With COP 27 just around the corner, I have a message for everyone.
Look, I get that we’re not all climatologists, meteorologists or scientists – 97 percent of whom, by the way, accept the premise that climate change is a thing; it’s real, in other words, that is based on scientific consensus. I would go so far as to say most people would agree.
But how can we know for sure?
In terms of getting and keeping it real here, as human beings we all have skin and our skin is extremely sensitive to temperature changes: we know when we feel hot; we know when we feel cold. Think of the skin as a kind of thermometer. There are many who feel, experience hotter temperatures first hand. That’s one telltale sign.
The eyes, meanwhile, tell us that what we are feeling is also real. We see the direct climate-induced effects, things like dry, parched patches of ground, lower water levels in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs, not to mention great die-offs of trees throughout western North American forests, in addition to retreating glaciers, melting polar ice and thawing of what was once seemingly permanently frozen ground, otherwise known as permafrost. Our eyes don’t lie.
Next, weather patterns over extended periods of time, well, that’s the basis of climate – the foundation upon which climate is built. That said, in order for there to be a changing climate or changing climates, patterns of weather themselves, over time, must also change. This relationship is an important one to remember. There is ample evidence to show that both – weather and climate – have changed.
But what’s changing the weather? Is it us? You might say we’re helping it along. But how?
Pollution could be one factor. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory reported on this. Here is part of what the organization said:
“Researchers had thought that pollution causes larger and longer-lasting storm clouds by making thunderheads draftier through a process known as convection. But atmospheric scientist Jiwen Fan and her colleagues show that pollution instead makes clouds linger by decreasing the size and increasing the lifespan of cloud and ice particles. The difference affects how scientists represent clouds in climate models.”
“High clouds left after a thunderstorm spread out across the sky and look like anvils. These clouds cool the earth during the day with their shadows but trap heat like a blanket at night. Pollution can cause clouds from late afternoon thunderstorms to last long into the night rather than dissipate, causing warmer nights.”
“Possible reasons revolve around tiny natural and manmade particles called aerosols that serve as seeds for cloud droplets to form around. A polluted sky has many more aerosols than a clean sky – think haze and smog – and that means less water for each seed. Pollution makes more cloud droplets, but each droplet is smaller.”
“Observations consistently show taller and bigger anvil-shaped clouds in storm systems with pollution, but the models don’t always show stronger convection.”*
The evidence is clear: There is a direct correlation.
What’s also clear is that there’s been a recent shift in average air temperature or temperature at the surface. It has, on average, risen by approximately 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.0 degrees Fahrenheit) since at least the mid-19th century, certainly an anomaly compared to what is considered to be the norm, the global average surface temperature being that much above normal. The temperature rise is evidence, here again, that just can’t be denied.
It is important to note here that there are those who refuse to believe that humans have anything to do with that temperature rise, much less a changing climate. They will offer up the explanation that human-contributed carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the air are so minuscule by volume, that such can’t possibly shape or shift climate.
As a case in point they’ll point to the 418 parts per million in the air of carbon dioxide that humans have put there. That amount only accounts for just 0.0418 percent, again, by volume, their point here being how so little CO2 in the atmosphere can have an outsized effect on climate. The bottom line is something is behind the changes – it isn’t just happening on its own.
The problem is, it is difficult if not impossible an assertion to prove just as it is equally difficult if not impossible to disprove, in other words, that the presence of atmospheric greenhouse gases put in the air through the burning of fossil fuels primarily, is not contributing to global climate change. It’s a legitimate argument, debate.
Okay, so I want to leave this now and concentrate on the current war against climate change.
What we’ve been hearing and reading is that global temperature rise must be limited to no more than 2.0 degrees Celsius by the end of the century – relative to that which was present when the Industrial Revolution got underway in 1750 – to avoid some of global warming’s harshest effects. The preference is to hold warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius by that time.
It’s about that time again for the annual conference on global climate change, you know, the Conference of the Parties. Ever since the one held in Copenhagen in the twenty teens, I’ve been paying attention to the climate summits.
This year’s summit is being held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt beginning Nov. 6th and concluding about two weeks later on Nov. 18th. In connection with that I look forward to getting the regular news dispatches to stay abreast of progress made, and where the world is in its efforts to, as it were, win the war on climate.
The disappointing aspects in all of this is that, connected with these events, there never seems to be overarching agreement regarding what mitigating strategies to advance, the time periods over which these strategies will be deployed, the extents or degrees of the individual mitigating actions – what these will be, as well as what each country’s mitigating plan of action will entail. At the end of the day, it all seems to be a hodgepodge of plans that the different participating countries wind up adopting with climate being seemingly left to itself to sort its own problems out – that’s what it seems like. That’s not progress as far as I’m concerned. I know there are others who feel the same way.
The mood on climate right now across the world seems tepid at best. The question is: What will it take for us collectively to move past this in any sort of substantive way, beyond heightened momentum in sea-level rise, accelerated land erosion and sometimes consequent population displacement as a result, prolonged droughts and more frequent and severe storms and flooding? We shouldn’t be waiting until it’s too late. Word has it there are but eight years remaining to decisively act and get this right.
With that all said, the greenhouse effect isn’t some newfangled catch-phrase that just started registering on people’s radar screens. The term has been around since the mid-to-late 1930s.
And, someone didn’t just make this stuff up. It is through experimentation, scientific discovery that this effect was able to be proven conclusively. What’s also known and derived using scientific method is that when wild swings in temperature across the globe occur, there are similar swings in global greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, one lagging slightly behind the other, such being evident over hundreds of thousands if not millions of years, the two, more or less, mirroring each other.
So where we go from here, really, I think at this point based on historic action taken is, unfortunately, uncertain. Climate-correcting-wise, it’s an uncertain future. Why can I say this? Because global greenhouse gas emissions are still rising.
Some would argue that what I’m espousing is all alarmist nonsense. Remember what I said earlier about “heightened momentum in sea-level rise” and “accelerated land erosion and sometimes consequent population displacement as a result.” This is fact. The people displaced I’m sure will unreservedly attest.
Being that we humans are at least partly responsible for the weather/climate-related or caused changes we’ve been witnessing and for some time now, neither can we turn our backs on this matter nor just wish the problem away.
It’s going to take some real commitment on all our parts to, if nothing else, put the world on a much more environmentally healthier and more sustainable track. As just one example, what I really like are clean cars seconding as polluted-air cleaners. It was only recently that I learned about this novel development. Better late than never, I suppose. Something that needs to be explored, developed and deployed way more, in my view. Tools at our disposal to help us get where we should be going, is what I’d say. Now that’s progress!
* From “The lingering clouds: Study shows why pollution results in larger, deeper and longer lasting storm clouds, leading to colder days and warmer nights,” Nov. 25, 2013 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory news release. For more, see the Aug. 10, 2020 Air Quality Matters “Messing with weather: Is that messed up – or what? Maybe, maybe not,” blog post.
– Alan Kandel
This post was last updated on Nov. 3, 2022 at 5:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.