Was climate change invented by the Chinese?
…nope. Climate change is a real thing and its causes, mechanisms and effects can be studied and understood. And if you still want to point fingers, you will find that we’re pretty much all to blame.
Climate and atmosphere
The climate of a location describes its average weather over a long period of time (e.g. 30 years). Information about climate is gathered by measuring temperature, rains, winds, air pressure and other weather variables many times over a long period of time and analyzing the variations in the patterns in which they occur. Climate change generally means a change in these patterns that lasts over an extended period of time. Global climate is studied similarly to any local climate but the measurements are extended to consider the whole planet.
Atmosphere is one of the 5 climate system components that generate a climate. The atmosphere’s importance on Earth’s climate is easy to understand. After all, many weather effects like winds, raining, snowing, humidity, air temperature and pressure take place in the atmosphere and wouldn’t exist at all without it. These atmospheric effects are also closely dependent on each other, e.g. the heating of air masses causes them to rise up in the atmosphere causing local air pressure differences and winds.
Humans Affect Climate Change
Coming to terms with the atmosphere’s influence can help realize that when it changes, it may result in changes in the weather. And long term changes in average weather is what we perceive as climate change.
The change we humans have imposed on the atmosphere is a dramatic increase in the amount of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide (CO2). Ever since the industrial revolution human activities such as growing industry, agriculture and traffic have been emitting CO2 to the atmosphere with an ever growing rate.
How do we know this? Technology provides us the means to analyze the chemical composition of an air sample. The amount of CO2 molecules in an air sample can be measured with a very high precision. Measurements from the last century up to this day show that the relative amount CO2 molecules in atmospheric air has increased with an accelerating rate. This trend has been confirmed by measurements of over a hundred measurement stations in 66 countries. By studying samples of Antarctic ice we are also able to measure what the atmospheric CO2 levels were long ago when the ice was formed. The deeper the ice layer, the older it is. With this method our measurements reach hundreds of thousands of years back in time.
It’s sometimes argued that humans are too little and insignificant to really affect the planet and its atmosphere with their actions. This argument, however, is but a reminder of an individual’s inability to grasp the size of the human population and the environmental impact of our daily actions. Our “common sense” is likely to fool us in matters beyond the size and time scales of our everyday experience. Especially in these situations the scientific thought process, that has been refined to account for our own fallibility, can light our path in the dark. And from a scientific point of view, the numbers don’t lie.
The amount of CO2 in an air sample is measured in units of parts per million (ppm). For example measurements made from Antarctic polar ice show that before the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1750, the level of atmospheric CO2 was 278 ppm which means that on average there were 278 CO2 molecules in every million molecules of air. In July 1958 the atmospheric CO2 level measured in Mauna Loa observatory, Hawaii, was 315.86 ppm. In July 2016 the result of a similar measurement in the same location was 404.39 ppm. This 43% increase in atmospheric CO2 goes hand to hand with our accelerating CO2 emissions which have sum up to 2000 billion tonnes of CO2 between 1870 and 2014.
Studies of old ice also show us that natural levels of CO2 have varied cyclically between 185 ppm and 280 ppm in the past 800 000 years. This variation is due to natural climate cycles mostly attributed to the very small changes in the Earth’s orbit that affect the amount of incoming solar radiation. So for thousands of centuries before the 1950’s the limit of 300 ppm of atmospheric CO2 had not been been exceeded. And now, in less than 70 years, which is practically a blink of an eye on this time scale, we have sky-rocketed beyond this limit increasing the CO2 portion of atmospheric air with another 100 ppm.
OK! OK! The amount of CO2 in our atmosphere is rising due to human activities. I get it. But what’s the deal with CO2? Why are a bunch of colorless, odorless and tasteless molecules all of a sudden so bad for the planet?
This is due to the greenhouse effect which happens in our atmosphere. CO2 and other greenhouse gases have the ability to trap heat energy of the sun and partially prevent it from leaving the Earth. To a certain extent this is vital for life on Earth, so that our planet doesn’t cool too much during winter and night times but if a greenhouse effect gets out of hand, the consequences will be catastrophic. We’ll be writing about the greenhouse effect soon – subscribe to our mailing list to be the first to know about it!.