Well, given this news from the BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8377128.stm
, it turns out that the claims that temperatures haven't been rising were in fact wrong (sometimes even the BBC makes mistakes).
Predicting climate change is only vague in as much as they don't know what the exact effects will be, nor can they pinpoint exactly where they will be felt. Whether or not climate change will happen is no longer a prediction; it will happen and already is happening.
Fiona, has climate change ever NOT happened?
Climate has always changed, from hour to hour, day to day, century to century, and millennium to millennium. Moreover, it's also changed quite fast, without human help. My favorite example is the asteroid that knocked out the dinosaurs, which changed our climate overnight.
Many scoff at such an example, saying it's not representative of typical pre-human-induced climate change, which takes a LONG time. Does it really?
The last glaciation ended about 11,000 years ago. Yes, humans were around, but there weren't many and nobody had an SUV. Most climate scientists agree that we went from having glaciers covering half of Europe to today's environment in just 20 years! Bill Bryson mentioned this in his History of Nearly Everything
book, where he points out that we exchanged the climate of Sweden for that of Texas in just about 20 years.
Please read this academic paper
(or at least the abstract) to learn that previous major climate changes were much faster than many people might imagine. It concludes, "From present understanding of the record of the last 150,000 years, at least a few large climate changes certainly occurred on the timescale of individual human lifetimes, the most well-studied and well-established of these being the ending of the Younger Dryas, and various Holocene climate shifts. Many other substantial shifts in climate took at most a few centuries, and they too may have occurred over a few decades."Another researcher points out that the last cold period (13,000 years ago) took just six months to blow in
. In short, climate change not only happens without our help, it also can do it quite quickly, within a human lifetime.
Since we hardly understand why any of this happens (and we can't seem to predict the weather just 5 days from now), then it's a bit presumptuous to believe we have a crystal ball that can accurately predict our climate 10, 100, or 1,000 years from now.
The general public doesn't really understand the concept of global warming, so when they hear that global average temperatures will increase by 2C degrees (or 4C or 6C or whatever), they just assume that across the board everywhere will get warmer by 2C degrees. However, that is not at all the case. Some places will get colder, some hotter, some wetter, some drier. In some places the temperature difference might be more like 6C or 8C - or as much as 10C or as little as 0.5C - even though the global average change is 2C. There will also be more extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, freak snowstorms in summer, temperatures above 20C in the winter, excessively heavy rainfall in short periods of time, i.e. last week in Cumbria in Northern England where record rainfall caused flooding with water levels reaching over 2.5 metres (8ft 2in). So although the projected increases in temperature don't sound like much, the local and regional consequences could/will actually be quite significant.
You make a great point. Climate will CHANGE. That means for some it will change for the worse, for others it will change for the better.
- A desert may blossom thanks to climate change
- A tundra might explode with trees, arable land, and wildlife
- Antarctica might finally be livable again (it used to have 30 meter trees covering it 45 million years ago during the Thermal Maximum of the Cenozoic - and yes, Antarctica was located at the south pole back then too, so it was really hot overall on this planet).
The news focuses on the negative about climate change. I like a more balanced approach. Why don't we consider the millions of species that will benefit from climate change?
Yes, many species will die. Is that news? Not really. 99.99% of all species that have ever lived are extinct. Many were knocked out by climate change, both the slow and the fast kind. Species come and go, but life goes on.Climate prophets stupidly claim that nature "can't handle such fast climate changes." However, all the life on this planet is living proof that nature can certainly handle rapid climate change!
Consider the hundreds of wild temperature swings (far worse than a mere 6 degrees) that the Earth has gone through. Many of those swings occurred over just a few decades, and some even happened overnight (Dino extinction, Yellowstone's toxic eruptions, etc.). Yet, we're still here.
In fact, evolutionary biologists rejoice that these punctuated, dramatic, and quick temperature swings have occurred. The world wouldn't be the same without it. Without climate change, including swift climate change, humans (and many other species) wouldn't be around here today. We'd still be bacteria, which brings up....
Even if we are causing the current climate change (which I agree is probable) and we end up killing lots of species, it's not unprecedented. We'll just be following in the footsteps of our ancestors. No, I'm not talking about early humans who hunted much of the Earth's mega-fauna to extinction.
I'm talking about our real early ancestor, the cyanobacteria. Our common ancestor was responsible for the Oxygen Catastrophe
2.4 billion years ago. Alas, our great-granddaddy was the biggest mass murderer in Earth's history. For all the species living on the planet, oxygen was a deadly poison gas. Did our relative care? No, he just kept burping and farting oxygen every time he digested water. The climate has never been so drastically transformed by any other living organism. The cyanobacteria managed to kill nearly every living thing on the planet. It makes our human touch seem delicate.
Life does what it must to reproduce, damn everyone else. We're no different than our uber-genocide producing ancestor. Perhaps we ought to be wiser, but we're not
Contrary to what you have previously suggested, calling it "climate change" is not a cop-out, nor is it a matter of hesitancy, keeping things vague, or trying to ensure that they are right regardless of what happens.
Perhaps, but my main point is that it's not a very interesting term. Such a prediction is like saying "I predict the sun will rise tomorrow."
Climate has always changed, and, as I mentioned earlier, the climate has also changed quickly (all on its own, without us nasty little humans twisting its arm).
Most importantly, life on Earth has dealt with it just fine, thank you. If it could survive the Snowball Earth climate (where the whole Earth was frozen about 1 billion years ago), and it could survive the Great Oxygen Catastrophe, and it could also thrive in the Thermal Maximum of the Cenozoic, then I think it can handle a 2-10 degrees warming.
Of course, some humans may not like it. On the other hand, others will. Again, the media ignores all the humans who will benefit from climate change.
People who live in the Nevada desert, the Canadian tundra, or the Australian outback may all benefit as their climate change to something that humans generally prefer (people in those areas may see their climate get wetter, warmer, or cooler, respectively).
First, the media told us it was global warming. When they realized that half the industrialized world would be grateful for a couple of degrees of warming, they switched to "climate change", but with a twist. They focused on change...for the worse. When the doomsday preachers warn about climate change, they imply that "where you live, your climate will get worse." Although nobody knows for sure, this is extremely unlikely.
A much more likely scenario is that some people will enjoy better weather, while others will suffer worse weather. And some won't see any substantial change at all. Hence, winners and losers.
Moreover, who decides what's bad anyway? A snowmobiler will hate that Alaska warms up, while an Alaska farmer will love it. One woman will cry if Arizona gets drier, but an environmentalist will be happy that the Desert Fox has a wider habitat. A beach bum will hate if Bali gets cooler, but those who suffer from heat strokes will love it.
Although nobody really knows our climate future, there are enough predictions out there that in 2020 or 2070 many people will be able to say "I told you so." Meanwhile, the rest will quietly change the subject.
That's why I don't make predictions, other than the obvious one that will always be right: climate is changing and will change in the future. And it may change quickly or slowly. And for better or for worse. And don't ask me why.
Once the news says that climate has stopped changing, then I will be very worried. That would be a once-in-an-Earth-time event.
Finally, I am not suggesting that we should ignore climate change. I have written an article describing what we ought to do about climate change
.My main point here is that we should be skeptical and humble during any climate change debate.
Most of all, we should have a wider perspective.
This wider perspective includes considering longer periods than the last 150 years or even the last million years. It includes considering ALL species (both the winners and losers). It includes considering ALL humans (both the winners and losers). With such a broad perspective, we might have a more intelligent debate.
Thanks for thoughts!