Who better to research and write an article about global warming and climate change than a skeptic? When approached to write this article, my client-related a recent conversation with a customer, someone he considered highly intelligent, who made the following statement, “You can’t say Climate Change is real because we have only been testing for the last 150 years.
“That sounded right to me; after all, they had changed global warming to climate change when the data didn’t seem to fit the theory, and I knew the planet had been going through climate change continually throughout history. So, why now is climate change such an issue? Of course, man has contributed to the problems of “greenhouse gases” and pollution. And we would all like cleaner air and water. But, it seemed the response was all out of proportion.
My geologist brother-in-law directed me to the resources for my research. I will quote the NASA – Global Climate Change website extensively in this article (entirely acceptable with attribution). I will also refer to The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, by Thom Hartmann, who does a masterful job explaining the chain of events from millions of years ago, to our situation today, and into the not-so-distant future. We will also cite several quotes from the Department of Energy at Energy.gov.
Two recent instances piqued my interest regarding the subject. First was COVID-19, sheltering in place, and the apparent reduction in air pollution. Pictures of the skies over LA and China contrasting pre-pandemic and the sheltering period were startling – the air was ever so much cleaner.
The second occurrence was an Amazon television ad that stated, “We’re in the fight of our generation – and we’re running out of time.” The ad detailed Amazon’s plan to be net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 and run on 100% renewable energy by 2025. If Jeff Bezos was willing to fund an initial $2 billion in The Climate Pledge Fund to accelerate investment in innovations for the low-carbon economy of the future, perhaps I needed to learn more.
Global Warming and Climate Change
One of the first issues I addressed was the seeming contradiction of global warming versus climate change. My initial assumption was that the so-called experts simply changed the problem’s name when the data didn’t match the theory. It seems my assumption was wrong. Global warming refers to the longer-term warming of our planet. Climate change encompasses a broader range of occurring changes, such as rising sea levels, ice melts in the Antarctic and Arctic Oceans, shrinking mountain glaciers, and global warming, which is affecting the seasons. This article acknowledges that global warming is real and a subset of climate change.
Asking the Experts About Climate Change
It seems the so-called experts are, in fact, the scientific experts. Ninety-seven percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends are extremely likely due to human activities over the past century.
NASAprovides the following list of scientific organizations that have issued statements endorsing this position: “Global Climate Change: Evidence.” NASA Global Climate Change and Global Warming: Vital Signs of the Planet. Jet Propulsion Laboratory / National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 15 June 2008. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.
American Scientific Societies – Joint statement
“Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.”
- American Association for the Advancement of Science
- American Chemical Society
- American Geophysical Union
- American Medical Association
- American Meteorological Society
- American Physical Society
- The Geological Society of America
- Science Academies – Joint Statement (Abridged)
“Climate change is real. There will always be uncertainty in understanding a system as complex as the world’s climate. However, there is now strong evidence that most of the warming in recent decades is attributable to human activities.”
- U.S. National Academy of Sciences
- U.S. Government Agencies
- U.S. Global Change Research Program
- Intergovernmental Bodies
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Greenhouse Gases and Their Effect on Climate
The above organizations attribute global warming trends since the mid-20th century to human activities expanding the “greenhouse effect” – the warming that results when heat is trapped close to the surface of the Earth by “greenhouse gases.” These heat-trapping gases can be thought of as a blanket wrapped around the Earth, which keeps it warmer than it usually would be.
There are certain gases in our atmosphere that block heat from escaping. Gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect include:
 “Global Climate Change: Evidence.” NASA Global Climate Change and Global Warming: Vital Signs of the Planet. Jet Propulsion Laboratory / National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 15 June 2008. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.
- Water Vapor (H2O) – as the most abundant greenhouse gas, water vapor provides feedback on our climate’s greenhouse effect. Water vapor increases as the Earth’s atmosphere warms, increasing the likelihood of clouds and precipitation.
