Climate facts and figures to keep up your green sleeves.
It’s easy to blame the mainstream media for misconceptions flying around about climate change, and yes, in the name of journalistic balance, climate skeptics are often given as much air-time and column inches as climate scientists.
There’s also the fact that climate science is possibly more complex than any other field of scientific endeavor, involving a vast ecosystem of disciplines – from biology, geology, oceanography and chemistry to meteorology, astronomy, mathematics, engineering and palaeoclimatology – which can make communicating findings to non-scientists tricky, to say the least.
For those still playing catch-up (and we all know at least someone like this), let the buck stop here, where we will now (briefly) debunk the 10 main myths about climate change.
(All statistics quoted are from the CSIRO and The Climate Institute.)
1.Myth: The climate isn’t really changing.
Fact: The world is warming at an unprecedented rate. Data collected from all over the world confirms that the decade from 2000 to 2009 was the warmest on record, and the Northern Hemisphere in particular is warmer than it has been in 1,300 years.
2.Myth: The Earth’s climate has changed before; it’s just part of a natural cycle.
Fact: The Earth’s climate has changed many times but never so rapidly. Also, the fact that the earth’s climate has changed before is evidence that human beings are affecting it now – because the climate has been shown to be sensitive to whatever forces it to change; in this case, it is human activity. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are the highest they have been for 800,000 years.
3.Myth: Human beings aren’t responsible for changing the Earth’s climate.
Fact: Those raised levels of carbon dioxide? Using a form of carbon dating, testing isotopes of carbon in CO2 particles in the atmosphere to find their source, scientists have confirmed that they have come from the burning of fossil fuels. So yes, human beings are responsible. There’s even a term for it: anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change.
4.Myth: Scientists don’t agree about climate change; the jury’s still out.
Fact: The vast majority of scientists, including many in prominent scientific institutions, agree on three things: the world is warming at an unprecedented rate; human activity, specifically the burning of fossil fuels, is the primary cause of that warming; and urgent action is required to address this. As The Climate Institute puts it, “There is consensus among scientists that the climate is being changed by human activity, in the same way as there is consensus on the existence of gravity or that the Earth is round.”
5.Myth: Some places are colder than usual – so much for global “warming”.
Fact: People often confuse weather (localized, atmospheric changes that vary by the hour) with climate (average conditions that prevail over years, decades, centuries, millennia). So observations that certain places are colder than normal don’t mean the Earth’s climate isn’t warming. What matters are changes in, for example, global average air temperatures, which are rising, thanks to higher than normal levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere.
6. Myth: It’s the sun.
Fact: Changes in the sun’s activity can’t explain the rise in global temperatures in recent decades. If global warming was due to the sun, all layers of our atmosphere would be warming. In fact, only the surface and lower atmosphere are warming (because CO2 and other greenhouse gasses are trapping heat there); the upper layers, on the other hand, are cooling. Also, the sun has been exceptionally cool for the past 35 years, whereas global average temperatures have continued to rise.
7.Myth: Volcanoes emit more carbon dioxide than human beings ever could.
Fact: The world’s volcanoes emit less than one percent of the carbon dioxide that humans put into the atmosphere in a year, and that percentage is dropping as human emissions increase annually. To put this in perspective: submarine (underwater) volcanoes can emit as much as 97 million tonnes of CO2 a year and volcanoes on land emit about 242 million tonnes of CO2 a year; human activity generates 29 billion tonnes of CO2 (and rising) a year.
8. Myth: Carbon dioxide is natural and essential for life, not a pollutant.
Fact: Even naturally occurring substances can become dangerous in some situations. Oxygen, for instance, is natural and we need it to survive but it becomes poisonous in high concentrations. Similarly carbon dioxide – along with methane, nitrous oxide and other artificial greenhouse gasses – is heating up the atmosphere to what is now agreed to be a dangerous extent.
9.Myth: Some glaciers are growing, not shrinking.
Fact: While glaciers can grow and shrink depending on localized weather conditions, the World Glacier Monitoring Service has collected data from hundreds of glaciers around the world and found that as the world heats up, it is fast losing ice, which is affecting global sea levels as glacial meltwater flows into the world’s oceans.
10.Myth: A warmer climate might not be a bad thing.
Fact: Some places, say in the higher latitudes, might benefit in the short term from a warmer climate but everything in nature (including us) is interconnected. So no matter where you live, you’ll be affected by radical changes to the global landscape within the next few decades – and not gradually but suddenly – which is going to put increasing pressure on an already overpopulated world.
There’s one more myth: that we are powerless to do anything to stop or slow climate change. The fact is that human beings are intelligent, inventive and adaptable creatures. This challenge is within our grasp if we act now – as governments, communities, families and individuals. Everyone can do something. And we must.
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