There is no denying it: climate change is a serious global problem that warrants an urgent action on our part. It is arguably the most profound problem that our planet currently faces and that the consequences of which seem to be gravely underestimated and misunderstood by many. It is a topic that has engendered much perennial controversy — much of which is quite unneeded. Because, one cannot “believe” in climate change. Climate change is real. It is an established scientific fact that should not be presented as a debatable issue or framed as a belief system, because it is a logical consequence of scientific observation.
On an issue such as that of climate change, one should accept expertise — the overwhelming scientific consensus that points towards a warming trend.
Since 1906, there has been an increase in average global temperature of about 0.7 Celsius degrees and from 1995 to 2007, we had 12 of 13 warmest record temperatures since the year 1850 (see figure). According to the researchers who carried out this study, the deviation that exists from air and sea temperatures is owing to regional differences of latitude, air pollution, and many other factors. For example, air temperature over land is more liable to warm more quickly because water holds more heat than land. Also, Antarctica appears to be cooling and sea ice is increasing due to many factors (for example, dropping ozone layers which consequently lead to increasing winds, circumpolar current which prevents heat transport to the South Pole, and shifting storms that bring about cold air south). But, sea ice is not an indicator of a change in sea level (which does not change significantly when it melts). More importantly, Antarctica is losing land ice at an accelerating rate, and it is this which has important ramifications for sea level rise.
Many climate change deniers like to point to the incidents of snowfalls burying cities (as in last January for example) as evidence against global warming. But, this is no licence to talk nonsense. Hotter air holds more moisture and thus as temperature cools, the moisture falls as snow. So increased warmth actually leads to more snow.
Several satellites have been circling the Earth poles since the 70’s which carry microwave instruments that measure the radiance of Earth at microwave frequencies and they all show an increasing warming trend of the troposphere (see figure below).
According to the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences (GISS), the past few decades have seen an increase in temperature for most locations around the world (with warming trends being particularly felt in areas of high latitude). 2014 was in fact the warmest year on record since 1880 (first recording), with the previous top records being 2005 and 2010. The warmest temperatures have all occurred in the last 25 years. Furthermore, the GISS also reports that the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is increasing by 2 ppm each year. Their studies have reinforced that greenhouse gases have led to increasing warming for the past 30 years.
Hurricanes, which are driven by energy of heat in warm moist air, have also increased. We are experiencing more storms with more destructive power and increased wind speeds, owing to global warming and rising sea levels.
Seasons have shifted: spring is coming earlier, again because of global warming, which is evident in shortened mammal hibernation periods, birds laying eggs earlier, and flowers and plants blooming earlier. Even birds have now started moving earlier than usual to cooler places, owing to the premature arrival of spring. The consequent earlier melting has also led to less hunting times for polar bears on sea ice. In fact, the polar bear population in Canada’s western Hudson Bay has declined by about 22 percent since the late 80’s.
Permafrost (frozen subsurface soil layer) has been melting, the loss of which has caused buildings in Alaska and Northwest Territories to sink into the ground. Mountain glaciers and ice caps have shrunk (since 2005, it has been estimated that they have lost about 420 giga-tonnes of ice per year.) The increased precipitation has led to decreased ocean salinity over the years.
I could go on and on. But, that’s enough to be getting on with.
The Imperative to Act
We must act now. The path of tomorrow is defined by our choices of today. The more we delay, the greater our predicament. There is no time to debate. We cannot afford to and most importantly, we cannot debate facts. We must, therefore, get past the “whether or not we have a problem” and on to “how we can tackle the problem.” The emissions that are already in climate will stay and lead to warming for 1,000 more years. If we continue on our current trajectory (anticipated temperature increase of 4.3 °C), 16 percent of the world’s species will face extinction.
Economic gain is not possible unless we address the impacts of climate change. Acting on climate can generate employment and growth on an impressive scale. It can generate livelihoods and protect public health. Indeed, the costs of inaction are much higher than the costs of action.
It is time that we stop using coal, oil, and gas and turn to renewable zero carbon power generation sources. It is time that we vision a low-carbon economy. We have an urgent imperative to raise our collective level of ambition to tackle climate change and as the great communicator Carl Sagan once emphasized, to “preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we have ever known.” It is a moral obligation we have to the future people of this planet, the benefits of which overwhelm any possible cost.
Featured image courtesy of Stoonn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net