In this article we will explain global climate, global warming and climate change, and why some people think climate change is a hoax.
For a while now, the subject of global warming and climate change has been one of the most hotly debated topics in the political and scientific communities. Recently this has become the case even more so, due to events such as the Earth passing one of the significant climate change milestones in 2016 and U.S President Donald Trump pulling America out of the Paris Agreement in mid-2017.
Despite all this, a significant majority of people don’t fully understand how global warming works or some of the consequences it may have. Not only this, but there are large groups of people who are skeptical of global warming and those who outright deny that humanmade climate change is real. There are many reasons for this, and in this article, we will describe global warming explained simply, hopefully allowing you to walk away with a better understanding of global warming itself and some of the issues surrounding it as to why it is an often misunderstood phenomenon.
To understand global warming and climate change, it is first essential you know how the Earth’s climate and temperature work naturally.
The Sun emits light which the Earth absorbs, mostly in the form of visible light. This causes the Earth to heat up, so it must release some of that light to prevent itself overheating. When the Earth releases light, it emits it in the form of lower-energy Infrared light.
The Earth’s atmosphere is made of many gasses, some of which are Greenhouse Gasses. Greenhouses Gasses do not affect visible light and allow it to pass through unhindered, but absorb infrared light, keeping it within the Earth’s atmosphere and causing the Earth to retain its heat. Infrared light is not just absorbed once either; in many cases, infrared light is absorbed multiple times by different clusters of greenhouse gasses before it returns to the environment. This is known as the greenhouse effect.
Now, this in itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it is because of this natural function of the planet that Earth has the right conditions to sustain life at all. Without the greenhouse effect, the earth would be approximately 50F cooler, humanity would never have come to be, and you wouldn’t be here reading this article.
However, over the last couple of centuries, humans have been making a significant impact on the planet due to causing a substantial rise of greenhouse gasses within the atmosphere. The best definition of global warming itself is the overall increase in the planet’s temperature due to rising greenhouse gasses.
Now that we have a basic understanding of what global warming is, let’s go into the causes of global warming in more detail, and what some of its consequences may be.
So what exactly is it that humanity has done that has led to this increase in the greenhouse effect resulting in climate change? There are many different activities contributing to this, some with a much more significant impact than others, but all of which boil down into increasing the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, ensuring more heat is trapped on the planet for longer and Earth’s temperature rises.
Some of the greenhouse gasses most commonly used in human activity – and how we’re putting them into the atmosphere – include:
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – The most frequently discussed gas in regards to global warming and climate change, CO2 is a gas that is naturally released into the atmosphere during respiration (The transformation of oxygen into carbon dioxide in living cells) and volcanic eruptions. Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere have rapidly increased due to human activities such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels. Since the early days of the industrial revolution, we have been placing more CO2 in the atmosphere, making this the longest known humanmade contribution to climate change.
Methane (CH4) – Another gas produced both naturally, and through humanmade methods, methane is far more active than C02 in absorbing infrared light (20 times as much) but much less abundant within the atmosphere. Methane is produced through the decomposition of waste in landfills and the excessive feces produced by large populations of cattle bred for human consumption.
Nitrous Oxide (N2O) – One of the more potent greenhouse gasses, N2O is produced through the use of chemical fertilizers, burning of fossil fuels, nitric acid production and the burning of biomasses. Although this was already one of the less common greenhouse gasses we pump into the environment, its use is also now of one of the most regulated and restricted, because it is around 300 times more potent than CO2 in its infrared light absorbing effect.
We know how we’re affecting the environment and the atmosphere, but what are the effects of global warming?
The full extent of the effects of global warming will have are hard to predict, but some of the significant effects scientists believe will come to be are:
The Earth’s temperature overall will rise. While the exact amount it will increase by remaining unclear, the scientific community agrees raises in temperature are certain.
The increased temperatures will lead to more evaporation and precipitation. This will lead to some regions of the world becoming dryer and some wetter.
The higher temperatures will also likely lead to melting the glaciers and other ice around the world, raising the sea level and submerging certain parts of landmasses underwater.
Certain species of animals and plants will struggle and go extinct in the new climate they’re presented with, while some others may thrive.
