It looks like the Iowa Legislature is heading towards a nice little discussion around science in the classroom, particularly around our two favorite areas; climate change and evolution. Since it’s a discussion we’re going to have, I thought I would take this month to explain not just what I believe, but why I believe it.
Part I – Climate Change, True or False
It is my opinion that climate change is real. My opinion however, is based upon the facts presented by scientists over the last 30 years. Everyone gets to look at the facts and decide if they believe it or not. My position is that the temperature of our planet has increased temperature faster in the last 117 years than it ever had in the last 150,000 years.
The factors I based my decision on vary, but there are simple facts to consider, like:
- 2016 (and 2015 before that) were the hottest years on record across the majority of our planet. More importantly, 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001.
- Total global sea ice has shrunk an average of 13,500 sq miles (basically Maryland) every year since 1979. Hotter planet, less ice. Less ice, hotter planet.
- Global sea levels have been measured rising faster in the last century than ever before.
And there are more complicated factors, that I don’t fully understand, but I put my trust in the conclusion of scientists. You know, the kind of experts we’ve trusted to create lasers that heal human vision, that have all but eradicated the majority of major diseases from first world countries, that have put a man on the moon, and put a camera the size of car on a planet four hundred million miles away. Science and our methods are nearly flawless, because they’re rigorous, and built to be tested until we know with near-most certainty that our assumptions are proven.
So, anyway, some of the more complicated factors are:
- Extreme weather events has increased. Living in Iowa, over the last few years at least it seems like we haven’t experienced much of this since the floods of ’93. But like I said, I trust the scientists that measure this stuff around the world.
- Another measurable impact is ocean acidity. As CO2 is emitting into the atmosphere, it is absorbed into the ocean. When absorbed, it changes the pH balance of the water. If I remember right, a neutral pH is something like 6. It’s not a big scale. So even small changes impact living organisms ability to survive.
Increased weather events can also refer to an increase in the lack of weather events. A lack of rain. A lack of snow. And it’s not just me that’s concerned. Farmers across our state, and throughout the world have seen the impact and are trying to understand what’s next, and how we cope. You can read about that here, here, and here.
Now, there are some pretty common attempts made to try to debunk climate change, and instead of trying to make you read through them, my friend hank made a video you can watch that you’ll enjoy more than reading.
The most important thing I’ll call out from the video is an agreement that scientists are not stupid. Again, the methods they follow don’t allow them to be. They don’t have hidden agendas. If I were a scientist, I would guess that I would much rather spend my time inventing something that might make me rich, rather than spend my time trying to find some shred of evidence that might help more people understand. 97% of actual experts agree, which by all measures and means in a consensus.
But, even if I could convince you global warming was real, the next step is understanding how humans are contributing to it.
Part II – Man Made, True of False? Hint: Yes, it’s us.
I could point you to even more data and analysis, but those aren’t the things that actually really convinced me that it HAD to be us. What really sold me was an understanding of how inconsequential humans were on this planet until recently, both in volume and impact. A really great example is this video from the American History Museum:
You see, humans have gone off the rails in the last hundred years. The last HUNDRED years. Compared to other mammals, and arthropods, and whatever else had existed for the hundreds of millions of years before us. We have bent this planet to our will, but the volume of us and demand of our needs is now tipping the balance of the carbon cycle.
But that won’t make any sense unless you understand the carbon cycle. So here’s Hank again, but doing his thing on Crash Course:
So the Earth has carbon. And lots of it. And it can handle lots of it. But the carbon that all of us humans are pumping into the atmosphere are too much.
One final thing to supplement the history of humans on the planet video above is this. It’s a fun graphic depicting the movement from -4 degrees Celsius in 20,000 BC to a center line (the 1961-1990 average temperature) in 8,500 BC and up through modern day. The temperature does increase and decrease, but only a couple of degrees Celsius over thousands of years. So you really only have to look at the bottom of the graphic to see that the increase in temperature has done in 116 years something that usually takes tens of thousands of years.
Humans. And a butt-load of us at that. Burning more fossil (carbon based) fuels into the atmosphere than ever before. That the planet isn’t able to “absorb” back into stored carbon quickly enough, so it hangs in the atmosphere.
It’s like putting an extra blanket over the Earth while it’s trying to break a fever.