Climate Change: A World Finally Warming Up To The Idea, PART 2

polar bear climate change global warming

Welcome to the second installment of this two-part series on climate change, Climate Change™, global warming and the many degrees of human idiocy that have generally resulted in a cluster you-know-what of misunderstanding on both sides of the debate. It’s the aim of this blog to discuss just why it is climatologists believe human activity (particularly our industrial activity) has and is causing global weather patterns and characteristics to change. In Part 1, we set the scene and provided the context for our debate by defining some key concepts in atmospheric science. If you haven’t read Part 1, SHAME ON YOU! All the same, here’s what you need to know all wrapped up like a delicious lightly toasted and seasoned McDonald’s McMuffin McMeal.


Important Terminology from Part 1


Union Beach, New Jersey: The devastation left behind by hurricane Sandy in November 2012. Source:

Weather: The day-to-day expression of the atmosphere as it is experienced on the ground. Look outside your window: is it raining today? It is sunny? Are you and your dog Toto en route to Oz on a twister? That’s what weather is.

Climate: The average weather characteristics of a region over a minimum period of 30 years. If it’s summer where you are, what weather do you expect to see outside your window? Do you expect it to be rainy because you live in the tropics and during summer it pisses down every afternoon? Do you expect it to be sunny because you live in southern California and southern Californian summers are like totally freakin’ awesome, hashtag #beach, like, yesterday, like oh my gaad! OR do you expect to be hitching a lift to Oz on a twister because you live in Oklahoma, which is a veritable super highway for summertime tornadoes?

THAT, my friend, is climate.

Climate change: A significant and lasting shift in average global weather and global weather patterns, which can take place over a time period of decades to thousands of years. It can be caused by all sorts of things, from variations in solar energy and plate tectonic activity to volcanic eruptions and meteorite strikes.

Climate Change: Significant and global scale changes in climate, weather patterns and characteristics caused by anthropogenic (human-originated) emissions of greenhouse gases. In other words, the stuff the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” was about.

Greenhouse gases: The atmospheric gases that absorb the thermal energy emitted by the sun and in doing so, contribute enormously to the warming of the lower atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, sulphur dioxide, ozone and nitrous oxide.

Great, now that you’re up to speed, let’s try to answer the following question…

Why Have We Buggered Things Up So Enormously?

Environmental destruction

Alberta Canada: Syncrude Aurora Oil Sands Mine. Not the kind of scenery you’d expect on summer holiday. Photo by Peter Essick for National Geographic.

The logic is simple. Greenhouse gases cause the warming of the lower atmosphere and because of this, they are very important to life on Earth. But, as it was mentioned in Part 1, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. The persistent melting of Earth’s major ice sheets is direct evidence of the continued warming of Earth’s atmosphere.

arctic sea ice loss global warming

The loss of polar sea ice since 1980 according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). All of these model images show the size of the northern ice cap at the same time of the year. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is a very real possibility that the Arctic summer will be completely free of ice by 2100.

Since the industrial revolution, when we discovered how to harness the energy released by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels, the concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, sulphur dioxide and other key greenhouse gases contained by our atmosphere have increased significantly. As each new discovery and development lead to the conception of newer and more sophisticated technologies, our output of greenhouse gases increased. Cars were once considered a luxury. Now, even beggars own Audis (true story; happened to me in Bahrain) and it’s not uncommon for the rich and famous to own more motor vehicles than they do teeth made from natural dental enamel and not gold.

The result of all the cars, industries, factories, refineries and other man-made technologies that require oil, coal, gas or petroleum is that we are relentlessly pumping out gases that are the by-products of burning fossil fuels. What I don’t understand is how anyone might expect this to NOT have an impact on our atmosphere and on its temperature characteristics.

Don’t The Forests And The Oceans Absorb CO2?


Active destruction of amazon rainforest to make space for the grazing of livestock

Yes! Plants, trees and other green things absorb CO2 at night, which definitely relieves the atmosphere of its burden of greenhouse gases. But look what we’ve done to them! What used to be verdant rainforest are now leveled, muddied and trampled pasturelands for cows. What used to be thriving woodland is now choked up with concrete, tar, brick and glass. There is only so much CO2 our dwindling green spaces can soak up.

