With the current winter beginning to fade behind us, many are asking, “Where is global warming?” Others may ask, “Is climate change real?”
First, it is easy to confuse weather, which changes frequently, and climate, which is a more long-run phenomenon. This topic is very complex and subject to very heated debate.
After much internet research, considering the information provided by both those that do not believe climate change is real and from sources that do, I will share some of my findings. These findings are consistent with the most recent report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, last year’s Fourth National Climate Assessment produced by 13 U.S. agencies under President Donald Trump and 2019’s Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community and Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the U.S. Department of Defense.
These reports were produced by people who had much more time, resources and expertise than I possess, so it would be very arrogant to think my research would be superior to theirs.
The average world temperature has already increased about 1 degree Celsius since the beginning of the industrial period. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from about 280 parts per million to about 410 today, caused by the burning of fossil fuels by humans. There is enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now that even if we stopped adding any, the average world temperature would continue to rise.
To avoid an average world temperature to rise over 1.5 degrees Celsius would require reducing emissions by about half relative to 2010 levels by the year 2030 (now only 11 years away) and reaching net zero around 2050, according to the IPCC report. To achieve a more modest goal mentioned in the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement of maintaining the average world temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, emissions must decline by about 20 percent by the year 2030 and reach net zero by about 2075.
With the foot dragging in the U.S. to take action and the enormity of the tasks necessary to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees, we are likely to exceed that goal. So what difference does it make?
The IPCC report concludes that at a 1.5 degree Celsius rise by 2100, as compared with a 2-degree rise, at least 10 million fewer people would be exposed to such risks as flooding, infrastructure damage and saltwater intrusion into freshwater resources. We would see fewer life-threatening heat, drought and precipitation extremes, less sea-level rise and fewer species lost.
With a 2-degree rise, collapse of coral reefs would be essentially ensured. Somewhere between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees, the planet’s great ice sheets may become increasingly unstable, further increasing the potential for sea-level rise. In the 1.5-degree warming scenario, the Arctic Ocean is projected to be ice-free during the summer only once per century. That would happen once a decade under the 2-degree scenario.
Many people do not believe this. I know I do not wish it to be true. But wishing does not make the problem go away. Due to confirmation bias, it is natural to absorb information that confirms our preconceived beliefs and to avoid the opposite. And most people are rational, and with the perceived time it would take to become knowledgeable and the likelihood of making any difference, the benefit-cost ratio leads them to inaction.
So no blame is assessed for people who either don’t believe or don’t take any action. But for those who wonder whether the skeptics’ arguments hold water, I suggest you start with going to skepticalscience.com.
Our kids and grandkids will experience a world profoundly different from the one you and I grew up in. What we do to combat climate change will be the defining issue of our lifetimes. The projections can be very depressing, but we can’t give up and do nothing. When my grandkids ask me 20 years from now, “You knew 20 years ago what was likely to happen. What did you do to prevent it?” I want to be able to say I did something. What will you be able to say?
We are past the if and when questions about climate change. We are now at the how will we deal with. My next post will discuss options we can rationally consider.