Scientists learning more about climate change
After reading any article on climate change, a trip to the comments section can be an amusing, yet soul destroying experience.
Public uncertainty over climate change is partly driven by the fact that climate sceptics receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage. For every scientist who believes climate change is caused by people (97% of the climate science community agree climate change is anthropogenic), a few argue the opposite.
In this blog I would like to address one of the common claims made by climate change sceptics, and offer some evidence-based rebuttals.
Records show its been hotter in the past – what’s the big deal?
This is true – the Earth has been warmer in the past. However, future temperatures are only part of the problem. The other worry is the rate at which temperatures are increasing. The characteristics and infrastructures of our society are suited to particular weather patterns and sea levels. We rely on nature for food, fuel, clean water and air, as well as many other ecosystem services. These ecosystems are similarly suited to certain climates. Rapid changes in global temperature could cause a collapse of these ecosystems and the services they provide, with a direct impact on humans. The rate at which global temperatures are increasing is unprecedented in the history of our species and even rare in geological history. In fact, the Earth has been accumulating the equivalent of four Hiroshima bombs worth of heat per second since 1998.
The Earth may have been through similar scenarios in the past, but this is not reassuring. When you study the effects of these past changes, the situation looks even more grave. Rapid climate change is a key factor in almost all mass extinctions, including the period known as the ‘Great Dying’ 250 million years ago, which wiped out 93 – 97% of the world’s species.
Climate change is not an issue for the Earth; our planet has survived without us for billions of years and will continue to do so when we are gone. Equally, future biodiversity is unlikely to be compromised by current climate change, as the Earth has experienced losses of 97% of all species and has still rebounded to produce humans and all the species around us today.
The issue with current climate change is that it is the first such change caused by the activities of a single species – humans. We need to reverse modern temperature rises to maintain an environment in which we can survive and rely on the ecosystems that support us.