What about the oceans? While they remain a massive sink (sponge, in layman’s terms) for CO2, the absorption of this greenhouse gas isn’t going without consequence. When you mix water and carbon dioxide, you get a weak acid called carbonic acid (H2CO3). And so, slowly, the oceans are becoming increasingly acidic. This is having a devastating effect upon the myriad of creatures whose shells are made out of calciferous compounds, from the beautiful coral reefs and their crusty citizens to Ariel the Little Mermaid, who will soon be swimming around topless without her bivalve bra.

Ariel the little mermaid

The more greenhouse gases you pump into the atmosphere, the more enhanced their effect will be. What is their effect? Warming, in theory.

Natural Variability Versus Anthropogenic Climate Change

The most infuriating argument put forward by people who don’t believe that mankind is having any kind of affect on our climate is that any evident changes can be attributed to the natural variability of our climate system. While it is true that Earth’s climate has undergone some dramatic shifts in the past – the premise for the movie Ice Age wasn’t thumb-sucked – these changes occurred over a time period of many thousands, if not tens of thousands of years. Natural variability typically takes a very long time to happen and the effects brought about by events, such as volcanic activity and meteorite impacts tend to be localized.

What we know is that global temperatures have changed at an unprecedented rate and that this change began around the time of the Industrial Revolution, which was only a few hundred years ago. Not a few thousand. In other words, the rate of change of global temperatures is unprecedented and there is a clear connection with the increased anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, like CO2.

In even plainer, perhaps somewhat vulgar English:

Denying climate change is like pooping in the toilet and denying the presence of a turd.

How Do We Know All of This?

Ice core drilling Greenland

Ice core drilling in Greenland

Studying present and recent past climate has been made easier through the use of satellites, our vast array of ground weather stations and weather buoys. We have also developed the sophisticated computer software and modeling programs necessary to collate all of this data and provide us with a visual picture of climate, both past and present. But our historical records only date back a few decades, after which they become a little iffy to say the least. An appreciation of scientific rigor is something that was only cultivated towards the latter half of the 20th Century. So how do we know enough about historic climate to say anything about what’s normal versus what isn’t?

The answer lies in super deep deposits of ice, as one finds at the northern and southern poles, as well as borehole temperature profiles, deep layers of sedimentation and middens, which are accumulations of animal crap, urine, bones and shells in natural catchment areas. All of these and more reveal secrets about Earth’s history and in particular, the environment and the composition of the atmosphere at the time. By examining deep ice cores extracted from super-thick ice sheets at the poles, we are provided with a perfectly preserved timeline of the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide content (and other gases).

What we can tell from these sources is that natural variability is normal, but it happens slowly and that recent changes in atmospheric composition are happening at an unprecedented rate and are likely attributed to mankind.

If You Don’t Believe Me, Ask the IPCC

Intergovernmental panel on climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a global effort by climate scientists to present to the world and to world governments a robust and thoroughly researched report on global climate change driven by humankind. It’s essentially a document that is aimed at helping governments around the world understand and prepare their countries for the changes in weather patterns and characteristics that are anticipated as a consequence of climate change.

The opening paragraph reads:

“Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis” presents clear and robust conclusions in the global assessment of climate change science – not the least of which is that the science now shows with 95% certainty that human activity is the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th Century. The report confirms that warming in the climate system is unequivocal, with many of the observed changes unprecedented over decades to millennia: warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, diminishing snow and ice, rising sea levels and increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases. Each of the last three decades has been successfully warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.”

You can read this and the rest of the report by clicking on This Link.

If You Don’t Believe the IPCC, Use Your Noodle

baby thinking hard

Anyone who has lived in a big to moderately sized city will know from personal experience that the climate in the city is typically different to the climate in the countryside. It’s hotter in the city during the day and it’s colder in the countryside at night. Generally speaking.

This is no accident… the type of land cover (vegetation versus concrete) influences how thermal energy from the sun is absorbed or reflected and this, in turn, has a great influence on average temperatures and temperature variation. The greater levels of pollution above a city also influence the temperature characteristics of the air. In fact, the greater number of small particles of dust, smoke and other pollutants in the air above cities can even cause clouds to form more readily, because these tiny particles offer water vapor a tantalizing surface around which they can condense.

None of this is a statistical projection spat out by some computer model and it isn’t the musings of some climate scientist pushing for government funding. It’s sound, solid fact and the kind of stuff you get taught in High School geography. THIS IS ANTHROPOGENIC CLIMATE CHANGE! Change brought about by human kind. It may be localized around major cities, but it is still noticeable to our skin and it is still change. The altering of the atmosphere’s temperature characteristics around our cities paints an irrefutable picture of how humans have changed climate.

