The Course of Reason

Nope. Global Warming Hasn’t Stopped. It’s Accelerating.

March 29, 2013

Remember when I wrote about the climate change "sceptics" who claimed that global warming stopped 16 years ago, and how that's a complete myth? New research is emerging to drive another nail into the coffin of this claim. 

Check out this article over at Skeptical Science, which offers up the highlights of the paper. The research reinforces the point that the "no global warming in the past 16 years" claim is false; the planet has been warming, and this can be seen through a dramatic rise in ocean temperatures. Oceans absorb a lot of heat which accounts for what has been termed "missing heat"—heat that should be there but isn't, because the deep ocean temperatures aren't factored in. What is creating some confusion among people when it comes to the perception of global warming is that surface air warming has slowed down. With a lot of the warming going to the oceans, we don't necessarily notice the heat.

350 campaign logo

Global warming is accelerating, and that's bad. This acceleration is something that environmental activist Bill McKibben has been warning people about through his 350 campaign. 350 standing for 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is the number that James Hansen and colleagues, have said constitutes a safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Going higher than that could result in an accelerating global warming situation with effects that cannot be reversed. There are two important points here: 1) We are already above that number, sitting at 390ppm; and 2) Once carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere it stays there for centuries, meaning getting that concentration down is going to be a very slow process. (Greenhouse gas concentration reached record high in 2011, says UN report.)  To me, this knowledge speaks to the urgency to reduce carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gas) output into the atmosphere. Once it's there, it's not coming out in our lifetimes. What is there is already too much.

Now some may raise the point that a safe level is actually 450ppm because that would be the point at which global temperature goes up by 2 degrees Celsius, but whether these are actually interchangeable numbers isn't clear. (Source.)  Plus, it's safe to say that with global warming accelerating while we sit at 390ppm we have reason to not let it reach 450ppm.

The Earth does have a method for the regulation of carbon. Known as "carbon sinks" these are natural sources that absorb CO2. However, humans have pumping out more carbon than these sinks can handle. (Source.) Natural processes have their rule to play in mitigating climate change, but cannot work properly when the pressure we exert on them becomes too great.

The debate over how to get our carbon output under control is one that continues to rage on with governments on the international stage more or less stagnating on the issue and lackluster action from the governments here in Canada and in the United States (among other nations). What shouldn't be disputed is that this inaction needs to stop. Plans need to be put in place and existing carbon reduction efforts, such as the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme, need to be examined to determine their success or failure. (In the case of the EU, I'm leaning towards failure as the trading price of carbon has collapsed.)  Policies that actually reduce carbon in the atmosphere, rather than simply promising to do so on paper, are needed and are needed now. I'd say those policies were needed yesterday.


About the Author: Chris Burke

Chris Burke's photo
Chris Burke holds a Bachelors in Environmental Studies: Honours Environment and Business from the University of Waterloo. Next he will be working towards a Masters of Environmental Studies in Sustainability Management. He's an active member of the Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of Waterloo student group. In his spare time he enjoys reading and playing music.




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