- Nitrous Oxide (N2O) – N2O is a potent greenhouse gas produced by soil cultivation practices, particularly the use of commercial fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, and nitric acid production.
- Methane (CH4) – is a hydrocarbon gas produced through natural sources and human activities, such as the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture, rice cultivation, and manure management associated with domestic livestock. Although methane is a more active greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, it is much less abundant in the atmosphere.
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a minor but essential component of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is released through natural processes such as respiration and volcano eruptions. Human activities that increase CO2 levels include burning fossil fuels and deforestation. Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by 47% since the Industrial Revolution began. CO2 is the most critical long-lived contributor to climate change.
- Note for those, myself included, who believe volcanoes are a major source of CO2 emissions. “According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the world’s volcanoes, both on land and undersea, generate less than 1% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released annually by human activities.”
- Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – synthetic compounds of industrial origin, are now regulated by international agreement due to their negative impact on the ozone layer. They are also greenhouse gases.
Scientists agree, our human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels, coal, and oil, has increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). The coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. Industry, the clearing of land for agriculture, and other human activities have also increased greenhouse gas concentrations, but to a lesser degree.
How Climate Change is impacting Earth’s Vital Signs
The scientific community tells us that our activities are adversely impacting the climate. Where is the proof? How is climate change affecting us? What are the data points?
NASA provides the following “vital signs” for Earth on their home page climate.nasa.gov:
- Carbon Dioxide is up – 414 parts per million
- Our Global Temperature has increased by 2° Fahrenheit since 1880
- Arctic Ice Minimum is down 12.85% per decade
- Ice Sheets are also down, 427 Gigatonnes per year
- The Sea Level is rising by 3.3 millimeters per year.
- CO2 Levels at Highest Levels in History
The amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has officially surpassed levels seen in the entirety of human history, topping the highest point previously recorded in 800,000 years of data by more than 100 parts per million.
Global Temperature Rise
Earth’s surface temperature has risen approximately 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, mainly driven by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere. Most of this warming occurred in the past 35 years.
Our Oceans are Warming
The Earth’s oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 2,300 feet of ocean showing warming of more than 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
The Ice Sheets in Greenland and Antarctic are Shrinking
The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost an average of 286 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2016, while Antarctica lost about 127 billion tons of ice per year during the same period. The rate of Antarctica ice mass loss has tripled in the last decade.
Our Sea Levels are Rising
Global sea levels rose about 8 inches in the last century. However, the rate in the last two decades is nearly double that of the last century and is accelerating every year.
Arctic Ice is also Declining at an Accelerated Pace
This year’s Arctic sea ice cover shrank to the second-lowest extent since modern record-keeping began in the late 1970s.
Climate Change – Then and Now
These vital signs may not seem so onerous for the laymen, a two-degree temperature increase since 1880, the sea level rising 3.3 millimeters per year. Couldn’t these data points be indicative of normal evolution and our continually changing climate?
Throughout the Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history, the climate has changed significantly. The rapid warming we see now can’t be explained by natural cycles of warming and cooling. The kind of changes that would normally happen over hundreds of thousands of years is happening in decades.
Global temperatures are now at their highest since records began. In fact, 17 of the 18 warmest years on record have all taken place since 2001. Now, meteorologists say 2020 is on course to be the hottest year yet, with a 50% to 75% chance 2020 will break the record set in 2016.
This faster warming correlates with carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, which have been increasing since the industrial revolution. When people talk about climate change today, they mean human-made climate change, the warming of Earth’s average temperature, the result of human activity, such as burning coal, oil, and gas to produce energy to fuel our homes and for transportation.
Yes, the Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. In the last 650,000 years, there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 11,700 years. That event marked the beginning of the modern climate era and human civilization. Most of those climate changes were attributed to small variations in the Earth’s orbit that changed the amount of solar energy our planet receives.
The current warming trend is of particular significance because it is extremely likely the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and is proceeding unprecedentedly. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases cause the Earth to warm in response.
