People hotly debate climate change regularly. It seems that everyone has an opinion on if the Earth is cooling, or warming, or whatever. You've likely met climate change skeptics in-person and online as wars of words are waged on if climate change is a product of humanity, or even if it exists at all.
You've likely been in these discussions at one time or another. You know all of the arguments made by the people who deny climate change. And, guess what? Your great-uncle Henry, who is proud to be part of the climate change skeptics, may not be all wrong.
Why are There Climate Change Skeptics?
Philosopher Immanuel Kant, who was one of the most influential thinkers during the Age of Enlightenment, wrote the book "Critique of Pure Reason." In his writing, he said, "Skepticism is thus a resting-place for human reason, where it can reflect upon its dogmatic wanderings and make a survey of the region in which it finds itself, so that for the future it may be able to choose its path with more certainty. But it is no dwelling-place for permanent settlement."
It is within human nature, through the existence of our logic and reason, that we will be skeptical. Critical thinking is an important piece of humanity. We should question everything. The problem comes in when the answers we are given are biased, or motivated by self-interest. Oftentimes, research is manipulated to favor the person or organization who commissioned the study. Consequently, skeptics are often concerned with the inception of the data and the credibility of the information.
Naturally, this makes complex matters like the science behind climate change even more challenging to communicate. Couple that with the motivation to "muddy the waters" by those who risk losing big profits to climate conservation efforts, and you have a lot of skeptics in a "dwelling-place" rather than a "resting-place."
According to an article in the European Journal of American Studies, there are three trends that drive the U.S. climate change skeptics. These include: 1. public relation campaigns by powerful corporate interests, 2. advocation of small government and a self-regulating market, and 3. fear of reducing America's competitiveness in the global marketplace.
Over the years, this skepticism has evolved into an American political partisan issue and one of the defining talking points for which team a person is a part: red or blue.
What Is the proof of Climate Change?
According to NASA, there is compelling evidence for "rapid climate change."
First, let's talk about global temperatures. We have recorded measurements of global temperature for the last 150 years. Proxy models are used to estimate temperature trends prior to the use of quantitative methods. However, empirical evidence shows that most of the rise in global temperature has taken place in the last 35 years, and it's speeding up. It's getting hotter and hotter.
In conjunction with the increasing global temperatures, the oceans are getting warmer. Consequently, warmer air and water temperatures mean ice sheets, glaciers, and snowcaps are melting at a rapid pace. Greenland has been losing an average of 286 billion tons of ice each year since 1993. Antarctica is coming in with 127 tons of lost ice per year. Over the last five decades, snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere is shrinking and melts are earlier and earlier in the year.
With all of this ice and snow melting, the water is no longer in solid-state so the sea level rises. In fact, in the last century, the ocean gained 8 inches and the rate is accelerating -- nearly doubling in the last 20 years.
pH of the oceans
The rising sea level isn't the only change within our oceans. Here's a little chemistry lesson.
If you set out a glass of water for even a short period of time, the water will absorb carbon dioxide from the room air. When CO2 and H2O combine it creates an acid known as carbonic acid.
This same thing is taking place within our oceans. With rising carbon dioxide emissions from humans, the oceans are absorbing approximately 2 billion tons each year. This has increased the acidity of the ocean waters by approximately 30 percent. This poses a great threat to marine life.
Anyone with an aquarium knows what happens to their finned friends when the pH of the water changes.
In other words, there is plenty of proof supporting climate change.
When Climate Change Skeptics are Right
With all of that said, even a stopped clock is correct twice per day. There are a few instances when the climate change skeptics are correct.
Weather is always changing, and Always Will
This is absolutely a true statement. Weather is in a constant state of change and that won't be changing anytime soon. However, extreme weather events like scorching heat, drought, increased precipitation, and flooding is associated with the rising global temperature.
Did you know that in the last five decades unusually hot days during summer have increased? Did you also know that the summer nights have also been unusually hot at an even faster rate?
In fact, across the board, our nighttime lows in the United States have increased in temperature and we actually set fewer record lows than highs.
Weather and climate change are linked, but they are not the same. Weather is defined by the EPA as "the state of the atmosphere at any given time and place." Meaning weather is much more regional. It is a data point on a large graph.
Climate is "a long-term average of weather in a given place."
Yes, the weather will and should change all of the time. Climate should stay relatively the same. And, that's the problem. Climates are changing. The data doesn't lie.
The Earth has had large amounts of carbon dioxide before, and we are still here
Right again, our climate change skeptics. It is true that 50 million years ago the world had around 1,000 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Of course, humans weren't around and there were palm trees, crocodiles, and tiger sharks in the Arctic Circle, but absolutely the planet existed and it survived.
Currently, we are on pace to hit 1,000 parts per million of carbon dioxide by the end of the century.
When you combine the information we talked about previously in this article, with the historic evidence of life with that large of concentration of carbon dioxide. There is no denying that CO2 causes temperatures to rise.
Plants and animals will adapt
Ding, ding, ding! This is correct.
If we've learned anything as inhabitants of this planet called Earth, one thing is for certain -- life evolves. Based upon the climate, geography, topography, predators, pH, and a plethora of other variables, plants and animals adapt to their surroundings.
However, part of that process is also extinction. While new species and adapted breeds come about, organisms that can not survive extreme conditions disappear.
Will humans be able to adapt and survive the heat that comes with carbon dioxide levels at 1,000 parts per million? That answer is a big unknown, as humanity has not yet seen such a number. But, scientists agree, we are currently in our sixth mass extinction in the Earth's history.
Is there a Real Reason to be Skeptical of Climate Change?
Of climate change specifically? Probably not. The facts are there. Over 97 percent of scientists agree that climate change is really happening. It's directly linked to human activity.
This is where we must circle back around to Immanuel Kant's quote.
"Skepticism is thus a resting-place. . . it is no dwelling-place for permanent settlement."
Everyone should use their skepticism as motivation for the truth. Knowledge is the cure for skepticism. However, if one permanently joins the climate change skeptics, it's now a dwelling-place and the flow of knowledge has been cut off.
Climate Change Is Real and Based on Facts
Here are a few figures to think about. Perhaps consider these as the antidote to climate change skeptics.
Vital signs published by NASA say our carbon dioxide levels are currently at 412 ppm.
Out of the 19 warmest years on record, 18 have been since 2001. That math alone tells you that we are on a rapid trend upwards.
The Arctic Sea is losing 12.8 percent of its ice per decade.
Sea levels are currently increasing by 3.3 millimeters per year.
Climate change really is taking place. Science shows us the evidence of what is happening to the only place we've ever known as home.