by ANNA ROSE
If you had 97-98% of doctors telling you had cancer, would you ignore them just because there were a handful of doctors (who weren’t cancer experts) telling you to wait and see?
Well the same principle applies to climate change. The problem is that a lot of us don’t really understand much about how the earth is warming. And we should. Here’s quick way to get your head around the facts…
The basics of global warming:
Imagine a blanket around the Earth. This is the atmosphere, and it’s the reason we have life on this unique blue and green planet. From rainforests, coral reefs, the pyramids, New York, inventions like the hair straightener and other wonders of civilization: we owe it all to the atmosphere.
For a long time, though, people took the atmosphere for granted. We assumed that, like a loyal long-term boyfriend, it’d always be there for us no matter how badly we treated it.
Sadly, the atmosphere is more fragile than we initially assumed. Imagine a beach ball covered in a layer of nail polish. The tiny layer of nail polish is the relative size of the atmosphere compared to the Earth.
Before people started pumping carbon pollution into it, the atmosphere was made up of just the right concentration of gases (called greenhouse gases) that trap heat in the atmosphere. These gases allowed just enough heat from the sun to warm our planet so we weren’t freezing cold and devoid of life (like the Moon) but reflected excess heat back into space (so we don’t turn into, say, Mars).
But then people burning fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – messed with this natural balance. Burning fossil fuels releases more heat-trapping greenhouse gases. And too much of a good thing, it turns out, messes up Earth’s climate.
What is the situation at the moment?
So now we have the equivalent of two or three blankets over Earth rather than the original one. We’ve increased carbon dioxide levels 40% since the Industrial Revolution and are pumping out over 25 billion tonnes of carbon pollution each year. And we all know what happens when you have too many blankets on the bed – things start to get a little uncomfortable.
To recap the basics: Since the Industrial Revolution, people have sharply increased the concentration of greenhouse gases. These greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere. And since we’ve been pumping them out, global average temperatures have increased by a global average of 0.8 degrees C. This may sound small, but it’s enough to seriously mess with Earth’s system – and is far above anything that could be explained by natural climate variability.
The data below shows three separate official temperature records (including from NASA). The line is a bit jagged – but when scientists talk about “climate” (as opposed to weather), they’re talking about thirty year trends.