Mike Bacon, Ray Empereur, and Larry Swacina: This is the sixth in a series of articles that describe global warming and climate change. Here are several of the beliefs often espoused by climate deniers, skeptics, and doubters, followed by the truth as developed by climate scientists:
How can there be global warming with the recent severe winter experienced in many states? The fact is that climate change throws natural systems out of balance, including to areas that do not normally experience such cold and snow. Globally, since 1950, hot days have become more common and cold days less common. Fifteen of the warmest years recorded since 1880 have all occurred since 2000. Hot days, on the other hand, are now 100 times more likely to occur. Scientists have documented several elements of climate change.
There is significant doubt among scientists, right? Wrong. More than 97 percent of climate scientists agree. Global warming is happening and it’s because of us, and it is posing real threats. Why have we, in recent years, seen more severe typhoons and hurricanes? One reason is that as the oceans warm due to global warming, much more water vapor is drawn into the tropical depressions that become hurricanes. Some of these events have been occurring in greater severity, as in, for example the 2017 hurricane that hit the Texas coast and Houston dropping up to 5 feet of rain in addition to high winds. The devastation of Puerto Rico is another example consistent with warming trends.
Ice is actually increasing at the poles, correct? There is a difference between sea ice and land ice. Overall, in the Antarctic, South Pole, sea ice has been stable, so far. But that doesn’t contradict the evidence that our climate is warming. Land ice in the Antarctic has been melting at an alarming rate, about 159 billion metric tons every year in recent years. When land ice melts, it flows as water into the ocean, contributing to sea-level rise. At the Arctic, North Pole, there is no land under the polar region, and it has been warming at twice the global average rate in recent decades.
So, it is getting warmer. How do we know that we are to blame? More carbon dioxide traps more heat in the atmosphere. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, 250 years ago, we’ve been releasing more and more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, mostly through increasing use of coal, oil, and natural gas, all of which are rich in carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.
Has our climate changed before? Absolutely, nobody disagrees with that. But we are clearly behind increasing greenhouse gases that are flooding our atmosphere, warming the earth, and changing the global climate with results that threaten our civilization.
But isn’t more carbon dioxide just more plant food? To grow, plants and trees need three main things: sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. Science has shown that some plants respond well to higher carbon dioxide level, but others can be harmed by too much. Keep in mind that as carbon dioxide increases, temperatures also increase, rain patterns change, and some kinds of extreme weather events become more common and severe. Just ask the peanut farmers in drought-ridden Texas, or the wineries in Australia and California, or the growers of African cacao trees. Climate change has not been kind to these plants.
We all breath oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, so aren’t we part of the problem? The carbon dioxide that we exhale comes from the carbon-based things we eat. But as we burn more fossil fuels we’re adding carbon to the air that has been out of the loop for millions of years remaining in the atmosphere and increasingly in the oceans for hundreds of years to come.
Mike Bacon, Ray Empereur, and Larry Swacina of the Climate Reality Project