background image

Myths about climate change (Part 2)

author image

By Yury Erofeev

· 12 min read

Warming is real, so what?

The weather forecast is for rain today. They lie, of course, but it will not be superfluous to take an umbrella with you!

Weather anomalies come and go, and climate change is slowly but inexorably changing our environment and our lives, and ultimately our society itself. The fact that everyone understands the weather is not surprising, after all, we all have more or less complete traditional knowledge about the environment. However, neither this understanding of ours, nor our skepticism towards weather forecasters and their forecasts, nor even the amateur forecasts of some especially “understanding” comrades, do not prevent us from listening and even following official weather forecasts.

Everything changes as soon as we change “weather” to “climate”. Now the confidence of “understanding” reaches incredible heights! Indeed, the valuable suggestions of the masters of the pen and economic advisers, if followed, will not cause immediate damage, like a lightning strike on an airplane, but more distant damage can be much more serious.

For example, insufficient accounting for warming (and neglect of the temperature regime of the soil) in the cities of the Far North led to the fact that up to 70% of buildings in them were damaged by permafrost thawing (Grebenets et al, 2012Streletskiy et al., 2012).

Alas, there is a difference in the disputes over the construction of the pyramids 5000 years ago and the construction of nuclear power plants now. The difference is that an alternative opinion on the second question can affect the health and life of any listener. In the same way, disregard for the “official knowledge” of climatologists will affect every, even uninterested citizen. It will not be reflected immediately, but on a large scale and is awfully expensive.

Ask yourself, do you want to risk your property or health by rejecting the results obtained by “official scientists” out of the blue, even if there is some possibility that they are inaccurate and may be incorrect somewhere?

What are we risking by neglecting the harmful “official knowledge”?

How will global warming affect our lives? On the economy? On what else? What does this mean for people? Well, think about it, it will be a little warmer.

It is true that the climate has changed in the past, is changing now, and will change in the future, including for reasons beyond human control. Figure 9, taken from the well-known climate science site RealClimate, shows climate change from a historical and geological perspective. Indeed, there were periods on Earth when the temperature was much higher and much lower than today. Even relatively recently, the last interglacial period was much warmer than the current climate. Moreover, even in our interglacial period, during the optimum, temperatures were higher. For example, only 6 thousand years ago in the Baltics, the climate was reminiscent of northern France, agriculture developed, and there was a rather large population compared to later eras (Warden et al., 2017).

Figure 9. Change in the global temperature of the Earth’s surface over the past 550 million years.

It would seem that there is no danger and there is no need to keep warming within 1.5 °C of current temperatures. In reality, however, geopolitics and economics are involved. The world is divided into countries, and in each country cities, agriculture, roads, and the whole way of life are adapted to the existing climate. Deteriorating living conditions, natural disasters, and even relatively small shifts in climate norms lead to the need to pay with great damage and new investments, and often with lives.

We see an interesting example in Norway. Here, 99% of electricity is produced by hydroelectric power plants. Large reservoirs have been built in the mountains, in which water is kept from the autumn rains in order to produce electricity in abundance in winter when water accumulates in the form of snow and energy demand is greatest. Therefore, by the end of October, when snow falls in the mountains, the reservoirs are full to the brim. And now the climate is getting warmer, and rains, not snow, are increasingly coming in November and December. The water has to be dumped. Over the past few years, there has been so much rain in November that the release of water has led to the massive destruction of roads and buildings. The damage in autumn was compounded by damage in the spring, when, due to lack of snow (which had melted and been thrown off), there was not enough electricity, and enterprises were forced to stop production since it was too expensive to buy energy from Sweden.

Damage in less developed countries tends to be much greater. Look at Syria, where years of drought led to mass migration, political instability, and civil war.

How many greenhouse gases are emitted by hubon dioxide imans?

What is the role of human activity in what is happening to the climate on the planet? I have heard that there are relatively few greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere by businesses. And that, they say, warming is a natural process that a person does not influence in any way.