And as to that comment in our opening, “You can’t say Climate Change is real because we have only been testing for the last 150 years.” Ice cores drew from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers prove that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average ice-age-recovery warming rate.
Outcomes of Global Climate Change
Global climate change has already impacted our environment. The effects that scientists predicted would result from global climate change are occurring now: loss of sea ice, accelerated rise in sea levels, extreme weather events, and more intense heat waves.
What do we expect going forward?
Change Will Continue Through This
Through This Century and Beyond -Global climate is projected to continue to change over this century and beyond. The magnitude of change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally and how sensitive the Earth’s climate is to those emissions. These changes will likely include significant shifts in wind patterns, annual precipitation, and seasonal temperatures variations.
Temperatures Will Continue to Rise
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.
Frost-free Season (and Growing Seasons) will Lengthen
The length of the frost-free season (and the corresponding growing season) has been increasing nationally since the 1980s, with the largest increases occurring in the western United States, affecting ecosystems and agriculture.
Changes in Precipitation Patterns and Extreme Weather
The average U.S. precipitation has increased since 1900. More winter and spring precipitation is projected for the northern United States, and less for the Southwest.
Extreme weather is becoming more common, as evidenced by Derecho Storms in the Midwest this year. These storms spawned tornadoes, torrential rain, large hail, and hundred-mile-per-hour winds.
More Droughts and Heat Waves
Droughts in the Southwest and excessive heat waves will become more intense. Summer temperatures will continue rising, and soil moisture reduction, which exacerbates heat waves, is projected for much of the western and central U.S. in summer.
Hurricanes Will Become Stronger and More Intense
The intensity, frequency, and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, and the frequency of the strongest, Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s. Hurricane-associated storm intensity and rainfall rates will increase as the climate continues to warm.
The Sea Level Will Rise 1-8 feet by 2100
The global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since reliable record-keeping began in 1880. It is projected to rise another 1 to 8 feet by 2100, resulting from added water from melting land ice and seawater expansion as it warms.
The Arctic is Likely to Become Ice-Free
The Arctic Ocean will become virtually ice-free in the summer before mid-century.
Agriculture and Food Production
Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfires on rangelands, and heavy downpours will increasingly challenge the quality and quantity of U.S. crop yields, livestock health, price stability, and rural livelihoods.
Water and the Coasts
Changes in the quality and quantity of fresh water available for people and the environment are increasingly at risk.
Climate change will transform coastal regions by the latter part of this century. Many communities should expect higher costs and lower property values from sea levels rise.
Climate Change Effects in the Southwest U.S.
Heatwaves, drought, insect outbreaks, and increased wildfires are all linked to climate change. Additional areas of concern are declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, flooding, and erosion in coastal areas.
Energy systems in the Southwest are designed for hot and arid conditions, but climate change will put additional pressure on the region. More frequent and severe heat waves will drive electricity demand while hampering natural gas and coal-fired power plants’ ability to meet demand.
Still skeptical? The Southwest has been scorched this summer of 2020. Consider the following:
This summer’s heatwave has relentlessly baked Phoenix for months. July was the hottest month on record. August then topped that and has become the new hottest month. These back-to-back record-heat months made 2020 Phoenix’s hottest summer on record – 1.6 degrees higher than the previous record.
Other notable Phoenix summer facts:
- Hottest August and hottest month
- Hottest July and second-hottest month
- Hottest summer
- Most 110-degree days
- Most 115-degree days
- Most 90-degree nights
- Most excessive heat warnings
Phoenix was not alone as several other parts of the lower 48 also registered their hottest summers.
The Southwestern states, California and Arizona in particular, have suffered record-breaking wildfires in back-to-back years, 2019 and again in 2020. Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) and service disruptions to thousands of homeowners have become the norm.
How to Respond to Climate Change?
Even if we stopped emitting all greenhouse gases today, global warming and climate change would continue to affect future generations. How much climate change? That will be determined by how well we control emissions and how our climate system responds.
