of climate data.
The Earth’s naturally changing climate is due to a combination of factors.
The Natural Drivers of Climate Change:
1. The Milankovitch Cycles:
In 1924 Serbian climatologist Milutin Milanković published his second book on Earth’s climate titled “Climates of the geological past”.
In this book Milanković is credited with calculating the Earth’s 26,000 year cyclical wobble and the 100,000 year cyclical variation in solar orbit.
After his death these natural cycles would become known as Milankovitch Cycles
The cyclical periods impact climate change directly, resulting from fluctuations in solar radiation caused by alterations in the Earth’s rotation and its orbit around the Sun.
How exactly do the Milankovitch cycles affect climate?
- Earth’s Drifting Rotation Around The Sun
Apart from those subscribing to the flat Earth theory, it’s universally understood that the Earth makes a yearly rotation around the sun.
However, over a timeframe of +/- 100,000-year cycles, the Earth’s orbit subtly shifts, becoming more elliptical, meaning it varies between being farther and closer to the sun.
This slight variation in Earth’s orbit results in changes in the amount and intensity of sunlight our planet receives. As a result, these solar changes drive fluctuations in global temperatures, affect the extent of glacier melt, and cause sea levels to rise and fall.
As described by climate experts at the Paleontological Research Institution, the slight change in Earth’s position and alignment with the sun changes the amount of sunlight, and intensity of solar radiation the Earth’s surface receives.
Just like the difference between summer and winter, the more solar radiation we receive , the warmer our climate becomes on average.
- The Earth’s Orbit And Axis Tilt.
The Earth’s North and South poles aren’t perfectly straight up and down, but tilted at an angle of 23.4 degrees. It’s this tilt that gives us four different seasons.
However, the direction that the Earth’s tilted axis is pointing…, slowly changes over a 25,771 year cycle. This cycle is so well-known that it’s even charted in the Mayan calendar with remarkable accuracy.
This gradual shift in Earth’s axis is often referred to as “axial precession,” kind of like a slow wobble. As Earth goes through this cycle, the climate naturally adjusts, shifting between the hemispheres.
According to NASA’s climate website…,
“Axial precession makes seasonal contrasts more extreme in one hemisphere and less extreme in the other. Currently this makes Southern Hemisphere summers hotter and moderates Northern Hemisphere seasonal variations. But in about 13,000 years, axial precession will cause these conditions to flip, with the Northern Hemisphere seeing more extremes in solar radiation and the Southern Hemisphere experiencing more moderate seasonal variations.”
By studying and understanding these natural processes, we can gain a greater appreciation and understanding for the complexity and beauty of our planet and its place (and our place) with-in the greater universe.
2. The Greenhouse Effect
The greenhouse effect is a natural process that occurs when certain gases in the Earth’s atmosphere trap heat from the sun. Greenhouses trap heat, so the more greenhouse gasses the atmosphere contains, the more heat the planet traps, warming the planet’s surface.
As displayed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s chart below (NOAA)…about 99% of Earth’s atmosphere is Nitrogen (N2) and Oxygen (O2).
Carbon makes up less than ½ of a percent of the atmosphere. This means, and ice cores have shown us, that greenhouses gases such as carbon only need to change slightly, in order to have a big impact.
|Chemical makeup of the atmosphere EXCLUDING water vapor
|18.182 parts per million
|5.24 parts per million
|1.70 parts per million
|1.14 parts per million
|0.53 parts per million
|0.31 parts per million
|0.10 parts per million
|0.09 parts per million
|0.07 parts per million
|0.02 parts per million
|0.01 parts per million
Let’s be clear, the atmosphere naturally contains greenhouse gases.
The greenhouse gas process is both natural and necessary to support life on Earth. With-out greenhouse gases in our atmosphere many experts believe that the Earth would be too cold to support life, as the average temperature would drop somewhere around -20°C (-4°F).
How The Greenhouse Effect Works
The greenhouse effect functions as a continuous cycle where solar energy is consistently transferred from the Sun to the Earth’s surface, and then reflected back into the atmosphere.
- The sun’s energy (solar radiation) reaches the Earth’s atmosphere, where some of it is energy is absorbed by the Earth’s surface.
- The absorbed energy heats the Earth’s surface and then radiates heat energy back into the atmosphere.
- The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap some of the heat energy, preventing it from escaping into space.
- This trapped heat energy warms the atmosphere, which then radiates some of the heat energy back to the Earth’s surface.
- This cycle continues, with heat energy building up in the atmosphere as the concentration of greenhouse gases increases (albeit a small overall percentage of the overall atmosphere).
What Are The Greenhouse Gasses
The most prevalent natural greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide and methane.