There is no doubt that changes in the atmosphere come precisely from the greenhouse gases emitted by man. And not only and not even so much because these changes are consistent with changes in the economic activity of mankind, with the amount of coal, oil, and gas produced, but mainly because the isotopic composition of the burned carbon is consistent with the composition of the emerging carbon dioxide. And it is different from that of natural origin.

Let me explain. Humanity is changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere, mainly through CO2 emissions. At present, since about the 1920s, humanity is the main source of new CO2 in the atmosphere. Of course, there is a CO2 cycle in nature. Plants and the ocean absorb (dissolve) CO2 from the atmosphere, and the processes of respiration, combustion, and evaporation bring it back. We know that the amount of carbon dioxide in the air has changed within very narrow limits over hundreds of thousands of years. To find such a high CO2 content as we have now, i.e. 400 parts per million parts of air, we need to go back as much as 3 million years. Neither the advance and retreat of glaciers, nor changes in ocean level by a hundred meters, nor the eruptions or silence of volcanoes have led to such large concentrations of carbon dioxide over these millions of years. Thus, a lot of new CO2s are emitted to the atmosphere, and it is humanity that supplies it, which is established not by balance calculations, but by precise methods of isotopic analysis — “old” carbon from fossil fuels + “new” oxygen from the modern atmosphere. Currently, the increase in CO2 content in the air is 0.5% per year and fluctuates in line with economic activity. The crisis of 2008 is quite clearly visible in the figure below, as a slowdown in CO2 growth in 2009. The same figure shows that the increase in CO2 over five years overlaps the swing of the seasonal cycle (blue zigzag in the top graph), that is, the ability of boreal forests to absorb carbon dioxide in summer.

Figure 9b. The figure shows the change in the content of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 1958 to 2012. It is also commonly known by the popular name “Killing Curve”. On the top panel, the red line shows the global and yearly averages of carbon dioxide (CO₂) measurements, which are measured in parts of CO₂ per million parts of air. Data was collected by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (USA). The blue line shows the data of weekly satellite measurements of CO₂. Seasonal changes in the CO₂ content, which are associated with the summer activity of northern forests, are visible as small fluctuations (zigzags) of the blue line. The bottom panel shows year-to-year changes in the annual average CO₂ content. Positive values ​​mean an increase in the CO₂ content in the atmosphere.

In addition to CO2, humanity also emits other greenhouse gases, such as methane, nitrogen oxides, halocarbons (halogen-substituted hydrocarbons), and others. But their combined influence is relatively small, and most importantly, they do not live long, that is, if emissions are stopped, then after some time, about 30 years, their influence will completely disappear.

The new CO2 that humanity has added to the air is changing the properties of the atmosphere in such a way that it requires the Earth to be warmer to maintain a balance between the flow of heat to and from the Earth. That is, it simply causes an increase in temperature, primarily in the atmosphere at altitudes of 3–6 km above the earth, and then at the surface. This is exactly what we are seeing. This is an especially important effect. As soon as someone especially “understanding” wants to offer something of his own, he must immediately explain how his temperature rises in this way, first at altitudes of several kilometers, and only then at the surface. A side effect of this high-altitude warming, but an enormously powerful one, is that the atmosphere begins to hold more than normal water vapor. His humanity hardly adds, he evaporates from the oceans on his own, as soon as the air has the opportunity to capture more of it. The ability of air to hold water vapor increases VERY rapidly with temperature. In the driest desert, at 40 degrees of heat, the air contains more water vapor than in heavy rain at +10. This feature is used in the tropics. In the Canary Islands, vineyards get their water from the fact that the cold soil at night squeezes it out of the warm air. Hoarseness is also formed on the windows of the car, which the owners have to clean in the morning. In the humid air of Norway, up to 2 cm of drizzle per night can settle on the glass of a car.

