Climate Change 101: It’s Really …

Climate Change is not just a scientific or political issue, but a moral and spiritual issue of love and justice touching core issues of faith and Christian life.  But here we will first look at the basic facts of climate change (also referred to as Global Warming, Anthropogenic Global Warming, Climate Disruption and more, see NOTE below). In brief,  It’s Really Happening, Really Human Caused, Really Serious and We Can Still Really Do Something About It!

Climate Change: It’s Really Happening

Gases in the air allow energy from the sun to reach and warm the surface of the earth. Some of those gases block the heat energy of a warming surface from leaving the planet. These greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2) – a product of burning things – and methane – a fossil fuel and major byproduct of animal agriculture.

Lab tests, observing the planet, records from the past and many other types of evidence confirm that greenhouse gases allow light energy to pass through them to warm up a surface. They also confirm that those gases block heat energy from leaving. The heat energy that can’t leave builds up to increase temperatures.

In the case of the earth, as the amount of CO2 in the air has gone up, so has the temperature of the air, land and sea along with the amount of heat stored in the air, land and sea. Easily 97% of experts actually involved in climate research agree that climate change is really happening. Further, nearly all national academies of science and scientific societies agree that climate change is really happening.

Charts of info from this research show a clear pattern of more CO2 in the air and higher temperatures on the planet and a record hot 2015 fits that pattern.

Climate Change: It’s Really Human Caused

Researchers have evaluated other factors behind climate change than greenhouse gases generated by human activity. Those factors, such as the sun or natural climate change (such as caused by variations in the earth’s  orbit or tilt), either have changed in ways that would result in lower temperatures or have not changed to speak of.

Climate Change: It's Really Human Caused. Human activity such as represented by this refinery near a beach in Aruba drives the rise in greenhouse gases. Photo by Spencer Thomas (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/spencerthomas/394209399/in/photostream/
Climate Change: It’s Really Human Caused. Human activity such as represented by this refinery near a beach in Aruba helps drive the rise in greenhouse gases. Photo by Spencer Thomas (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/spencerthomas/394209399/in/photostream/

Katharine Hayhoe, climate change researcher, speaker and avowed Christian explains that only the human-caused rise in greenhouse gases explains the rapid rise in temperature of the planet since the start of the industrial age (see “What if Climate Change is Real?” by Katharine Hayhoe ).

 

Climate Change: It’s Really Serious

If more CO2 in the air only meant slightly warmer air temperatures we could maybe grin and enjoy it. That is what the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius wanted to do when he first explored the greenhouse effect of CO2 in the late 1800’s. Living near the Arctic circle he thought that warmer temperatures from climate change would be a good thing. I regret to point out that research over the years since found it is not such a good thing. 

Climate Change: It's Really Serious. Higher seas caused by climate change threatens the existence of island nations such as Tuvalu, prompting this all too literal request for a place for her country. http://www.education4sustainability.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/a-girl-in-Tuvalu.jpg
Climate Change: It’s Really Serious. Higher seas caused by climate change threatens the existence of island nations such as Tuvalu, prompting this all too literal request for a place for her country. http://www.education4sustainability.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/a-girl-in-Tuvalu.jpg

A warmer average temperature hides wide and wild swings in temperatures, with more record highs. Wide and wild swings in temperature match and drive wide and wild swings in weather. As energy at the earth’s surface goes up, hotter heat waves, drier droughts, wetter downpours, faster winds, higher seas, surging waves and other effects destroy and disrupt our common home. In the United States, California loses farm output and homes due to drought and wildfire. In the Philippines, towering typhoons demolish towns. Just as steroids put baseball players at risk even as it made them stronger and more powerful, so CO2 and the warming of climate change puts us at risk even as it makes weather extremes stronger and more powerful.

Some plants and animals, insects and microbes may move to cooler regions more to their liking. If they can’t they will suffer and even die. For example, brook trout will likely disappear from Wisconsin if global warming continues. Plants and animals, insects and microbes that thrive with warmth may move into regions that used to be too cool. They will bring death, disease and disruption to life not adapted to resist them. For instance, the Zika virus carried by mosquitoes causes human birth defects. As global warming allows these biting insects to become more active more often in more places more people suffer.

Climate Change: We Can Still Really Do Something About It

We can learn, pray and act. We can say it is a problem. We can accept the need for action. We can support changes in law and life that will help stop the problem. We can join groups that work to inform, inspire and impact our world to reduce climate change.

Climate Change: We can still really do something about it by moving from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. This wind turbine is being assembled for Consumers Energy’s $255 million Cross Winds® Energy Park in Michigan’s Upper Thumb. Photo by Thomas Gennara, Consumers Energy (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/consumersenergy/16004334361/
Climate Change: We can still really do something about it by moving from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. This wind turbine is being assembled for Consumers Energy’s $255 million Cross Winds® Energy Park in Michigan’s Upper Thumb. Photo by Thomas Gennara, Consumers Energy (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/consumersenergy/16004334361/

We can encourage people one-on-one and in groups to act boldly and urgently. We can write and speak to leaders asking them to act against climate change. We can vote for leaders who recognise climate change as a problem and who will act. We can move from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. We can lobby for policies such as a carbon tax that economists of all stripes agree will move people and business away from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable energy (see “Want a Pro-Growth Pro-Environment Plan? Economists Agree: Tax Carbon”.)

Remember, Climate Change is Really Happening, Really Human Caused, Really Serious and We Can Still Really Do Something About It.

Additional Resources

The following resources provide alternative or expanded presentations on the preceding topics.

For an accessible overview of Climate Change evidence, challenges and opportunities view these brief videos:

What is Global Warming? –  (1min 18 sec)

Climate Science: What You Need To Know –  (6 min 19 sec)

Climate Change 101 With Bill Nye –  (4 min 9 sec)

Consequences of climate change are highlighted in this SciShow video “Climate Change”  .  Meanwhile “A History of Earth’s Climate”   presents some of the long term geo-historical context and patterns of climate change.

If you prefer a written deep dive, LiveScience.com’s article “What is Global Warming?”  goes into additional technical detail.

And if you want to pursue in-depth all kinds of climate change questions, details, myth debunking and more, explore any of these sites:

http://skepticalscience.com/

http://climate.nasa.gov/

http://realclimate.org/

http://grist.org/

http://climate.gov/

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/issue/

http://www.desmogblog.com/

NOTE:

The term “Climate Change”, broadly defined, refers to how the climate – represented by the average trends and tendencies of weather averaged over multiple years, decades or more – changes over time due to multiple and various causes. As often used in common discussion in the 20th and 21st century it often more narrowly refers to changes in the climate caused by human activity. More precisely and technically we can call this sort of climate change as it affects surface temperatures “Anthropogenic Global Warming” (AGW) or even Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW). More recently some, including myself, have begun also using “Climate Disruption”. The latter two terms highlight the fact that human activity has catastrophically affected or disrupted the climate with historically unprecedented abrupt increases in greenhouse gas levels. This has thrown the climate out of the relatively stable balance that has supported human life for centuries with a variety of impacts, including higher surface temperatures. (see also “What’s In a Name: Global Warming vs. Climate Change” and “Global Warming vs. Climate Change“.)