Climate change on a global scale may be driven by different and/or more complex mechanisms, but to say that it is a natural, normal process that has nothing to do with our activity on this planet I find to be ridiculously ignorant. Tell me, do you enjoy sand in your ears? I think it’s dangerously erroneous to assert that we have not had an effect upon our environment, which includes the ground beneath our feet as much as it does the air above our heads… and in some people’s cases, in their heads.

George bush jr thinkingClass Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Over the many decades since the Industrial Revolution, we have pumped billions of tons of carbon dioxide, methane, sulphur dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We’ve changed tens of thousands of square kilometers of our planet’s essential land surface characteristics by leveling forests for agriculture and allowing livestock to raze grasslands to the ground. We’ve polluted water sources, wiped out thousands of different animal and plant species and pretty much made a total mess of our natural environment. We have had a definitive impact upon planet Earth and no one in his or her right mind can debate that point.

pollution global warming

It has been the aim of this two-part series is to unravel the knotted, warped information we are fed by the media and help us regular folk better understand it: to see through the sensationalist claims to the logical, underlying science. Climate change has become a media buzzword and a vastly popular issue that has been the driving point of many political campaigns in first world nations (*cough*America*cough*). It has become a passionate, political issue and as a result, sides have been created: those who believe we’ve caused our climate to change and those who don’t.

What I want you to do is to look through all the bullshit of BOTH sides of the argument and ask yourself the following question: am I surprised that our ruthless industrial activity and atmospheric pollution has caused global climate to change?

Whether you trust what the scientists say or not, you simply can’t say no. And if you do, I challenge you to tell me why.

extreme-weather-climate- global warming


32 thoughts on “Climate Change: A World Finally Warming Up To The Idea, PART 2

  1. I for sure agree with you that global climate change is here to stay. And that humans have a big part of mucking up Mother Earth. However, I think scientists need to stop saying what has happened in 20, 30 or even 50 years as a reference. This planet had been around way longer than us hairless apes. My geology professor told us to think of it this way. The Earth had been here for 365 days. Humans appeared on the planet on day 365, 2 minutes before midnight. Climate change would still happen without us, although I do agree that we’re speeding it up. Along with Fucking up the planet in many other ways. Gee, let’s spend billions of dollars to live on a dangerous Beach and whine when our house gets destroyed and family killed. Don’t build there! Duh!

  2. While there is definitely.some hyperbole on the “proscience” side some of the rumours I’m hearing about the predictions left out of the ipcc report have me worried. For example the possible release of methane clathrates if the deep ocean temperature rises enough. It’s already starting to happen in the Arctic

  3. I never refuse a challenge. NO. Because – er – because – er … well, I’m sure there’s some reason or other, um…:-)

    Actually everyone needs to read this post! It’s worried me that the climate change issue has been so shrouded in pro- and anti-polemic that the proper science hasn’t had proper exposure. Thank you for slashing through the crap. And it stands to reason that we’ve invoked sharp and sudden change on top of any natural shifts. I mean, we’ve burnt fossil carbon that took millions of years to accumulate, all in a few decades. What did we THINK was going to happen?

    I’d like to think that changing just one tiny factor might help. For instance, every human on the planet could try to stop farting. But it wouldn’t be enough. It’s an own goal. Damn.

    • Amen, brother! Well put: burning fossil carbon that took millions of years to accumulate, all in a few decades (more like 100 years, but regardless).

      Girls don’t fart, except for people like Honey boo boo child. So if men and rednecks stopped farting, we may halt climate change yet!

  4. Thea, first off thank you for doing this and breaking it down for us common folk a little more. You are very passionate about climate change. I am glad i am not the only one who worries.
    While i easily laugh while reading your other posts, reading youryour post today despite the quirky comments has not cheered me up. Why? Because it’s cold frozen fact.
    I wish you didn’t stop here. It’s true industrial revolution jump started the pace at which climate is changing and every day we churn more and more tones of carbon dioxide into the air.
    We are voices, and we can make demands that may make a difference to this planet. Its true it will die, but i do not think it’s wise to bury our heads in the sand and hope a miracle happens.
    You are scientist, you have all the facts, you know how this one is headed, why don’t you write another post on this one explaining to law people, i included how this climate change affects us in our everyday life. I have a feeling people have a disconnect with this reality and that’s why they laugh it off, elect leaders who do not care one bit for the environment. In a hundred years cities will be buried by the oceans, that is fact. Could you make this bigger for us please. Because its big and you have a following on this issue.
    Don stop here please. Tell the world how their great grand children will hear tales about animals called polar bears. Please tell your story even louder.
    Also apart from advising on maybe electing leaders who use their brain matter, could you give us a few lessons on what you and i can do daily to reduce the hurt we are causing this planet.
    One again thank you, you not only brought the point home you reminded me of something i am very passionate about.
    Please don’t let this be your last post on climate change. Please.

