Gran/My Turn: Climate change denial
Climate change denial represents the views of 3 percent of climate scientists, who deny Earth is warming and we are the cause through our fossil fuel emissions and deforestation. At the same time, such denial dismisses the views, and attempts to destroy the careers, of the 97 percent of climate scientists who think Earth is warming and we are the cause.
The denier argument that there has been “no warming since 1997” misrepresents the reality that there has been no “pause” in Earth’s warming. The “no warming” argument focuses on surface temperature alone, and doesn’t even get that right, while ignoring the more important warming of Earth’s oceans. Only 2.4 percent of anthropogenic (human-caused) warming is atmospheric while 93.4 percent is oceanic, the remainder is taken up by land, vegetation and ice. Still, each decade since the 1980s has been warmer than the previous decade, the last decade was the warmest on record, 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded (so far), May of 2014 was the warmest May ever recorded, and the El Nino presently developing in the equatorial Pacific may make 2014 and/or 2015 the warmest year(s) ever recorded.
Deniers, funded by the fossil fuel industries, try to create doubt in our minds through unsupported theories and disinformation. However, simple physics requires that Earth warm. Solar energy flowing into Earth’s system must be balanced by heat radiation from Earth to space. Our fossil fuel emissions of greenhouse gases reduce heat radiation from Earth to space (a never disproven nearly 200-year-old theory), upsetting Earth’s energy balance. As Earth warms it radiates more heat and will eventually reach a new energy balance, at a higher temperature. If our atmospheric fossil emissions continue, Earth will keep getting hotter.
It has been calculated that heat energy equivalent to the detonation of 400,000 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs is added to Earth’s climate system every day (4 per second) due to the energy imbalance our emissions have created. Since 1998, that heat accumulation is equivalent to over 2.1 billion detonations. This heat energy accumulation can’t just stop, it will continue until Earth’s energy balance is restored.
Another false denier’s argument is the warming reported by the National Climate Data Center is an “artifact” of data adjustments. The truth is the NCDC is constantly improving the quality of land- and sea-based temperature measurements, making adjustments to inaccurate historical data that resulted from poor collection instrumentation and methods. These adjustments are not arbitrary; they are based on the very best science and technology available. Global warming is not an artifact of data adjustments; it is a reality we have created.
Another denier argument is that we have experienced climate “disasters” throughout history, and there is no reason to assert that, while past disasters were natural, recent disasters are manmade. This argument represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how Earth’s current heat imbalance works. Natural disasters still occur, but global warming energizes the climate system, creating ever greater climate extremes.
A related argument is there are “no trends” of increased tornados, hurricanes, floods, precipitation or droughts. The trend in global warming is irrefutable, but trends in climate change require decades to establish. What we are experiencing today, due to inertia in Earth’s climate system, are the consequences of our emissions from two or three decades past. We are now setting extreme weather records with regularity. If we wait decades for clear trends before we act, we will act too late.
Other clear trends are that mountain glaciers, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and arctic sea ice are melting and the oceans are warming. While melting sea ice does not contribute to sea level rise (it displaces the same volume whether frozen or melted), ocean warming does (through thermal expansion). While deniers claim the rate of sea level rise is too slow to worry about, many small island nations and low-lying coastal areas are already experiencing the destructive impacts of rising sea level, and sea level rise is accelerating. Recent studies by NASA scientists and others suggest the melting of West Antarctica is already irreversible. The same is likely true for Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice cap. In a few centuries, most coastal cities (including New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Miami) will be flooded.
All the climate changes we are experiencing so far are the result of a global average temperature rise over the last century of about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, but a temperature rise of 9 degrees Fahrenheit or more by century’s end is possible. While more information from ongoing research by thousands of climate scientists will certainly result in better climate “model” predictions, the CO2 anthropogenic climate change “hypothesis” is as settled as science gets. Irrefutably Earth is warming, climate is changing, seas are rising, and we are the cause!
William Gran is a Greenfield Community College adjunct instructor on global warming and climate change. He lives in Heath.