These gases are present in the Earth’s atmosphere in varying amounts, and their concentrations can change over time due to natural processes and human activities.
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Carbon Dioxide accounts for about 76% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The Earth’s natural carbon cycle moves a staggering amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) around our planet, says Daniel Rothman, MIT professor of geophysics.
Some parts of the planet, such as swamps, oceans, and rainforests, absorb carbon dioxide and store it for hundreds or thousands of years. These are called natural carbon sinks.
Other natural sources produce carbon such as volcanoes, seasonal shifts, and natural decay. Altogether the planet absorbs and emits about 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide through this natural cycle every year, Rothman says.
Carbon in the atmosphere is a natural balanced cycle that slowly changes over time. However, human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation have tipped the scales by adding C02 to the air faster than the planet’s natural carbon sinks can absorb it.
Methane (including cow farts) is a potent greenhouse gas accounting for about 11% of the Earth’s greenhouse effect. It is produced naturally by wetlands, rice paddies, and ruminant animals, as well as by human activities such as agriculture and fossil fuel extraction.
Biggest Contributors (Sources) of Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere
There are two main sources for how greenhouse gases get into the atmosphere.
- Naturally or
- Man made.
According to the MIT Department of Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, every year Earth both absorbs and emits about 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide through its natural balanced cycle.
That total dwarfs humanity’s contribution of greenhouse gasses, amounting to ten times as much CO2 as humans produce through activities such as burning fossil fuels says Daniel Rothman, MIT professor of geophysics.
So why are we so concerned with carbon emissions ?
Professor Rothman has found that human activities tip the scales by adding carbon to the air faster than the planet’s sinks can absorb it.
This perspective is backed up by a 2018 study carried out by Beijing University which found that…
“greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity exert extra pressure on what is otherwise a self-balancing Earth system.”
How Do Greenhouse Gases Get Into The Atmosphere: 2 Ways
1. Natural: Land and Sea
Human activity aside, the Earth has a natural carbon cycle which has existed for millions if not billions of years.
Looking at Earth from the perspective of the stars, there is about 65,500 billion metric tons of carbon stored on Earth (mostly all in rocks).
Of that 65 trillion metric tons of carbon on the Earth, scientists estimate that about 100 billion metric tons of it are naturally cycled into and out of the atmosphere each year. This natural carbon cycle primarily occurs thorough two methods…, land and sea.
Land: Animal & Plant Decay
Natural animal and plant decay on land are massive contributors of total CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere each year.
Quantifying the exact CO2 emissions from land-based decay can be complex due to numerous variables. Nevertheless, it’s generally agreed that natural sources, including decay, constitute about 30% of total CO2 emissions. This assertion is endorsed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a well-regarded body of experts in the field of climate science.
Sea: Ocean Air Exchange
According to Woods Hole Oceanography Institute, it’s clear that the ocean plays a significant role in the global carbon cycle, with the ability to both absorb and emit carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.
Covering around 70% of Earth’s surface, the ocean acts as a critical sink for atmospheric CO2, absorbing it via diffusion at the air-sea interface
The “biological pump” as its called, is a process involving marine organisms like phytoplankton to absorb and give off carbon. These organisms utilize CO2 for photosynthesis, and upon their death, the sequestered carbon descends to the bottom of the ocean and collects in layers.
The ocean also releases CO2 back into the atmosphere due to the decomposition of organic matter in its depths.
Overall, the ocean remains a net CO2 sink as long as it absorbs more CO2 than it emits.
The problem is, by increasing CO2 absorption it has led to ocean acidification, where excess CO2 forms carbonic acid, raising seawater’s acidity. This can adversely affect marine life, particularly shell-forming organisms and coral reefs
2. Man Made: Burning Fossil Fuels
The latest data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center shows that in 2014, over 35 billion metric tons of CO2 were released from burning fossil fuels.
Top Fossil Fuel Co2 Sources
- Industry – 24%
- Agriculture / Forestry / Land Use – 24%
- Electric and Heat – 23%
- Transportation – 15%
- Buildings – 6%
- Other – 10%
What Is the Evidence for Human-Caused Climate Change?
The Role of Human Activity in Climate Change
Ice cores drawn from Greenland prove that greenhouse gases, specifically Co2, naturally rise and fall every +/- 100,000 years or so. The ice cores also show that the level of Co2 have never before in history, gone over 300 parts per million (ppm).
Today we are over 400 ppm.
Since this has never happened in the last 800,000 years, no one know what the consequences for sure will be.
In the past 800,000 years, the primary factor driving the current record-breaking levels of atmospheric CO2 is human activity.
As stated by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a private, non-profit organization at the forefront of climate research, there’s a strong connection between the concentration of atmospheric CO2 and shifts in global average temperatures and seasonal cycles.
