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Good To Know: Is Climate Change Really a Thing?


- What We Don't Know
- The Greenhouse Effect Explained
- Whose Fault is it?
- What are the Effects of Climate Change?
- Come on, Climate Change is Not Really a Thing, is it?
- So, What Can Be Done About Climate Change?


What We Don't Know

  If I'm being honest (which I am) I've never really known a lot about global warming or climate change. I've always been vaguely aware of it, trusted that it was "a thing" and tried to do my bit by using less plastic bags and buying more energy-efficient light bulbs. I suspected that these actions were somehow helping earth, but up until recently if you had of asked me to explain climate change I would have mumbled something about "melting icecaps" and that "it's really bad."

  In my research on climate change one of the most important things that I've learned is the role of me (and you) as a consumer. I'll go into this more below, but the bottom line is a lot of what I buy and eat feeds directly into the industries that negatively impact the earth. And apart from understanding that generally "pollution is bad", I just did not know the extent of it. You didn't know either? That's okay. Pull up a chair. Let's start at the beginning.
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The Greenhouse Effect Explained

  Below is a picture published by NASA. It needs to be read from left to right. Here you can see the sun sending us its solar radiation. It goes through earth's atmosphere where earth absorbs most of it and as a result, warms up. About a third is reflected back out (by ice sheets, ocean, etc.). Earth converts the solar energy it absorbs into infrared radiation (stay with me. Think of it how we eat food. We absorb the carbohydrates of what we eat and convert it into energy). Earth emits the infrared radiation back up, some out of the atmosphere while some is caught by 'greenhouse' gasses and kept in the atmosphere, subsequently warming earth's surface. Thus, the Greenhouse Effect.

Source: Nasa

  You can find another good explanation of it here at the Australian Department of Environment and Energy (with more excellent pictures), and the US government published a video here (okay it's for kids, but still, it's helpful!). Greenhouse gasses are hanging around in the earth's atmosphere. These gasses include carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and nitrous oxide, among others (see more here). Greenhouse gasses are beneficial, retaining the infrared radiation emitted by earth helps keep the earth warm enough to sustain life. However, human activities, such as burning fossil fuel and agriculture, generates mass amounts of greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide and methane. The more greenhouse gasses there are in earth's atmosphere the more infrared radiation that is trapped, and the more infrared radiation that's trapped, you guessed it, the warmer earth gets.
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Whose Fault Is It?

  Well it's a combination of you, me, industrial activity and the cows.

Greenhouse Effect, Climate Change, Good to Know, Cow
     Super shady cow

  We're all adding more greenhouse gasses to the earth's atmosphere. The cows because there are a lot of them and they burp. That's right. Emissions from a cow carries methane, a greenhouse gas, and as innocent as a burping cow may seem, the mass farming of them adds up to so much that today, livestock production emits more greenhouse gasses than the entirety of the world's transportation. You can read more on it in an article here, and an in-depth analysis in a scientific report here.

  Another major contributor to the mass production of greenhouse gasses is the burning of fossil fuels. You can learn more about fossil fuels here, but in short the fossil fuels of most concern are gas, oil and coal. These fossil fuels are mined, sold and used for industrial purposes; transportation, electricity, oil, food production, etc. A report released in 2014 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revealed that about half of the carbon emissions that accumulated in earth's atmosphere between 1750 and 2011 occurred since 1970. That means it took just forty years for us to emit the same amount of carbon that took the generations before us 220 years to produce. While the report does mention forestry and land use as contributors to this increase, it sees the increased use of fossil fuels as the major contributor.

Source: IPCC Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report

  The report is actually very exhaustive and a great resource if you're looking for some more information on the subject. If reading 169-page reports filled with scientific information is not your thing, but you'd still like to read more, National Geographic published a good "fast facts" article based on the IPCC's 2007 report, which is still informative, even if fast.

  At the risk of the vastness of this issue being lost in figures and graphs, below are some clips which will give you a glimpse and some pretty good visuals as to what these figures look like in real life. The first is the preview for the documentary Before the Flood, which National Geographic did with Leonardo DiCaprio (if you can watch the full documentary though I highly recommend it).

  The next clip was put out by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). In addition to the information provided above it also looks at the little proof of natural causes for the rise in carbon emissions, along with explaining how they get their data and where you can find more.

  And of course, you and I are contributors to climate change, because we are consumers feeding off the products of these industries, both off those that rely on fossil fuels and the agricultural industry. We drive cars and fly planes and eat cheese burgers and buy products made in factories reliant on fossil fuels. We might be environmentally conscious, putting our recyclables in the right side of the bin and turning off our lights on Earth Day, and this is good, don't get me wrong, but unfortunately, so long as we keep consuming products channeled through damaging industrial avenues, it isn't enough.
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What Are the Effects of Climate Change?

  NASA have produced a number of handy resources, including videos, info-graphics, maps, etc., all exhibiting the effects of climate change. Take the below for example. This quick video shows earth's surface temperate since 1880. Notice how much the temperature rises towards the end, especially since the seventies.

  A rise in earth's temperature has seen a number of other consequential effects, including the melting of ice sheets, the rising of sea levels, heat waves, more frequent and intense extreme weather incidents, the bleaching of coral reefs and damaging effects on ecosystems. You can find this information in publications released by NASA, CSIRO, the Australian Government, the IPCC. There is no shortage of scientists, official government publications and research institutes ready to produce the data showing the effects of climate change. And the effects that are happening now are the results of a rise in global temperature of just 1 degree Fahrenheit (approximately 0.85 degree Celsius). Predictions see temperatures rising by 2.5 - 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century (approximately 1c - 5c). And while that may not sound like much NASA puts these numbers in perspective; towards the close of the last ice age, when parts of North America were still covered with sheets of ice over 3000 feet thick, average temperatures were only 5 - 9 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than they are today.