So, the upper atmosphere is warmed by CO2, and more water vapor from the oceans accumulates there, but water vapor itself is a powerful greenhouse gas. It amplifies 6 (six) times the initial warm-up from CO2. But water vapor lives in the atmosphere for only 4–8 days, that is, if you suddenly remove CO2 from the air, then additional heating from water vapor will disappear in a week. Thus, CO2 emissions are the very change that sets the earth's entire climate in motion. CO2 has a long lifespan (in terms of civilization), and it sets off a whole series of effects that lead to increased warming, acidification of the oceans, and, ultimately, irreversible climate change.

So, already emitted greenhouse gases are capable of warming the Earth’s climate much more than we are seeing today. But part of this heating has not yet been assimilated by the Earth, and because of this, temperatures will continue to rise for many decades to come. And part of the heating is offset by cooling effects: deforestation, the release of dust and sulfate particles, some excess volcanic activity, and a lack of solar activity in recent decades.

Climate change consists of interrelated processes, and they can be predicted!

There is a widespread opinion among the public that any statement can be considered in itself, without connection with a complex of various consequences. This is not true. The processes in the Earth’s climate system are interconnected. If we assume that the climate changes due to solar activity or the activity of cosmic rays, then in this case we would observe a certain set of interrelated changes in air temperature, precipitation, clouds, etc. However, what we observe is in good agreement only with the hypothesis of anthropogenic climate change, and badly with other popular hypotheses.

Some people think that climate change should be recognized only because there is a consensus (consent) regarding this hypothesis among 2–3 thousand climate scientists. In fact, whether scientists agree or disagree with the interpretation of the observations and the causes of the changes does not really matter. Experts, of course, having considered the problem, are more likely to come closer to the correct solution, but objective truth exists on its own, regardless of our subjective, even expert knowledge about it. Whether our understanding of the truth is correct, we are helped to understand the predictions of future changes. So, the understanding of climate cyclicity supporters is wrong, not because there are few of them, but because their forecast turned out to be wrong. Is the forecast of anthropogenic warming proponents, correct? Figure 10 below shows that yes! Modern climate models, together with scenarios for changes in the composition of the atmosphere (GHG emissions), predict changes in global temperature quite well, despite volcanoes and other random climatic influences. Note that the models are indeed quite poor at predicting the random component of climate variability over the forecast time interval from a year to a decade. This requires knowledge of the state of the ocean, and in the ocean, especially in the tropics, there are very few observations. Where observations in the ocean are sufficient (for example, in the North Atlantic), the models also have predictive power over a ten-year interval (see references Årthun et al., 2017). However, for longer time intervals, models predict changes quite accurately.

Let me remind you that climate is the average weather regime over 30 years of observations. That is, we observe the temperature on a thermometer outside the window every day or more often for 30 years, average it, and get one figure — the average climatic temperature outside your window. The average temperature does not mean that it is also observed most often. For example, you can have -30 in winter and +30 in summer, while the average will be zero, although this zero may have been observed only a couple of days a year.

Figure 10. Comparison of observed climate changes and climate model predictions (gray background) and their mean (black curve).

In practice, one often speaks of climate as an average weather regime, defining this average as convenient for anyone, say, over 10 or even 5 years. A 10-year average is usually used to discuss present-day warming, otherwise, the most interesting recent data would be excluded from the analysis.

At present, there is no doubt about the accuracy of global predictions, and they can be independently obtained and verified by leading scientific centers. The UK Met Office produced this forecast in Figure 11. The problem is to detail such forecasts for smaller regions where they would be extremely useful for decision-making. That is, we need to turn climate research into climate technologies and services. The task is not something new, but it has not yet been solved at the modern technical level.

Figure 11. Changes in global air temperature and its forecast for 2018 according to the UK Met Office.

This article is also published on the author's blog. Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

Did you enjoy this illuminem voice? Support us by sharing this article!
author photo

About the author

Yury Erofeev is a Business Analyst at SQUAKE, utilizing a solid foundation in Physics, Mathematics, and Sustainable Development to drive meaningful industry changes through data-driven decision-making.

Other illuminem Voices

Related Posts

You cannot miss it!

Weekly. Free. Your Top 10 Sustainability & Energy Posts.

You can unsubscribe at any time (read our privacy policy)