“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 favor of more populist views.
Unfortunately, climate skeptic views are espoused even by top elected officials in Western countries, such as in 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.
Some of the most common global warming myths explained
Myth #1: 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 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.
The facts about cold winters and global warming
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 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.
It is important to also remember that high temperatures due to climate change are 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.
Myth #2: Why should we be concerned if the temperature increases by a couple of degrees? It is not such a big change.
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.
And an increase in global average temperature 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.
The truth is that the world’s average temperature during that last ice age period of extreme cold was only 4 to 5 degrees Celsius cooler than it is today.
The facts about the few degrees temperature rise
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.
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. This leads to the collapse of ecosystems across our planet. This in turn compromises some of the most important benefits that our environment delivers. These include crucial ecosystem services such as provision of clean air, drinking water and soil nutrient replenishment.
So just a few degrees of temperature increase can make a drastic difference . More seriously, the rate at which we are experiencing temperature change today is very rapid.
Myth #3: 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.
The fact about the effect of the sun on climate
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 .
Myth #4: Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) 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.
The fact about the effect of CO2
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 like CO2 is. When CO2 levels increase, this leads to global warming.
Increased CO2 also leads to ocean acidification putting at risk our marine life .
Proofs that global warming is already changing the world
There is currently a lot of discussion about the impacts that climate change will likely have in the future. However, what we also need to become aware of is how the changing global climate is already impacting life on Earth today.
Once we realize how everything is already affected by a warmer world, it should motivate us to change how we live so that we can help to prevent the worst predicted impacts of climate change.
Melting polar ice
As the planet warms, the sea ice at both poles is melting. The polar sea ice in the Arctic has been reduced by 14 percent since 1970, and the Antarctic glaciers are currently losing 60 cubic kilometers of ice annually, which is the equivalent of about 70,000 Empire State Buildings [5,6].
Sea level rise
As a result of melting polar ice, sea levels continue to rise. Sea levels have risen by 4 to 8 inches over the last 100 years (with a 0.13 inch rise per year within the last 20 years–about twice the rate of the first 80 years), and under a “business as usual” scenario, sea levels are predicted to rise as much as 2.5 to 6.5 feet by the year 2100 .
Many coastal communities are experiencing eroding coastlines with increased flooding in lower elevation areas. This has already caused some coastal communities to relocate in order to avoid the higher sea waters .
Some island nations are now seeing so much seawater flooding their country that they are considering moving their entire population elsewhere .
Increased incidents of heatwaves, drought, and wildfires
Record-breaking high temperatures are already occurring around the globe on a regular basis. With these higher temperatures comes a higher risk of heat-related diseases, such as heat stroke.
With increased temperatures comes increased and long-lasting drought. Harsh droughts and dry conditions are already being experienced in places such as in the State of California in the Western United States where the aquifers have been quickly depleted during the current drought conditions. This is particularly alarming, since the State of California is where most of the U.S. produce is grown.
We are also seeing an increase in wildfires in many places due to the drier conditions present during droughts.
Stronger storms with increased frequencies
As the planet warms, we are experiencing stronger storms that are happening more often. This means more frequent and highly destructive hurricanes, tornadoes, and more intense rainstorms that could lead to flooding.
For example, the more intense Category 4 and 5 tropical storms have increased in frequency over the last 35 years as ocean temperatures have warmed, and the number of heavy downpours has increased by 5 to 10 percent in many areas within the last 100 years .
The seasons are changing and shifting
According to a recent scientific report published in the journal Nature, each of the seasons is now occurring earlier worldwide.
For instance, spring is now arriving two days earlier than it did just 50 years ago.
Stressed wildlife and altered wildlife habitat and behavior
As global temperatures quickly continue to increase, wildlife populations and their habitats are being negatively impacted. For example, waterfowl such as ducks and geese are altering their migration routes and are more vulnerable to droughts and floods.
For marine life, rising ocean temperatures are leading to negative impacts such as increased coral bleaching, cold water fish species are moving to more northern waters to find cooler ocean temperatures, and higher sea temperatures are negatively impacting sea turtle reproduction.