    • Wow… well, I can hardly ignore a request put so passionately, can I? I have toyed with the idea of writing a blog on renewable energy, so perhaps I will get that up and running. What I will say is that this is a science blog. It’s not an environmental blog and it’s certainly not an environmentalist blog. It remains true to science and, except for the odd personal opinion, it has to remain unimpassioned and objective. This isn’t to say that I don’t make my opinions on the matter clear – because I think I already have – but the degree to which you want me to take this I think lies beyond the scope or intent of my blog. This may sound selfish, but I have to keep the tone here neutral and factual, otherwise Why? Because Science would lose credibility as a science blog. I hope you can understand.

  5. I have one point to make on the science–the sun does not warm the atmosphere, it warms the earth. The infrared radiation from that warming then warms the atmosphere. That is where the greenhouse gasses come in–they absorb infrared radiation, they do not absorb UV radiation (most of the radiation coming from the sun is UV and passes right through the atmosphere). That brings is to one of the science points supporting the greenhouse warming theory–the atmosphere (the lower part of the air surrounding the planet) is getting warmer, but the stratosphere (the upper part of the air) is getting colder because the greenhouse gasses are trapping more of the infrared radiation than it used to trap.

    A little more on Ocean Currents–as I mentioned in Part 1, the ocean currents are what drives our climate. To say that climate controls the ocean currents sounds like a circular argument–maybe it is but those are the facts. The thermohaline circulation system that moves the ocean’s water around is slowing down. Moving the ocean’s water around has profound effects on our climate. What drives that system is the sinking of cold salty water in the North Atlantic. It is the freezing of ice that forms the cold salty water (when ice forms in the ocean, only the freshwater freezes, the water that is left is colder and saltier that the surrounding water and sinks). When the ocean gets fresher (from melting of ice and glaciers) and warmer, less ice forms and less cold salty water is formed to drive the system.

    OK–science out of the way–let me take a stab at jeansworld1’s point. It is starting to hit people where it hurts more and more and it will get worse. Last winter’s cold extremes (in part caused by changes in the ocean currents that drive our climate–and the currents are driven by climate) definitely hit a lot of people in the pocketbook–extra heating bills, reduced work hours, ect had a enough negative effect on our economy to cause it to shrink by 2.9%. Food prices are up due to the drought that is affecting the west. Flooding in the South–27 inches in one day in Florida caused billions in damage. Flooding now in the North. These are all the kind of things we can expect more of with climate change. Right now we are still able to produce enough food even with the drought, flooding, freezing and heat extremes, it is just causing price increases, but what will happen when we can’t produce enough? What will happen when water gets so scarce we have to ration it?

  6. Pingback: Climate Change: A World Finally Warming Up To The Idea, PART 2 | ylastreto

  7. I don’t deny climate change. I just wonder if we go overboard in our attempts to express the apocalyptic nature of it. What are the worst case scenarios and would it be apocalyptic or inconvenient? A case of the “cure” being worse than the “cause?”

    Consider that we are still IN an Ice Age technically. If there are ice caps (last time I checked) we are still coming out of an Ice Age. Once they are gone, we’ll be back where we were as a planet before the Ice Age. I hesitate to call that “normal” because… it’s as “normal” as summer vs winter.

    However, there are pros and cons of a DIFFERENT climate. Food production will likely skyrocket in a warmer, possibly higher CO2 environment for example. National Geographic just did a nice series on the dinosaurs mentioning how they had so much to eat because plants grew larger and faster in the slightly different atmosphere.