  Another good source highlighting just how much difference a, what seems small, change in temperature can make, is the following book Six Degrees by Mark Lynas. Each of the six chapters progressively explains what a jump in temperature would look like; chapter one describes what could happen with a temperature rise by 1c, chapter two looks at a jump by 2c, and so on up to 6c. Lynas draws on and explains different scientific methods used to predict these changes. He also looks at stages throughout history when jumps in temperature occurred and analyses what happened as a result. Effects include famine, floods, drought, storms, acidic seas, the extinction of species', coastal cities lost or turned into islands from rising sea levels. He factors in variables, such as dramatic shifts in global economics when significant food basins dry up, and considers how the habits of humans would affect the migration of animals trying to leave their endangered homes. To give you an example, if Australia saw a 4c rise in temperatures, due to country-wide extreme drought it is likely the land would become uninhabitable.

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Come on, Climate Change is Not Really a Thing, is it?

  Donald Trump has claimed that Climate Change is a Chinese hoax.

  That economics is at the heart of the issue is no surprise, considering it has been predicted that shifts in global energy habits, propelled by government policies influenced by climate change, will see the fossil fuel industry lose approximately $33 trillion USD over the next 25 years.

  But is it just businessmen, politicians and those with vested interests in fossil fuels denying climate change? Or at least denying that it is human activity that is causing climate change? No. While almost any recent publication on the matter will tell you that 97% of scientists believe in climate change and that humans are adding to the dilemma, this does tell us that there is not universal consensus on the issue. So in the interest of getting a more holistic view of the argument, let's take a closer look at the more doubtful point of view.

  A Forbes article published in 2013 took a closer look at the breakdown of the scientific community's reaction to climate change. While of course being published three years ago means that some of the data drawn upon is now out of date, what I want to draw your attention to is the differing perspectives of scientists. When recent articles claim that "97% of scientists" agree on climate change, we get an idea in our head that all these scientists out there adhere to a particular idea. The Forbes article shows us that the degree with which scientists agree to a theory varies. Some in the article do believe in climate change but argue that it is natural causes, others believe that it is a combination of human and natural causes, and then those scientists again will have different ideas as to how much of the cause is natural and how much is by humans. Researcher John Cook, from the Global Change Institute, published an article with The Conversation highlighting key questions asked by those wanting to know more about scientific consensus on climate change. It is a good article with links to further resources if it's an issue you want to follow up on, but in it he does note that scientists will use different methods, ask different questions, quantify human contribution to climate change differently. Just as above, the "97%" do not all study the same way and arrive at exactly the same conclusion. He does note however that no matter which scientific definition was used in their own research amongst scientists, there was still an overwhelming consensus that most scientists agreed that humans contributed to climate change.

  The CSIRO do a good job of breaking down the scientific data in answering whether science has settled the argument on climate change. They define the difference between 'robust findings' and 'key uncertainties'. Robust findings are peer-reviewed findings that indicate clear or strong evidence. For example, their robust findings include clear evidence for global warming, changes observed in biological systems to be consistent with global warming and ocean acidity that has increased with the rise of carbon emissions since 1750. Key uncertainties they have, information that is inconclusive, includes the limited access to climate data in some regions, reliably determining the cause of temperature change, and the role human and natural adaptation might play as climate change effects roll out. The CSIRO conclusion is that there is "a sound basis for action" due to "ample, well-supported evidence" however further research is still needed.

  In the article by John Cook mentioned above he does answer a question about the reasoning of the other 3%, and his findings show no coherent theme amongst them. The 97% that do agree on climate change may differ in how much they attribute climate change to human causes, the CSIRO might concede that there is still further research to be done, but any doubt regarding climate change is not because there are masses of scientific evidence disproving climate change. It is just because while overwhelming research does point towards climate change and human causes, more definitive research is required to fill in some gaps to enable conclusive findings. So yes, there is doubt regarding climate change, but that doubt needs to be put in perspective. Think of it like an archaeologist digging up a fossil. The fossil is there, there's no doubt about that, but the archaeologist needs to carefully work to uncover the fossil in its entirety before it can declare the full extent of the fossil and what it looks like.
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So, What Can Be Done About Climate Change?
  Well I'm glad you asked. The international society loosely agrees on climate change and that action needs to be taken to combat it (of course this excludes the president-elect of one of the most powerful countries on earth, but hey...). On the 5th October 2016, 111 countries ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change, an agreement between countries to aim to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5c over the next century. The agreement is exhaustive on how to accomplish this and worth a read, however it is not binding and relies on countries keeping to their word. The agreement is headed by the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, so hopefully they find a good way of keeping countries accountable.

  And what about us? Short of stocking up on canned foods and buying a boat, we can actually make small changes to the way we consume, steering our business away from the industries responsible for mass carbon and methane emissions. Exactly how? Well stay tuned. This formerly not-overly-green author is on a research path to find out just what it takes to become the kind of 'green' to combat climate change. If you know of any resources or have any tips then let us know.
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  As usual I've provided links in all the key points made above, but if you just want to check out a few key resources then these ones have you covered.

CSIRO - This is a great scientific institute based in Australia, publishing not only research findings but the data that goes with it.

NASA - Here you'll find not only publications on findings, but great videos, graphs, pictures and maps which will show you what the effects of climate change looks like in the real world.

IPCC - The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published many reports by a team of global scientists outlining climate change, its affects and what is believed to be causing it. They have accompanied their research with many graphs that make it handy if scientific data is not ordinarily your thing.

The Paris Agreement on climate change.

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