No-one’s debating whether the Earth’s climate changes naturally.
Through Jean Jouzel’s study, as well as other studies, Earth’s natural climate cycles and atmospheric composition have been proven as far back as 800,000 years ago.
The problem is, the composition of Earth’s atmosphere today, is changing more rapidly than ever before seen in last 800,000 years.
So, yes Earth’s climate both has, and is, changing as part of a natural occurring cycle. But because of human activity it’s changing faster than usual.
So how fast is it changing?
What makes the most sense to do about it?
How Fast Is The Climate Changing
The Average Global Temperature: How fast is it changing
Over the past 800,000 years, Earth’s climate has experienced cycles of glacial and interglacial periods as part of our ongoing cycles. These cycles are largely driven by changes in Earth’s orbit and tilt, referred to as Milankovitch cycles.
Ice core data shows that global temperatures during these cycles varied roughly every 100,000 years by about 4-7 degrees Celsius between cold (glacial) and warm (interglacial) periods.
While these fluctuations might seem similar to today’s warming, they occurred at a much slower pace.
To give you an idea, the shift from a chilly glacial state to a toasty interglacial state (a temperature change of about 4-7 degrees Celsius) took around 10,000 years. This equates to an average warming rate of about 0.4 to 0.7 degrees Celsius per millennium.
However, our current rate of global warming, fueled by human activities, is estimated at about 20 degrees Celsius per millennium according to IPCC reports. That means we’re warming the planet about 20 to 50 times faster than during the natural shift from a glacial to an interglacial state.
The Size of Arctic Ice Sheets: How fast is it changing
Historically, the ebb and flow of Earth’s Arctic ice sheets takes place as they freeze and thaw over thousands of years. Today, however, we’re witnessing the retreat of the Arctic ice sheets in mere decades – a pace that’s unparalleled in the last 800,000 years.
The swifter than normal pace that ice is melting impacts sea levels, ecosystems, and regional climates. This accelerated pace of melting isn’t giving enough time for both us humans and the diverse wildlife to adapt. This rapid change is shaping up to be a major environmental challenge and a tough test for our global society.
The Global Sea Level: How fast is it changing
Historically, sea levels have risen and fallen naturally over the span of thousands of years. But today, what we’re seeing is an acceleration in sea level rise that’s unlike anything in the past 800,000 years.
The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Australian National University also confirm this incredibly fast-paced sea level rise projecting out in the future if current trends continue. These findings highlight just how crucial it is for us to understand and respond to this global issue, guided by solid scientific evidence.
How Bad Are The Effects Of Climate Change Going To Be?
No matter where you look this up or who you ask, the extent of the future effects of climate change are incalculable in any one direction.
The common answers you’ll hear are increased drought, fires, hurricanes, floods, and famine.
There are hundreds of studies to back these claims, however the severity and human adaptability are two wildly unknown variables.
What’s known for sure is, that if temperatures rise, then glaciers melt, then sea levels rise, and coastal cities, towns, and villages become flooded.
The Effects of Coastal Flooding
FEMA found that over half of uninsured households in 100-year floodplains are low-income, and the median annual income of uninsured households is $40,000. Outside these floodplains, 41% of uninsured households are low-income, with a median income of $56,000.
This suggests lower-income households are more likely to reside in high-risk flood areas. Given the average annual flood insurance cost of $1,098, those least able to afford it are at the greatest risk.
According to The Union of Concerned Scientists, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to using independent science to address our planet’s most pressing challenges, over 90 coastal communities in the United States are already grappling with chronic flooding, and this figure is anticipated to rise to over 170 communities within the next two decades.
Looking ahead, by the end of this century, an alarming number of as many as 670 coastal communities, including prominent cities such as Cambridge, Oakland, Miami, St. Petersburg, and sections of New York City, will confront the persistent threat of flooding.
This pioneering study, conducted by The Union of Concerned Scientists, presents an extensive mapping of the entire coastline of the contiguous 48 states, providing valuable insights into the projected timeline for sea-level rise and its potential impact on coastal communities.
Importantly, the study delves into various strategies for addressing the issue, including options like strategic retreat and the cessation of development in vulnerable coastal areas.
What Can We Do About Climate Change ?
1. Transition to Renewable Energy:
Invest in and promote clean energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As the United Nations puts it, “Renewables are our ticket out of import dependency.”
