Is Climate Change Real? by Laurenc DeVita
Donald Trump, climate denier in chief, has just come out with a new position: Climate change is real, and it will go to 4 degree Centigrade above pre-industrial temperatures, but don’t worry, it will change back. He actually said, “I’m not denying climate changeb, ut it could very well go back. You know, we’re talking about over a … millions of years.” He didn’t indicate if he still intends to be president when that happens.
It is important to note that climate change was real before Trump noticed it (and actually, in the past Trump did accept human caused climate change), in fact, we’ve known for over a hundred years.
In 1895 Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius realized that we were releasing CO2 and it would warm the planet. This was before the surge of Modernity, before industrializing took over the globe with an orgy of fossil fuel use. Even so, back then Arrhenius realized that fossil fuels would raise the planet by a number of degrees.
In 1938 Guy Stewart Callendar put forth the notion that we should be worried about the changes it would bring.
In the 1950s Gilbert Plass and Roger Revelle warned that the increase might bring negative effects to nations, and in 1962 Mikhail Budyko warned we were on course for disaster.
In 1968 David Rockefeller founded the Club of Rome, a group intending to globalize all humankind with the intention of improving lives and protecting the environment. Since then, the Club has continued to be a source of information on the various aspects of climate change, from the impacts on low income persons to strategies they feel would work toward deescalating what was increasingly seen as a global problem. The group released, in 1972, “Limits to Growth”, which cautioned that increasing population coupled with increasing resource exploitation was an approaching crisis. The COR released a video from Australia, with an old computer model of a number of variables demonstrated that, about 2940 or so, human productivity would rapidly decline, and population would drop.
Reaction to the Limits to Growth and the model it was based on were immediate, and vitriolic. The premise is that humans can not continue to both increase in population and use more resources on a finite planet. The more the system works the Earth for resources, the more the cost per outcome; it is a closed system, you can’t argue with ecological science. Yet, people do, people for whom the continuation of economic growth was essential.
More recently, however, there is less criticism and more support for that early model, as a 2014 study found that on whole, the primitive model was amazingly on point. https://history.aip.org/history/climate/co2.htm
Since 1972 there have been many models, both of the climate and of the impacts likely to humankind; relatively few differ drastically from the rough outline of that original model.
Since Limits to Growth, the UN has stepped forward to discuss global climate change. Since its inception in 1988, the International Panel on Climate Change has produced publications documenting both the changes in the climatic system, and the impact on humans. The IPCC has issued five assessments, the first in 1992 and the fifth in 2015. They document a worsening crisis, and suggest policy changes to mitigate the worst of the outcomes. Sadly, more people listen to Rush Limbaugh than the IPCC.
Look at the IPCC material yourself: http://ipcc.ch/ Look at the latest report here: http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf
Who believes in climate change? People who live with the immediate circumstances; and those who are enjoying a comfortable life are less willing to. Note the chart.
CHART Percentage of people who believe in global climate change.
In the US, belief in human caused climate change is split along party lines, with nearly seven in ten Democrats believing in climate change, while among Republicans, the percentage is less than two in ten, though now that Trump has acknowledge it.
The Pentagon did back in 2004, and then again in 2014. You can read the Pentagon’s report here: http://archive.defense.gov/pubs/150724-congressional-report-on-national-implications-of-climate-change.pdf?source=govdelivery
Why should we believe that human caused climate change is real?
Science, and pretty easy science at as we recall, that goes back to 1898.
Below are two charts; the first on a time scale of 400,000 years, showing CO2, global temperatures and sea level rise.
Wait, how do we know what the sea level was, and what the temperatures and CO2 were hundreds of thousands of years ago? It takes these people and more: microbiologists, chemical paleontologists, people who study the chemical composition of rock, and of ice and from things like fossil mold spores. When you see a chart like the one below, imagine thousands of people contributing to it, for our understanding. On this important chart, notice that CO2 has risen as not before in over 400,000 years.
The second chart spells it out for us at a scale of a couple of hundred years; it is the rise of CO2 since the start of the industrial revolution.
But, wait, climate change denialists call out, it isn’t us, it is the planet tilting, or the sun getting hotter, or just a natural cycle. Guess what! If it is a real thing, and you know about it, then the professionals who study this for a living also know about it.
