“The observational evidence…suggests that any 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 skeptic 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 skeptic 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?
It is true that we are experiencing more extreme weather patterns and temperatures. This also includes particularly cold winters. For example, the winter of 2009/2010 was unusually cold in Europe so much so that many countries reported casualties due to the freezing temperatures. The winter was so cold that even sea ice around Antarctica increased marginally . But using this evidence alone to support that global warming is not happening would be a gross misinterpretation of the available data.
In the first place, there are a number of factors and phenomena that influence the Earth’s climate. One very important factor 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 Europe .
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.
Why should we be concerned if the temperature increases by a couple of degrees? It is not a big change.
At face value, an increase of 2 or 3 Celsius degrees does not seem like much at all. But when the change refers to global average temperatures, even a minor change can have extreme consequences for our planet.
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 skeptics 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 difference . More seriously, the rate at which we are experiencing temperature change today is very rapid.
The sun, not human activity, causes global warming.
Some argue that the sun’s activity has increased which has caused the world to get warmer so increasing global warming cannot be attributed to human activity. As revealed by a study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in December 2011, the reality is that over the last 35 years, the sun has in fact shown a slight cooling effect whereas global temperatures have been increasing.
So while overall solar activity can explain some of the increase in global temperatures, that represents a very small amount of the overall increase .
Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.
Carbon dioxide is an important substance for our planet. To be able to grow, plants utilize CO2 to start the process of photosynthesis. But this same gas is also a pollutant in some cases.
For example, increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are the reason we are experiencing global warming. When heat energy gets released from the Earth’s surface, some of that radiation is trapped by greenhouse gases such as CO2; when CO2 levels increase, this leads to global warming.
Increased CO2 also leads to ocean acidification putting at risk our marine life .