What can we do? Governments can play their part by implementing policies that encourage the use of renewable energy. And as individuals, we can raise our voices and push for the adoption of long term options such as sustainable and renewable energy that involves less importing.
|Transition to Renewable Energy
|High upfront costs and infrastructure changes
|Reduced greenhouse gas emissions, energy security, job creation, improved public health
|Technological advancements, long-term savings, societal benefits outweigh initial costs
2. Foster Sustainable Practices:
Embrace regenerative farming, energy-efficient technologies, and circular economy principles. Governments must incentivize sustainable practices.
|Foster Sustainable Practices
|Transition costs and resistance to change
|Improved environmental health, reduced waste, economic sustainability
|Long-term economic and environmental benefits outweigh initial costs, societal and policy support
3. Protect and Restore Ecosystems:
Prioritize forest conservation, reforestation, and sustainable land management. Preserving biodiversity and restoring ecosystems contribute to climate change mitigation and resilience.
|Protect and Restore Ecosystems
|Economic costs and potential conflicts over land use
|Enhanced biodiversity, carbon sequestration, increased resilience
|Ecosystem services and long-term sustainability outweigh short-term costs
Promote Climate Resilience:
Invest in climate-resilient infrastructure, early warning systems, and comprehensive disaster management. Empower communities to develop climate adaptation plans and integrate resilience into urban planning.
|Promote Climate Resilience
|High upfront costs
|Reduced vulnerability to climate impacts, enhanced community resilience
|Long-term savings and benefits outweigh initial costs
Taking Action: Climate Science Meets Politics
Dealing with climate change isn’t just about understanding the science…It’s also about navigating a tricky political landscape. On one of the political spectrum, we’ve got climate change deniers…and on the other, we’ve got passionate climate activists urging for immediate drastic action. And then there’s the challenge of ensuring the media is fair and responsible in its coverage of these issues on both sides.
Recognizing these elements is crucial. It’s only by having open, evidence-based discussions and working together towards common goals that we can truly make a dent in tackling climate change, thus paving the way for a more sustainable future.
Climate Change Deniers: Right Wing
Even with a mountain of science backing it up, there are still folks out there who don’t believe in climate change, or don’t think it’s a big deal. These climate change skeptics often use misleading info or take data out of context to create doubts using flawed logic and internet memes.
That’s why it’s super important to have open, honest conversations that are grounded in real, solid evidence. This helps us understand each other’s views and work towards a common understanding of the issues and how to best resolve them.
Climate Change Emergency Activists: Left Wing
Climate change emergency activists passionately advocate for urgent action to address the climate crisis. While their calls for immediate and drastic measures are important in raising awareness, policymakers must balance urgency with practical and achievable solutions.
It’s important to remember that alarmism, (the tendency to exaggerate perceived threats) can sometimes do more harm than good. By pushing climate alarm too far, it might end up causing panic. Balancing this sense of urgency with realistic, achievable solutions is key.
Climate Change Media Coverage: Both Wings
The climate change narrative, like many other topics, is often shaped by political ideologies, which can lead to sensationalism in the media. After all, sensationalistic headlines is one way media outlets make profits.
On the left wing, media outlets may highlight the most extreme potential outcomes of climate change to underscore the urgency of the problem. While this can raise awareness and provoke action, it can also lead to alarmism, causing some people to feel overwhelmed and helpless. The constant barrage of doomsday predictions might even result in fatigue and disengagement, with people feeling that the problem is too vast to solve.
Conversely, some right-wing media may downplay the severity of climate change, or even deny its existence altogether. They might focus on the economic costs of climate mitigation strategies without adequately covering the potential long-term benefits. This can create the false impression that the problem is not as serious as it is, or that the cost of addressing it outweighs the benefits, leading to complacency and inaction.
Both of these extremes lack transparency and can harm public trust in the media.
These extreme narratives can make it hard for the public, especially young people, to trust the media. When news seems biased or exaggerated, it can create confusion and spread misinformation. It’s crucial for society that we strive for balanced, factual reporting that highlights the urgency of the issue without causing undue panic or skepticism.
Final Thoughts: What’s Up With Climate Change
Climate change is an undeniable reality, firmly supported by robust scientific evidence.
Rather than debating its existence, our primary focus should be on comprehending its causes and working towards viable solutions. The current pace of climate change, predominantly influenced by human activities, is unparalleled in human history.
Tackling climate change necessitates a concerted effort from all sectors of society. Vital strategies include transitioning to cleaner energy sources, embracing sustainable practices, safeguarding ecosystems, and fostering resilience.
In order to see any success at tackling the effects of climate change it will require effective collaboration among society as a whole, including governments, individuals, and communities.
Successfully navigating the intersection of climate science and politics requires constructive dialogue. Policymakers must strike a balance between urgency and practical solutions. Responsible media coverage, prioritizing scientific consensus and fostering informed discussions, also play a critical role.
Overall I am optimistic that by implementing effective strategies and embracing innovative approaches, we can address climate change, adapt to its impacts, and forge a more efficient and sustainable future.
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