OUR HAND IN A CHANGING CLIMATE
When it comes to the debate of climate change it would appear that there are three main parties surrounding the table of discussion. First, there are the staunch believers in the existence of climate change and humanity’s impact on global meteorological conditions. Second are the climate change sceptics, who are less readily inclined to observe such a strong link between the actions of man and the globe’s altering state. Finally, there are people who, like myself, are vaguely aware that there is such a thing as a “climate” and that it may or may not be in a state of flux.
The current UK secretary of state for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson, seems to stand largely at odds to the general consensus on climate change. In an interview for the BBC’s “Any Questions” radio programme, he informed audiences that “the climate’s always been changing”. Though he is partially accurate in his assertion, should we be worried that those in charge of making policies for a country’s stance on climate change be sceptical of its very existence, almost to the point of denial?
It is certainly true that before the 18th century, the Earth’s climate changed significantly through natural causes alone. Scientists have ascertained through the analysis of ice cores, tree rings, ocean sediments, and other indirect sources of measurement that conditions within the Earth’s atmosphere have varied greatly over thousands of years. Research undertaken by the British Antarctic Survey has found that over the last 800,000 years, Earth has experienced no fewer than eight “glacial cycles”, each of which includes an ice age and a period of warming. Another strong argument in support of climate change scepticism is the use of computer modelling to arrive at predictions about the future of our climate. It is widely admitted that computer models will never establish a perfect forecast due to the impossibility
of scientists managing to collate the multitudinous factors involved in making a computer model for climate change; factors such as water vapour distribution, cloud influence, and the adaptions made by plant life in response to changes in their water supply.
It is the Earth’s recent history, however, that is the fulcrum around which current debate hinges, with interest concentrating on the implications of human activity in climate change. As previously noted, climatic conditions have never remained at an absolute constant; but what of humanity’s impact? It is hard to believe that we can go through an Industrial Revolution, two World Wars, and a space race, without severely impacting on global conditions, as each aforementioned act will have exhausted huge tonnages of carbon into our atmosphere. A large proportion of scientific thought would also be in agreement. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists carbon dioxide as one of the “most important greenhouse gases” when outlining its influence on Earth’s temperature and wider climate change. A rise in the levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases has produced a warming effect on the Earth’s atmosphere, leading to glacial melting, rising sea levels and other indicators of climate change.
Nevertheless, it is positive that such intense discussion surrounds the topic of climate change. Following any theory or scientific evidence without considering all avenues of truth is perhaps an unwise course of action. However, have we now arrived at a point of no return? As the evidence mounts to place the culpability for recent climate change firmly in the hands of man, could this discussion and conjecture stand in the way of changes for good?