One of the major issues facing not just the US, but the entire planet, is Climate Change. What are the real issues? I’ve been reading a book that attempts to answer this. It is written by Robert Henson, a meteorologist at The Weather Company.

His 550-page book, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change, ISBN # 9781944970390, is packed with tons of info.

I’m going to share only a tiny bit of data, from the book, in the hopes of showing the doubters, that climate change is real, and what actual scientists have to say about it. This isn’t a political issue, it’s a Science issue that all of us need to better understand.

FAQ’s: Is the planet really warming up? Yes. Independent teams of scientists have searched through more than a 100 years’ worth of temperature records, in the case of England, almost 300 years of records. The analysis all point to a rise of about 1C [1.8F] degrees.

Don’t many experts claim that the science is uncertain? Much of the uncertainty is due to the complexity of the processes involved, and some of it is we don’t know how individuals, corporations, and governments will change their greenhouse emissions over time. There is virtually unanimous agreement that global climate is already changing, and those changes pose real risk to people and ecosystems, and that fossil fuels are mainly to blame.

Climate Change or Global Warming? In the earlier 20th century scientists preferred climatic change. In the early 1980’s global warming started to become more used, but as the warming of the planet won’t be uniform, scientists now prefer the term global climate change.

Is a small temperature rise a big deal? A degree may not sound like much, given the daily temperatures can vary by much more than that, in a single day. The planet, as a whole, could warm by 5 degrees C [9 degrees F] by the end of this century. That’s more than half of the difference between current temperatures and the depths of the last ice age. Most of human history has unfolded within a narrow climatological window well short of such levels.

How could humans change the whole world’s climate? Humans have added enormous amounts of carbon dioxide [CO2] and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere over the last 150 years. As their name implies these gases warm the atmosphere, though not literally in the same way a greenhouse does.

The gases absorb heat, that is radiated by the Earth, but they release only part of that heat to space, which results in a warmer atmosphere.

When did we discover the issue? In 1958, precise measurements of carbon dioxide confirmed the steady increase in the atmosphere. Computer models in the 1960’s and more complex ones, in later years, supported the idea, advanced by scientists, earlier in the century. Finally, global temperature itself began to rise sharply in the 1980’s, which brought the issue to the attention of both the media and the public.

What about the ozone hole? There a few links between ozone depletion and global warming, but for the most part, they’re two separate issues. The world community has already taken steps to address the Antarctic ozone hole, which is on track to disappear by the end of the century.

Will rising seas really put cities such as New York and London under water? Not right away, but it may be only a matter of time. Depending on how much greenhouse gas is emitted this century. The latest assessments concluded that sea levels by 2081-2100 could be anywhere from 1-2 meters [39-79 inches] higher than they were in the period 1986-2005. Changes in the ocean circulation are expected to push the sea level even higher than the global average in some areas, including the Northeast US coast.

Will the Gulf Stream stop, thus freezing the UK and Northern Europe? The Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Current bring warm water [and with-it warm air] from the tropical Atlantic to Northern Europe. This helps keep the United Kingdom several degrees warmer than it would be otherwise. Although this system is unlikely to collapse entirely, there is a possibility that it could be diminished by climate change.

One reason for this is, the increasing rainfall and snow melt across the Arctic and nearby land areas could send more freshwater into the North Atlantic, possibly pinching off part of the warm current.

How much greenhouse gas is in the air right now? About 3,200 gigatons of carbon dioxide, which includes about 870 metric gigatons of carbon. That’s by far the largest presence of any human-produced greenhouse gas. There is also about 4 metric gigatons of carbon in the form of methane, which is a much stronger but a shorter-lived greenhouse gas. A metric gigaton is about 1.1 Billion short tons, the measure we use in the US, so about 3520 billion short tons.

In Part 2, in my next column, we’ll look at some of the solutions that Robert Henson presents.

Mike Cannatelli’s column appears every other week, in the print edition of the Avon Grove Sun and Kennett News.
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