Science writer Sarah Smith gives us an insight into the climate change deniers’ thoughts. And tells us that the facts speak for themselves, whether you deny them or not.
At the end of September this year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fifth Assessment report. This report emphasised more than ever that the current rate of climate change, including global warming and melting of the ice caps, is higher than ever before. The report also makes it clear that humans are largely involved in this climate change (i.e. it is anthropogenic: caused by us), due to both observational data and detailed calculations of how our pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions affect the earth’s atmosphere. If the evidence seems so clear, why do people still reject it?
The topic of climate change has become more and more dominant since the 1960’s as smog became a growing health issue and evidence for anthropogenic climate change increased. Looking at all the evidence, it cannot be argued that the earth’s average temperature has not been increasing rapidly since the industrial revolution. But despite the overwhelming evidence, those who ‘deny’ climate change claim this is a natural process and not the fault of humans. They claim that Mother Earth has her own agenda when it comes to climate and she has decided that it’s time for a change.
Looking back at the history of Earth, it is clear that the climate has never been constant. From starting out as a boiling ball of lava 4.6 billion year ago, the globe has been covered in ice and bathed in tropical sunshine. Therefore those who claim that global warming is a natural part of the Earth’s cosmic cycle aren’t plucking the idea from nowhere. Other scientists challenge these claims by saying that we are actually overdue an ice age, yet this can easily be rebuffed by suggesting that Earth is entering a new era, where the coming and going of ice ages is not the norm. There are other ‘deniers’ who argue that the causes of climate change cannot be fully accounted for by what we know of anthropogenic global warming or by natural causes. There are also those who claim that climate change will have little effect on Earth, as it has recovered from many disasters in the past.
Whilst these claims of denial are interesting, and sometimes persuasive in their shallow way, the evidence speaks for itself. The climate has warmed rapidly since humans started burning fossil fuels on a large scale. The chemistry shows that the gases released by these fossil fuels cause the earth’s atmosphere to retain more heat. It is like putting on another layer of clothing and then denying that you are sweltering underneath your over-insulating cloths. Whether you accept that you are getting warmer or not doesn’t change the process. Your denial of the facts don’t change the facts. But this isn’t just a person sweating and ruining their clothes, it is our planet, our home. It is the only home we have and we cannot buy another.
Whilst it is clear the Earth has natural cycles, current change is happening far more rapidly than otherwise possible. So putting two and two together in this case certainly seems to make four.