As a scientist who collects and uses weather data, I have followed climate change closely for the past 60 years. As new data continued to accumulate and climate models improved, it was obvious from the beginning that global warming was proceeding pretty much as predicted, strongly reinforced by close correlation with the Keeling Curve, which measures atmospheric carbon dioxide at the summit of Mauna Loa, Hawaii.
Initially, petroleum companies (“Big Oil”) studied this and were completely aware of the ramifications. Prioritizing their bottom line, they began a campaign of climate denial, joined by conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, funded by Exxon, the Koch brothers, and hidden sources of dark money (see Jane Mayer’s book on the topic).
I knew an acquaintance who had zero knowledge of climate who was nevertheless paid to participate in a climate denial panel at a Heritage Foundation function. He wasn’t alone. The media — both to sell publications and ostensibly to cover both sides of what was essentially a non-question — continued until recently to publish climate denial pieces, which has severely affected public opinion. You have to think critically. For example, Wikipedia offers this entry on the Heritage Foundation:
“The Heritage Foundation rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. The Heritage Foundation is one of many climate change denial organizations that have been funded by ExxonMobil. The Heritage Foundation strongly criticized the Kyoto Agreement to curb climate change, saying American participation in the treaty would ‘result in lower economic growth in every state and nearly every sector of the economy’. They projected that the 2009…American Clean Energy and Security Act would ‘result in lower economic growth in every state and nearly every sector of the economy’, resulting in ‘a cost of $1,870 per family in 2025…’. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected it would only cost the average family $175 in 2020.”
I have experienced the direct results of climate warming. In 1997, during a 12-month expedition around the Arctic Ocean, we were looking for old multiyear ice (typically seven metres thick) in which to embed the Canadian ice breaker Des Groselliers. We were very surprised that we couldn’t find any and had to be satisfied with ice that was merely one to two inches thick. Fifteen years before that, I came across a single piece of multiyear ice in the Northwest Passage wedged between two islands 25 km apart. And a decade ago I asked an old Inuk friend what if any climate-related changes he had seen in the Passage. He replied, “No more multiyear ice stranded against the shore.”
Time perspective is important here. People roll their eyes at predictions for 2050 for being what they feel is a long ways off. But climate is unlikely to reach a new equilibrium for many thousands of years, by which time the Greenland ice sheet will have completely melted away, raising oceans by 7.5 metres (never mind what Antarctica might do).
There are many books and articles delineating climate change if you’re interested. I’ve stopped reading them because there’s almost nothing new. I recommend Steven Earle’s A Brief History of the Earth’s Climate, a 4.6-billion-year history of Earth’s climate — succinct, well-written, and quick, ending with the climate challenges we face today — as an excellent starter. If you want to catch up on the latest findings, it will do nicely.
So do we stay with business as usual and leave it for our descendants to cope with? Or do we try to minimize climate change? Yeah, everyone thinks we’re doing something about it, but in the meantime CO2 rises steadily and little has changed. For a sobering assessment of what we have to do to actually keep global temperature from rising over 2oC, see Bill Gates’ How To Avoid A Climate Disaster and Dieter Helm’s Net Zero. What Gates does not cover is the actual process for getting there, and that is exactly what Helm does cover.
And for the fiction-minded, Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future — ostensibly near-future science fiction — explores practically every aspect of what might be done to stop global warming. It’s a great read. Nothing like a little light reading to while away the long dull hours between now and death.
For what it’s worth, my own take is that we will probably end up with 3 to 4oC warming … if we’re lucky.
Comments on “Wrong On Track”
I once had a Polish book about chemistry, printed in 1953, in other words, in the Stalinist times. The first page had a graph of increase in CO2 concentration from the beginning of Industrial Revolution until publication. The concentration was clearly increasing, and at the end it was increasing faster. It was probably meant as a grandiose mention of the human power over Nature: we are even changing concentration of atmospheric gases. Then in mid-1970s my grandparents were discussing a newspaper article that said the real problem is the greenhouse effect. The temperatures are going to rise. So it was public knowledge even 50 years ago that we would have to do something about it. The rest is politics, greed, and ignorance of the general public.
Svante Arrhenius, the great Swedish chemist, predicted climate change via carbon dioxide in the 1910s or so. He regarded it as a good thing because he predicted (wrongly!!) that this would move agriculture further north, and thus produce better, local food for his compatriots.
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