Climate Change

Post ImageIf you’re friend of mine here in Edmonton, you’ve probably had the unfortunate experience of discussing climate change, especially the particular variety known as “global warming”, with me at some point. In general, I don’t dispute that the globe is warming, but I do dispute that global warming is entirely caused by humans and poses a great threat, for the simple reason that we don’t have enough data.

We can show temperatures are rising (albeit over a very short period of time, so we don’t know if it’s normal or not) but we have absolutely no clue as to why. Sure there are many thoughts and ideas, but the fact that there are so many, and that they are so varied, only proves that we have absolutely no idea why the globe is warming. To blame it all on humans releasing CO2 seems a bit premature, and I hate that people jump on the bandwagon without thinking.

Here’s another reason we don’t know: the ozone layer. You might have heard over the last couple years that the ozone layer is healing. The fact is, it healed much faster than scientists predicted. That leads to many questions – if it healed up so quick, how big was the problem in the first place? Did humans really play a big role in causing the holes? Would it have healed without us doing anything? Again, we don’t know. And if we can’t understand an event like this that has already happened (to an extent), how can we understand something ongoing like climate change?

Even the definition at Wikipedia shows we don’t understand the “why” part of climate change:

Climate change refers to the variation in the Earth’s global climate or regional climates over time. It describes changes in the variability or average state of the atmosphere – or average weather – over time scales ranging from decades to millions of years. These changes may come from internal processes, be driven by external forces or, most recently, be caused by human activities.

I came across a really interesting climate change explanation earlier today on Derek’s blog. He cites a transcript of the Planet TV Show:

According to the math, we cannot know for certain how close we are to the point of no return, until it is too late. So if you are looking for absolute proof, you will not get it unless you are willing to sacrifice everything. Because, you cannot have absolute confirmation that a catastrophic change is occurring until it has begun and cannot be stopped.

This is true of both climate cooling and climate warming. When have we reached the tipping point? We don’t know until we’re past it.

Even if our contribution of CO2 is not the main reason for climate change, it is still important that we reduce and eventually eliminate the release of CO2 from fossil fuels. If we are close to the tipping point, then any small amount of increase may be the amount that pushes us over the edge. By the same token, if we are close to the tipping point, then any small decrease will take us that much further from the edge of a catastrophic shift in climate.

Good point, and I agree we should eliminate the release of CO2 from fossil fuels.

Global warming does not pose a threat to the Earth. Nor does it pose a threat to life on this planet. Both the Earth and life on the planet will survive the effects of global warming and catastrophic climate change. What is in danger is us.

The reason it’s humans that are in danger is that climate change could lead to another ice age. Life would exist after the ice age has ended, as we have seen before. The only way the earth itself is going away is if humans blow it up, or something from space does. The full transcript is here.

I don’t think we’re in as much danger as Planet TV Show does. I have a lot of faith in human ingenuity, demonstrated throughout our relatively short history. If something related to climate change happens that might threaten our existence here on earth, I am pretty confident we’ll have already moved on to other planets or at least would be able to. That’s not to say everyone will survive, unfortunately, but I think the human race would.

There are a few main questions to ask when discussing climate change:

  • Are the temperature changes and other factors (storms increasing, etc) we are currently seeing indicative of a fluctuation (temporary) or a shift (permanent) in climate?
  • Is this fluctuation or shift natural, or caused by humans?
  • If caused by humans, are we the only cause, or just one of many factors?
  • Can we do anything about it?

The answers to these questions remain elusive. Many varied theories exist, but conclusive evidence is nowhere to be found.

I think we’ll figure it out eventually. And when we do, I would not be surprised if our contribution to climate change is but one of many factors. Maybe even a really small factor. As much as some people would like to think, humans are not the centre of the universe, nor responsible for everything that happens inside it.