    I know here in New York, we could stand to do with warmer winters and longer summers. I can’t say we’d complain too much. Russia would sure love to do some farming up in Siberia too! Then again, things on the Equator would get pretty toasty…

    My question then is what SHOULD we do, and what is part of a natural cycle? Are we just delaying the inevitable or fighting a rising tide with buckets? Renewables are good in many cases for their own sake (why not use resources that are there? Sun, wind, etc. They ARE there!) However, bankrupting ourselves to meet a rather artificial timeline of doom seems like a bad idea.

    • Warmer winters in New York would also mean warmer summers. When I was there last year, it was 40 degrees Celsius in July and I just about died. Now imagine if it were 5 degrees warmer. Sure, that might be nice in winter, but not in summer. And we’re talking about New York! Think about all the arid and equatorial regions. Warmer temperatures there simply couldn’t be tolerated by the local biology – humans included.

      These kinds of changes you’re proposing to be tolerable or even “beneficial” fail to account for the millions of species that would simply perish because they can’t handle the rate at which their ecosystems are changing. I don’t see how we are bankrupting ourselves by changing to cleaner energy resources. Money is meaningless when your life is on the line and while it might not be OUR lives, there are many species on the planet we are shouldering out of existence. I think we need to be more responsible in our use of energy and we need to ensure that there is space on this little blue planet for all its creatures.

      As I explained in the blog, the rate at which are planet’s climate is changing is unprecedented. It’s not natural and by changing our habits, we at least ensure a healthier atmosphere and environment for future generations, whether we (humans) are around to appreciate it or not.

      • To respond to climate change requires a global united front. Do you really think the human race can do that? I consider myself to be an optimistic person but I just can’t be that optimistic when history has proven time and time again that we are, collectively, shithouse. Deforestation has had huge ecological impacts in Turkey two thousand years ago, not to mention what’s been going on in China (for thousands of years, continuously; I only mentioned Turkey first because I’ve actually been there and seen the resultant erosion). The Romans killed all the lions in northern Africa as a part of their games (all of them!). We are natural consumers, always trying to better our lives at the expense of other species. The sixth mass extinction that we’re going through is because of our direct impact on the environment – not indirectly through climate change. And we can’t even successfully moderate that! The few that care try but… I know I just can’t give up. When people stop questioning the science, the big question is, will we actually care to act? Or will we be too busy with Malaysian aircraft and collapsing first world economy and human rights abuses? It’s all almost insurmountable.

        Ugh. I’m sorry for the negativity. Please convince me that it’s possible.

        Oh, and could I make a request? Could you do an article on the (suspected methane) sinkholes opening up in Siberia as a result of the permafrost melting? Thanks.

      • If you want to feel better, watch the Animal Planet. There are some incredible people in the world: people who dedicate their all to preserving the health, comfort and happiness of animals, as well as their environment, whether it is natural or manmade. You might also want to hop on a plane, come to South Africa and go on a drive through our wildernesses. There are thousands upon thousands of square kilometers of beautiful, untouched land. The point is, for every depressing news headline and for every travesty we have wrought upon our land, there are incredible examples of hope. That’s not to say that change isn’t desperately needed… it is. I will look in to those methane sinks. You’re not the first to have mentioned them.

  8. It is obvious that climate is changing. With nine billion human inhabitants it is impossible that we are not having a dramatic effect on climate. Politicians will always twist the statistics to suit their own hidden agendas. Scientific research is key but unfortunately, real facts are often hidden by politicians trying to meet their own and their party’s objectives. Loved your article. It clearly outlined the science behind true climate change. I will pass this on to my son studying environmental science in University.

  9. Pingback: Climate Change: A World Finally Warming Up To The Idea, PART 2 | Superpolaca

  10. The vast majority of skeptics understand the basic physics of green house gasses and thus believe in AGW. They are just skeptical of man being the primary driver of climate change versus nature. There is legitimate scientific disagreement on the level of CO2 ‘equilibrium climate sensitivity’ (ECS).

    Writers who must use ‘straw men’ are so disappointing.

    • The very crucible of the argument FOR anthropogenic climate change is the RATE of change. This is what distinguishes historic climate change from shifts that have occurred in the past 100 years or so; and most notably since the Industrial Revolution. We are seeing a shift of unprecedented alacrity and this is what supports the notion – almost undeniably so – that man’s industrial activity on this planet is causing global changes in climate.

      I’m yet to hear any explanation as to why these changes are occurring at such a rate from the skeptic camp.

      Also: I’d prefer to think I’m using 6 years’ worth of university science education rather than “straw men” to make my rationalisations.

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