Again, due to how complex the environment is and all of the different variables and moving parts within nature, the exact consequences global warming will have is hard to pinpoint accurately, but on the whole scientists are in agreement that any positives will be massively outweighed by the adverse effects climate change has on humanity and the planet as a whole. The most ardent advocates of curbing our greenhouse emissions even state that we must treat global warming as a World War II level threat to our planet.
If the possibilities are so dangerous, then what can we do to reduce their likelihood and intensity?
Placing limits on the amount of carbon that big polluters are allowed to emit could also prove useful, but this idea has repeatedly been criticized as being economically unviable.
Further exploring the possibilities of nuclear power is also another option that would help reduce emissions, but has many reluctant to pursue for many reasons, as nuclear power comes with many of its risks.
Reducing the tropical deforestation and the excessive breeding of livestock are also methods that would help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
However, many agree that before these goals can be achieved, there is one glaring problem that must be addressed. Fortunately, that is a problem that everyone – including you, and hopefully by writing this article, including us – can tackle. That is fighting misinformation and knowing what the facts are regarding global warming and climate change, helpfully explaining them to those who are unsure exactly what global warming and climate change are.
As such, equally crucial to understanding the mechanisms behind global warming is recognizing what we don’t know yet, and why some are skeptical or outright believe climate change is a hoax.
First, there’s those who believe that if science doesn’t have all the answers at any particular time, or if there is sometimes conflicting viewpoints on the exact specifics within the scientific community, then the whole concept must be some hoax.
This simply doesn’t reflect the nature in which research and study are conducted – thousands of studies are performed yearly within different fields of science. Each investigation it comes to slightly different conclusions because they are filtered through various approaches and restrictions such as location, samples available to study and so on. This naturally leads to differences in the exact results and predictions of how long certain changes will take to occur in the environment, and exactly how severe the effects will be. However, overall the data all points in the same direction and the scientific community has reached a 97% consensus that global warming is happening and that humans are the cause.
Another common argument you might hear against humanmade climate change is the fact that our current weather-predicting technology isn’t always right when predicting the weather just months or weeks in advance, so how can we predict what the entire global climate will be like decades from now? On the surface, this argument appears to make a lot of sense, but it falls into the trap of being a simple retort to a more complicated issue. While it is true that short-term weather patterns are hard to predict, long-term changes in climate behavior are easier to observe and predict.
For example, scientists have been carefully observing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and all of them have found a correlation between the levels of CO2 and similar gasses in the air and the average temperature. In fact, eleven of the last twelve years have been some of the hottest on record.
Another major issue is that global warming and climate change is not just a scientific or environmental issue, but also a political one. Study after study shows that it is conservatives and those with right-leaning political views that make up the vast majority of climate change deniers, mainly because industry regulation and environmentalism are seen as left-wing positions. This often leads to people resisting measures to curb the effects of climate change for economic or political reasons, rather than scientific ones.
Lastly, we’ve become incredibly dependent on fossil fuels over the last century, and it’s become clear cutting our dependency on these types of fuel is going to be incredibly important in combating climate change.
When you’re faced with two sides of an argument – one that says we need to make drastic changes and perhaps face many short-term inconveniences and another that says everything will be okay and we can continue to live our lives uninterrupted – it’s easy to see why climate change denial can be a more comfortable stance to take.
Often, the best approach to take with climate change deniers is first to discuss how we can all benefit from the effects to mitigate global warming. Even if someone claims not to believe humanmade climate change is real, the benefits in driving further economic, scientific and technological progress by exploring the power of alternative, cleaner energy sources – which we just so happen to have some articles covering – should soon win them over.
Hopefully, you’re now equipped with all the facts and information you need on global warming and how we mitigate the worst consequences. As cheesy as it might sound, this is something we can all play our part in – whether it simply be making an effort to switch off use less electricity or cut down on the usage of cars or the intake of meat, helping to inform others about the facts, or dedicating further by becoming part of one of the groups campaigning and pressuring for further action, each of us can contribute. Given the fascinating new technologies and scientific breakthroughs that are waiting just around the corner, it’s worth preserving clean and healthy earth to enjoy them on.
The original author of this article is James Linacre, sadly he has left the team to pursue other ventures and we wish him the best! All edits have been done by Gavin Whale.