An abridged climate change/global warming review and how we got here

There is ample and compelling – and a growing body of – evidence that supports the premise that all across the world average temperature at Earth’s surface has risen, is rising and, barring a full-on-and-throughly-effective mitigating response, will continue to do so. It also is agreed upon by a cadre of scientists and climatological or meteorological experts that the last five years are among the warmest if not the hottest on record.

Even so and just to be clear, there are those who reject science, refusing to believe that not only are surface temperatures not appreciably rising (or if they accept the fact that they are climbing, such in no way poses a serious threat), but this idea of global warming or climate change (or perhaps even both) is, at best, hearsay, and, at worst, a total fabrication.

Meanwhile, the historic heat waves, droughts and other extreme weather-related events we’re experiencing lately do not appear to be abating. What they have been doing is both intensifying and becoming more frequent.

Some key facts

For one hundred years commencing in 1750 (the start of the modern Industrial Age), globally, the temperature at the earth’s surface, for all intents and purposes, was flat, unchanged, in other words.

Beginning in 1850 and extending to 1900, this was a time of noticeable change: Average world surface temperature started to rise. As time went on, the increase, after being gradual, became much more steep, such that the trend starting around 1950 began shifting from one of being more horizontal in upward trajectory on the change-in-temperature versus the change-in-time plot, to one being more vertical in orientation. The sharpest increase is from 1970 on. Total average surface temperature increase is between 1750 and 2020: a 1.1 degree Celsius (1.9 degree Fahrenheit) jump.

Moreover, it isn’t that this much temperature rise has happened geologic time-wise in the relative blink-of-an-eye that it has, it also is that this global temperature increase is the largest in more than 100,000 years’ time.

Mirroring this trend, meanwhile, is concentration of atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide. Annually, some 37 gigatons (billion tons) of carbon dioxide from anthropogenic activity – the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) – is being dumped into the air. This represents about a third of the total amount of yearly carbon dioxide contribution.

Additionally, the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere in the Industrial Age, is roughly 500 gigatons. As far as contribution goes, California, with the fifth largest economy in the world, in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, is, conservatively speaking, ranked 20th. This is the same as saying that just 19 out of around 200 total have emissions outputs that surpass that of the Golden State’s.

The wide-ranging effects of the recent warming are, finally, both subtle and glaring alike, and include everything from melting sea- and land-based ice to increased infectious-disease spread, food- and drinking water shortages and higher storm surges, among others. There are those, meanwhile, who would dispute such evidence, calling it all false.

In constant flux

At first breath, right out of the Industrial Age’s starting gate, the forces having to do with both the economy and the environment were in agreement, allied and strategically aligned. There was tremendous progress made. Manufacturing, transportation, you name it, became more and more automated, society benefited, the economy at numerous times prospering as a reflection of this. Humanity was riding a wave of success, generally.

But, unfortunately, much of this improvement, prosperity came at an additional cost: environmental and health degradation. This was particularly evident in the mid-20th century – the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, especially.

Recognition of the situation had become overarching, almost universal. Think the first Earth Day on Apr. 22, 1970.

Perhaps, as a result, or maybe even in spite of it, energy, time and effort was focused on an at-the-time all new realization that the world was warming, weather patterns were being altered, and for the first time, it was believed that it was possible – and now deemed highly likely – that human beings were what was driving this change. As to how much or whether at all humanity is responsible, are both areas of heated and sometimes protracted debate, debate which goes on to this day.

At times, dealing with global warming and climatological forces seemingly undergoing a seismic shift, has created an apparently irreparable rift between disagreeing factions, the contentious bickering, at times, getting most ugly. That said, there have been some converts (people who once rejected global-warming (gw) and/or climate-change (cc) notions ultimately abandoning those previously held beliefs and embracing for them what has become a new gw/cc reality, but the numbers of those are a relative few when looking at the grand scheme of things. And, such will be the case for the foreseeable future.

The good news is that strategies to deal with the environmental and health fallout over time became more and more commonplace. These have by and large been implemented piecemeal, though. A bold, all-encompassing, proactive mitigating strategy has yet to be deployed.

Is that coming? This is what will be explored here next time.

Please see Part 2 of An abridged climate change/global warming review and how we got here

– Alan Kandel

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