Scientists have observed the weather and climate since the dawn of time to collate an extraordinary understanding of how our planet functions.
There is a connection between everything we know and understand, including processes observable on large scales, such as the human respiratory system that allows us to breathe oxygen and processes that require a narrow focus, such as the role of decomposition and soil nutrients in creating oxygen for us to breathe. Unlike gardening, however, studying the climate requires a rudimentary understanding of specific concepts.
One integral concept that is significant to understand before studying the climate is the difference between global warming and climate change. Global warming, one of the hundreds of daily planetary processes, is a process that contains heat in the atmosphere and thus, allows for life to thrive on Earth, as well as for other significant processes to occur.
For example, the water cycle is both crucial for contributing to global warming and as a product of it. The factor which contributes most greatly to global warming is greenhouse gases: gases in the atmosphere such as water vapor (H2O), oxygen (O), and carbon dioxide (CO2). In combination with greenhouse gases, regions of the planet are impacted by a number of factors which create regional climates. A common observation of this is how the Amazon Rainforest is naturally more humid and experiences year-round sunshine: Earth’s axial tilt brings the Tropics closer to the sun, and the air is healthy from the absence of heavy industry.
Global warming, for all original intents and purposes, is good. However, climate change is not. Similarly true to its name, climate change is when the climate of a region begins to shift or present more and more frequent weather anomalies. For the Amazon Rainforest, climate change is depicted by a decrease in humidity and annual rainfall, a lower concentration of oxygen in the air, and a decrease in soil nutrients. The majority of these factors were brought on by human-led activities, such as deforestation and industrial expansion that demolish ecological factors and thus, displacing connections between everything spoken about earlier…
MYTH #1: “The global climate has changed before. Humans are not the main cause of climate change.”
The climate behaves accordingly to conditions on the planet. As mentioned previously, greenhouse gases – most notably water vapor, CO2, and methane (CH4) – contribute greatly to maintaining and altering a region’s climate. The title stems directly from their role in global warming called the Greenhouse Effect. In the Greenhouse effect, greenhouse gases form clouds in the sky that act as a blanket, or the dense roof of a greenhouse, to keep heat inside of the planet. A reduction in greenhouse gases makes the planet colder, while an increase in greenhouse gases makes the planet warmer.
If you are considering that humans are not the main cause of climate change, you may be thinking about this image:
The Milankovitch cycles, one of which is depicted above, are caused by changes in Earth’s orbit (eccentricity), axial tilt, and the wobble of the planet’s axis (precession). With data from as far back as 800 thousand years ago, Milakovich cycles are important for understanding the correlation between natural shifts and changes in climate and for identifying ice ages and warm periods that can be used as comparison standards for climate changes through time.
The particular cycle above depicts changes in climate forcing – the ratio of solar energy Earth receives to how much it radiates back into space – and temperature changes since 800 thousand years ago (kyBP means kiloyears before present). There is an evident pattern of temperature lows and highs that make the argument the climate has changed in the past understandable because it’s true — the climate has changed, but current temperatures are higher than they ever were before, as depicted by the very right side of the graph, which has smaller time intervals to emphasize the increase in temperature in the 20th century alone. With human presence being the most prominent difference between climate change 800 thousand years ago versus now, this graph is evidence of human impact on the environment. An increase of almost 2 degrees Celsius over the past one hundred years is extreme compared to the fifty thousand years that passed before the climate rose so high. Climate analyst Rebecca Lindsey from NOAA concurred, “The last time the atmospheric CO2 amounts were this high was more than 3 million years ago.”
The Milankovich cycle also depicts a direct correlation to the popularization and growth of industrialization. Fossil fuels are the main source of energy for both old and modern factories. Atmospheric CO2 is the most abundant gas released from burning fossil fuels. It is released in the form of smog or dense pollutant aerosols (particles in the air) that are larger than natural gas particles and consequently transmit less light energy in lieu of containing it within the particular. We must acknowledge that CO2 has its own planetary cycle similar to the water cycle — known as the carbon cycle — but a higher concentration of dense atmospheric CO2 particles does not completely contribute to the carbon cycle. CO2 remains unused in the atmosphere, continuing to build up as heat containers to make the atmosphere warmer as a whole.
The increased portion of atmospheric CO2 that does contribute to the carbon cycle has been identified as the main cause of ocean acidification and other signs of climate change.
Further reads on this topic:
- Earth is Cooling… No, It’s Warming from NASA’s Earth Observatory
- NASA’s Climate Studies Subdivision, which contains imagines of landscapes before and after recent climate change, statistics for environmental systems, relevant articles, and more
- Learning how to read climate models from NOAA
- Skeptical Science’s extensive list version of climate change myths
A sneak peek of the next part of “Debunking Climate Change Myths:”
MYTH #2: “There isn’t a consensus for climate change in the science community.”
This is something a lot of non-scientists will claim.