Responding to climate change requires mitigation, adaptation, and transparency.
- Mitigation – reducing emissions of and stabilizing the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
- Adaptation – adapting to climate change is already in the pipeline.
- Transparency – tracking and reporting on the progress made in mitigation efforts.
Society’s efforts to respond to climate change have increased in the last five years, but not at the scale needed. Without substantial and sustained efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, climate change will cause growing losses to the American infrastructure, property, and slow the economic growth rate.
Reducing climate change involves reducing the flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by minimizing these gases’ sources, the burning of fossil fuels for electricity.
A Statement from The Department of Energy – Energy.Gov
“We live in a rapidly changing world. The effects of climate change—such as heatwaves, rising sea levels, and more severe storms—are already being felt across the United States. Our energy infrastructure is especially vulnerable to climate-related impacts, which can pose a serious threat to America’s national security, energy security, economic well-being, and quality of life.”
“Addressing the effects of climate change is a top priority of the Energy Department. As global temperatures rise, wildfires, drought, and high electricity demand stress the nation’s energy infrastructure. And severe weather — the leading cause of power outages and fuel supply disruption in the United States — is projected to worsen, with eight of the ten most destructive hurricanes of all time happening in the last ten years.”
To fight climate change, the Energy Department supports research and innovation that makes fossil energy technologies cleaner and less harmful to the people and the environment. We’re taking responsible steps to cut carbon pollution, develop domestic renewable energy production, and win the global race for clean energy innovation.”
“Electricity production generates the largest share of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. About 66 percent of our nation’s electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas.”
The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, by Thom Hartmann
“It all starts with sunlight. Sunlight pours energy on the Earth, and the energy gets converted from one form to another, in an endless cycle of life, death, and renewal. Every life-form on the surface of this planet is here because a plant was able to gather sunlight and store it, and something else was able to eat that plant and take that sunlight energy into power its body.” – Thom Hartmann
Hartmann’s book goes on to explain how we’re fueling our economy today at the expense of future generations and future life on the planet, how we’re using ancient sunlight, coal, oil, and gas at unprecedented and unsustainable levels to the detriment of our climate. Hartmann’s goal is that the world ignores transnational energy corporations’ disinformation campaigns and develop zero-emission energy sources and negative emission technologies. It is an intriguing read, and Hartmann makes a compelling case for sustainable and renewable energy technology.
What We, as individuals, can do to Mitigate Climate Change
While the estimated 331 million people in the U.S. today represent approximately 4.25% of the world’s population, we consume more than 25% of the world’s energy and generate five times the world average of CO2 emissions. We need to change.
The change will only happen once individuals start to take action to mitigate climate change. Carbon dioxide is the culprit, our climate’s worst enemy, released when coal, oil, and other fossil fuels are consumed to power our homes and automobiles. You can initiate your personal mitigation strategy by reducing your carbon footprint:
- Convert to a renewable energy source to power your home
- Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle – make your next car a hybrid or EV
- Weatherize your home to reduce energy consumption
- Upgrade to energy efficient-appliances – Look for Energy Star labels
- Reduce waste water
- Use LED light bulbs
What’s good for the planet is also good for your budget. Solar energy, Electric Vehicles, and reduced energy consumption all help reduce your monthly expenditures.
PEP Solar Since 1978
We hope this article has been informative and increased your awareness of global warming, climate change, and the need for clean, renewable, sustainable energy.
We are a full-service solar company and have been installing, servicing, inspecting, and repairing solar for homeowners and businesses in Arizona since 1978. Our mission is to provide complete solar power solutions that perform beyond your expectations for your system’s life.
At PEP Solar, we partner with the best-in-class solar manufacturers to deliver your best solar solution. Let us design and install your system using the best products and panels in the solar energy market.
When you’re ready to reduce your carbon footprint, we can help you become a “prosumer,” a homeowner who produces and consumes solar energy using the latest residential solar technologies.
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