Climate Change: Just the Facts,
The Truth, & The science
This article is also available on our youtube channel as an informational video; both discuss the realities of Climate Change with just the facts, the hard data, and the science. There is a lot of misinformation floating around on the internet about climate change and climate science. There are also many proactive climate science denial groups and entities – so how can we better understand the data at hand, and be better informed? We’ll dive into the data that is heavily backed by scientific consensus and the international scientific community, and allow you to make your own judgments.
Our 3 areas of focus are:
- Carbon Dioxide and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data
- Land & Ocean Warming Data
- Sea Ice & Ocean Level Data
1) Carbon Dioxide and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data
We like to start with the set of data displayed in the chart above that show Carbon Dioxide emissions are higher today than they have been at any point in the past 800,000 years. Data like this has been compiled with measurements taken from ice cores extracted in the Antarctic, and can allow us to peek back into time and understand the historical composition of the atmosphere. The highest concentration of historical atmospheric carbon dioxide recorded in the Antarctic cores is around 300 parts per million, from around 300,000 years ago. As you can see, in the year 2018, we’re around 400 parts per million.
The second set of charts below are published by the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and they show us that CO2 emissions have skyrocketed in the last 150 years. It is very clear, and there is general consensus in the scientific community, the concentration of CO2 has undeniably increased in the atmosphere. What’s most shocking is that CO2 levels were around 325 parts per million in 1970, meaning that the vast majority of the growth in greenhouse gas emissions has come in the last 5 decades alone.
So a very logical and reasonable question many ask at this point is: How do we know that humans are causing this spike in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions? Essentially, how certain is the scientific community that this data is the result of human activities? The answer to that is: The scientific community is certain to a very high degree of confidence that the emissions data is driven by human activity. Per the IPCC’s latest synthesis report:
“Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.”
As you can see in the chart below, emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributed about 78% of the total GHG emissions increase from 1970 to 2010.
So now that we’ve established that CO2 emissions and GHG levels are at astronomical levels compared to the historical record, what does that mean for the planet? What impact does this have for not just the earth, but life here on the earth?
2) Land and Ocean Warming Data
Given the size and volume of the earth’s oceans, and the expansiveness of our atmosphere, it would take a ridiculously large amount of energy to raise the temperature by measurable amounts to say with any reasonable certainty that human activities are causing warming. So what has scientists so concerned?
The data charted below was obtained and measured by NASA and shows how Global Annual Mean Surface Air temperatures have changed considerably over the past 120 years. The chart is showing that the global surface air temperature has risen around 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and a majority of the changes have come in the last 50 or so years.
This animation provided by NASA also tells a similar story as the entire world is producing data showing that we’ve rapidly warmed the earth to significantly measurable amounts – with irrefutable certainty. And what about our oceans? Our oceans are actually absorbing the majority of the heat that is being trapped by the increasing amounts of Greenhouse Gases in the atmosphere.
The figure below has data provided by the EPA/NOAA that show the changes in measured ocean heat content from 1960 to 2015.
There has been a significant increase in the amount of heat the oceans are absorbing, their measured heat content, and the temperature of the upper few meters of the ocean – has increased by approximately 0.13°C per decade over the past 100 years. Some outlets predict that there is likely to be an increase in mean global ocean temperature of 1-4 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. What we also know now is that based on data drawn from satellites measuring greenhouse gases trapped in the earth, data pulled from on volcanic activity, as well as data drawn on measured solar radiation levels, absent human activity, the earth should be cooling, instead of warming.
So where then are we headed? That’s one of the broader debates occurring around the world in the scientific community, but majority consensus can be summarized by the following sentiment: It’s going to get much, much worse.
The charts above are quite often the most cited, and quoted sets of data that are produced by the IPCC, the United Nations’ multi-country coalition on Climate Change. Through multiple scientific modeling projects, the IPCC has determined that global temperatures are expected to rise anywhere between 0.5 degrees C, to 4 degrees Celsius, depending on the actions humanity undertakes to curb our carbon emissions. The courses of action are dubbed “Representative Concentration Pathways” and the ultimate warming of land, ocean, and air depend heavily upon which course we as a society decide to take up.
3) Sea Level Rise & Ocean Level Data
So CO2 emissions have risen, and data tells us that both the land, and the oceans are warming. What does this mean for global sea levels?
From the many measurements taken by our scientific institutions, we now know that ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored from the global climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the stored energy. Given that the oceans have taken up most of the warming, it should come as no surprise that global sea levels would be expected to rise given that a good portion of our oceans are covered in sea ice!
Per the EPA, using data from CSIRO and the NOAA, from 1900 to 2010, global average sea levels rose by roughly 0.2 meters, around 8 inches! This finding is corroborated in the IPCC’s report showing a similar rise in sea level changes! The rise is due to a multitude of reasons, but latest findings have been showing that the Greenland, Arctic, and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass at ever-quickening paces.
The video above is produced by NASA and it shows over 3 million square kilometers in arctic ice have been lost in just the last 50 years. It’s estimated that the annual mean Arctic sea-ice extent has decreased roughly 3-4% per decade, and total extent has clearly decreased every season. Where do we go from here? Most sea level rise projections anticipate global mean sea levels rising between 0.5 – 0.8 meters, or around 1.5 to 2.5 feet, between now and 2100. Of course, these are still projections, but the IPCC has charted sea level rises under the different RCP, or Representative Concentration Pathways, and it’s looking more and more likely that the problem is going to get much worse.
To recap, we’ve been through numerous pieces of data, and general consensus findings from the scientific community that maintain:
- Carbon Dioxide, and other greenhouse gas emissions have heavily increased beyond normal & historically recorded amounts
- There is ample evidence of human-activity induced land, sea, and air warming across the entire globe
- Global sea levels have significantly risen, and will continue to rise as the ocean absorbs much of the heat that is being trapped in the atmosphere, which will then cause our polar ice sheets to melt at rapid rates.
The appropriate and often asked question is…what happens next? We have a separate video (and article) titled “Why Climate Change Matters” that dives deeper into the impacts of climate change. At a high level, there are a number of quite frightening, and tragic impacts that will occur as our earth’s climate changes quickly. These include:
- Loss of life, both marine and land across the world
- Climate refugees
- Ocean Acidification
- Increased droughts and wildfire
- Many more we’ll go into with our other videos.
Ultimately, the responsibility of being caretakers for this earth falls upon us, and it is our duty as one collective humanity to come together the solve this climate crisis. I often like to ask myself “If not us, then who?” This is our home, this is our planet, and there is no planet B. I hope that in the coming years we can all make true, meaningful progress towards solving the climate crisis. Our goal here at Spark Progress is to learn as much as we can in an objective manner about important issues, and then inspire folks like yourself to act on what’s been explained to spark progress in the world, and bring about meaningful change.
Thanks for reading everyone, and I will leave you with this quote to end by the famed American Writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay Nature:
“But if a man be alone, let him look at the stars….One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime…. If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson