warming from the growth of greenhouse gases is likely to be minor, difficult to detect above the natural fluctuations of the climate, and therefore inconsequential”. You might be surprised to be reading this on Greentumble, but this is an excerpt from a speech by climate sceptic atmospheric physicist and founder of the advocacy-oriented Science and Environmental Policy Project Fred Singer. While you may think that his assertions are irrelevant, the truth is that he is not alone in making them. There is a trend, and the phenomena of global warming and climate change illustrate this to a tee, for science to be side-lined and discredited in favour of more populist views. It is not a coincidence that this year’s Earth Day focused on the importance of science and education around climate change. Unfortunately, climate sceptic views are espoused even by top elected officials in Western countries, such as the US and the UK, who are quoted saying that global warming is a Chinese hoax or that it could not be happening because we still have cold weather.
So maybe we need go back to the basics and look at some common global warming facts and myths.
Global warming myths explained
- If global warming is real, then why do we still have record-cold winters?
In the first place, there are a number of factors and phenomena that influence the Earth’s climate. One very important one is the El Niño phenomenon, one of the culprits responsible for these bizarre weather patterns we are increasingly experiencing. El Niño is a natural phenomenon which occurs every four years or so during the winter season in the Northern Hemisphere. It brings warmer-than-usual sea surface temperatures emerge along the South American west coast which in turn affects winds around the world which feed into winter storms in areas like Europe².
But the reality is that the Earth’s average temperatures have been on the rise since 1880. Indeed, 2016 was the warmest year on record according to international agencies, with 2015 and 2014 taking second and third place, respectively. What is more, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average global temperature has increased by 0.85 degrees Celsius since 1880. So while there will always be outlying cold weather events, there is no disputing that temperatures are in fact increasing around the world.
It is important to also remember that high temperatures due to climate change is also responsible for some natural catastrophes. For example, due to hot weather in September 2015, 10,500 firefighters were called to tackle forest fires in California where 1,400 homes were burnt down.
- Why should we be concerned if the temperature increases by a couple of degrees? It is not a big change
Scientists estimate that a temperature increase of over 2 degrees will lead to an increase in extreme weather events such as droughts and storms. Sea levels are already rising due to melting glaciers, and this trend is likely to continue making many areas inhabitable and leading to population displacements.
What is more, if we don’t tackle climate change in a decisive way, the IPCC estimates that the average global temperature could rise by 5.4 degrees by the end of the 21st century. While our planet can adapt to small changes also in terms of temperature changes, it reaches a point where its coping mechanisms can no longer respond to the changes which leads to the collapse of ecosystems across our planet. This in turn compromises some of the most important benefits that our environment delivers such as clean air, water and nutrient replenishment.
Some sceptics still contest that a temperature change of a few degrees cannot lead to catastrophic events since the Earth has experienced greater temperature changes. For example, during the last ice age, which ended 12,000 years ago. But the truth is that the world’s average temperature during that period of extreme cold was only 4-5°C cooler than it is today. So this illustrates how just a few degrees of difference can make a drastic difference³. More seriously, the rate at which we are experiencing temperature change today is very rapid.
- The sun, not human activity, causes global warming
- Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant