This post is part of a series aimed at providing one perspective to the broad topic of climate change. Overall, this series will include mention of the causes of climate change, how it affects us and personal ideas from the writer on approaches that can be taken to solve this complex and global issue. Facts are facts, but any personal views expressed throughout this series are those of the writer alone.
Is it happening?
Yes. That’s the answer from the scientific community. The International Panel on Climate Change found that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal”. A recent study found that 97% of climatologists (out of 12,000 peer-reviewed articles) found that humans are causing changes in our Earth’s climate system. If 97% of doctors recommended a new treatment for cancer, it would change the medical paradigm when it comes to treating cancer.
However, when it comes to climate change, our public and politicians have been slow to embrace decades of research and data. A comprehensive strategy to mitigate climate change is necessary, but has been met with opposition from industry and energy companies. These organizations, led by the Koch Brothers ($67 million by themselves), have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to scientists and climate denial groups to manufacture data and delay critical policy. Brown & Williamson, a tobacco giant, noted in a memo “Doubt is our product”. It’s no wonder that groups such as the Koch Brothers are employing the strategies that the tobacco industry has used to combat evidence that smoking causes cancer. These industry groups have funded studies designed specifically to refute evidence of climate change, and use these studies to challenge the consensus that climate change is caused by human activity. In many cases, these scientists (geologists) have no credentials in the field of climate science. But some Koch Industries-funded scientists have recanted their skepticism of climate change, with one scientist, Richard Muller stating, “humans are almost entirely the cause” of climate change. In any case, the Koch’s are in a paramount position to lobby against climate policy in Congress. As the biggest donors to the Tea Party and conservative front groups such as Americans for Prosperity, ALEC, and Freedom Works, the Koch Brothers have considerable ability to fund campaigns and candidates that are opposed to climate policy. In fact, the increased power of the Tea Party to challenge incumbents has caused Republicans to side with the energy lobby to avoid a primary challenge. As a result, the majority of the Republican Party is at least skeptical of anthropogenic climate change, and has fought against climate policy, to keep oil subsidies, and against the EPA’s attempt to regulate greenhouse gases.
Evidence of Climate Change
Our planet is warming at a pace that is unprecedented in history. This warming directly corresponds to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution. We must make a distinction between weather and climate; weather is an indication of atmospheric conditions over a short period of time, while climate is a measure of these conditions over an extended period of time. In this next section, we will use indicators of long-term climate to demonstrate that climate change is occurring at a rapid pace.
- Most of the warming has taken place in the last 40 years, in the same time as carbon emissions have soared.
- All 20 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1981. All 10 of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last 12 years. According to NOAA, 14 of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last 15 years.
- The argument that solar output causes climate change is a common theory used by climate skeptics. The years 2007-2009 experienced a deep solar minimum, yet were some of the hottest years on record.
- 2012 was the hottest year on record for the United States, and second most extreme in our history.
- This year is expected to be no different. The summer in Australia was their hottest ever. This May was the third warmest on record (1998 and 2005 warmer). In the last few weeks, a heat wave struck Alaska, soaring temperatures into the 90’s.
- The global sea level rose 17 centimeters in the last century. The rate of sea level rise this decade is double that.
- The top 700 meters of ocean have warmed by .3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. It takes an enormous amount of heat to warm the ocean by that amount.
- Our ice sheets are diminishing rapidly. Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic km of ice per year from 2002 to 2006. Glaciers have retreated at record rates.
- The acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by 30%. The amount of CO2 absorbed by the oceans increases by 2 billion tons per year.
- 2012 saw 362 all-time records high temperatures in the United States but no record lows. Last week, Death Valley, California came close to recording the hottest temperature ever on Earth.
- Every major governmental institution has indicated that anthropogenic climate change is happening.
- Every nation except the United States and Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol, signaling an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Australia has since confirmed its intent to limit its greenhouse gas emissions.
- The past few years have seen an increase in extreme weather that can be linked to a changing climate. A warming of the oceans strengthens the intensity of hurricanes. Six of the 10 strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record have occurred in the last 15 years. Hurricane Katrina killed 1,800 people along the Gulf Coast. Last October, Manhattan was under water from Hurricane Sandy, a year after the Northeast was struck by Hurricane Irene. 2012 saw a historic drought in the American heartland and in Russia, both vital breadbaskets for the planet.
- The past decade has seen record numbers of extinctions and migrations of plant and animals to cooler climates.
- Scientific records have indicated that such warming is unprecedented by studying the remains of corals and other organisms. The effects of climate change has been predicted and by substantiated by computer models.