Yes, human caused global climate change is real. No, there is no doubt about it. Who believes in climate change? Climate scientists, about 90%, and a study in 2013 found that of 14,000 peer reviewed articles on human caused climate change, only 24 studies disagreed.
Who doesn’t believe in it? People who might have to admit their entire lifestyle is killing the planet. As we saw, Republicans, mostly.
What happened to “global warming”? The term remains correct, the complex systems which compose our climate are heating up, absorbing more energy. However, not everywhere will be warmer all the time, and the thermohaline conveyor, the great system that moves water around the world’s oceans, might slow or stop, and if they do, weather in many place, including the British Isles, will get much colder. Sea level rises comes from ice sheets melting, but the death of the sea comes from plastic pollution, absorbed CO2 making it acidic, and from absorbed temperatures directly.
Of particular concern is the melting of the ice caps at the poles, and on Greenland; the poles are heating the most quickly. Those differences in temperature keep our weather moving in a reasonably constant way. If the difference between the poles and the equator change too much, weather will become unstable and the oceans may become hypoxic, meaning they would not have enough oxygen to support fish.
This picture shows the reduction in old ice in the Arctic in the 27 years leading to 2013. Since 2013 the Arctic has lost even more ice; this year, the passage across the Arctic shipping lanes was kept open all year. We are likely only a few years away from a “blue water Arctic”. Antarctica, we remember, is rock surrounded by ice, while the Arctic is ice, surrounded by rock. To see a time lapse, go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vj1G9gqhkYA
How are we causing climate change?
By overpopulating! There were about 50 million humans or less through most of our history. In the last few tens of thousands of years, our numbers began to grow (the weather got mellow), but even so, human population didn’t really begin to grow until we started exploiting fossil fuels. We were at one billion about 1800; two billion a hundred and thirty years later, three billion in the 1950s and is topping 7.7 billion right now.
See how quickly our numbers grew! This is called “exponential growth”, and it nearly always ends in what some call the “Seneca Cliff” or “Seneca Event”, which is a sudden drop in things, like social complexity and population. For more about the Seneca Effect, go here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/406824673049557/
What can be done to prevent a real disaster?
A lot, but it would take a lot. Wealthy people, like nearly everyone who we know, would have to sacrifice comfort. The economy would have to learn to live without constant growth. We would have to disallow banks the right to create money by making a loan. We would have to reduce population, fully legalize and support birth control and termination. We would have to eat closer to home, instead of having five things on our plate, all of which came from thousands of miles away. We would have to curb the military and spend money on civilian projects.
In short, we would have to become much more poor than we are.
Very few of us are happy to do that.
For Americans, the problem is complicated by the fact that the UN and the Club of Rome and other organizations trying to curb global climate disaster are global organizations, calling for action from the global community. Yeah, America don’t rock like that, see, we want to control our own stuff. Now, we will get together to make war on someone, or to make someone rich, but we won’t be told to use LED lightbulbs by someone from some other country.
And, it is good we feel that way, too, because there is a growing sense that, as Donald Trump also said in his memo, there is no way to do everything that needs to be done. For all its well meaning approach, the UN will not get the rich nations to share, not get them to accept two billion new immigrants, will not shut down the oil refineries and build a million new solar panels. People are not going to give up their cars, not going to stop flying, not going to stop eating beef that was raised a thousand miles off.
In that case, many, including apparently Trump, feel it is best just to let the beast fall. The sooner the collapse, the more of the planet will be left.
Of course, with six out of seven people on the planet fully dependent on fossil fuels for food, water, warmth and consumer goods, the likely outcome of such a collapse would be very unfortunate, indeed.
Is collapse inevitable? According to a model conducted in 2012, a stable state is possible, but not likely if we continue as we are.
Read the study yourself, here: www.riversimulator.org/Resources/Economic/HumanNatureDynamicsModelingInequalityUseResourcesCollapseSustainabilityOfSocieties2014.pdf
What do you tell a climate change denier? Nothing! As Upton Sinclair said, It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
Club of Rome, who still hopes to save everyone and give them a decent life, though likely that is not possible: https://www.clubofrome.org/activities/reports/
Laurenc DeVita is a Founding Editor of the sierracountyprospect.com and a contributing Editor of this publication sierracountyprospect.org DeVita’s credentials include an MA in Sociology.