Climate change. We’ve all heard of it and it’s something that governments, corporations and civil society are increasingly concerned about. From the way we travel, the food we eat, the clothes we buy and the gadgets we use, we are repeatedly reminded that these lifestyle comforts contribute to climate change and that we should seek to minimise our environmental impact accordingly. But just how sure can we be that it really is ‘us’ who are causing this climate change? What is the evidence and why are some people unconvinced that anthropogenic climate change is real?
Dr Andy Russell tried to answer these questions in a talk at Skeptics on the Fringe on 5 August. A Lecturer in climate science at Brunel University, Andy’s work focuses on European extreme events and Antarctic climate change. He often comments on weather and climate issues in the media.
Through a fact-filled and visually stimulating presentation, Andy elaborated on the history of climate change through the ages, citing historic CO2 levels captured from ice cores drilled in the Antarctic. While CO2 levels have fluctuated greatly over the last 500,000 years, Andy’s talk showed a clear correlation between rapid CO2 increases and the industrialisation of the modern world in the late 1800s. An explanation of the greenhouse effect was given and the various contributions from different radiation types such as solar, UV and infra-red.
Turning to the sceptics, or so-called ‘climate change deniers’ Andy highlighted the uniqueness of the global climate given our inability to carry out experiments on it and draw conclusions from results, in contrast to how most other scientific understanding is gained. This inability to determine conclusions from experiments opens up doubts to some about the reality of climate change, while other anomalies arising from the El Nino phenomenon further complicate matters. Andy suggested that the deniers are motivated primarily because they disagree with the policy implications of climate change, rather than the existence of climate change itself.
The talk stimulated interesting questions from the audience who primarily seemed to agree with and accept the reality of climate change. When asked if it is already too late to stop dangerous climate change and therefore not worth trying to, Andy gave this analogy: It’s like driving a car in thick fog towards a cliff. We can’t see exactly what lies ahead of us, but the sooner we but the brakes on, the better chance we have of avoiding catastrophe.
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