Many people believe humans are making choices that will usher in climate doomsday.
Politicians say we have less than two decades to save our planet. School children protest deterioration of our planet’s climate. Environmental lobbies warn of dire consequences if we keep using coal, oil, and natural gas.
But are these claims true? How much does the consensus reflect reality? Most importantly, what can we do to help future generations enjoy a healthy environment?
The clarion call to save the environment is a good one. We need to be aware of changes in our ecosystems, especially from global phenomena like climate change.
If the world needs saving from doomsday, then it is imperative that we revamp our way of doing life. Our energy infrastructure, our choice of transportation, our way of using natural resources, and even our daily dietary habits need to undergo significant changes if those changes will really save our environment.
But is there really an imminent threat to the planet?
It’s true that we have damaged our environment in a variety of ways over the past two centuries. Yet economic progress has actually enabled many countries to tackle pollution and heal the environment.
This has been documented in developed countries. It is explained by the “environmental Kuznet’s curve,” a bell-shaped curve that illustrates how pollution rises early in economic development, peaks, and then declines as the country becomes better equipped (economically and technologically) to curb it.
Today, most people in developed countries enjoy clean air, clean water, and clean land. Developing countries, still in early stages of economic development, suffer from polluted air, water, and land. Yet the prospect of their rising out of poverty promises that they, too, have clean, healthful environments ahead of them.
But while most pollution is local, climate change is global in cause and effect. It is the number one obsession of our media, which now ties every little weather phenomenon to man-made global warming. So is climate change a serious problem created by the industrial era?
A few people deny that there has been any global warming or that it is caused by humans, but only a few. Call them deniers, if you must.
Many think global temperature has risen drastically, even dangerously. They blame the warming on carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal and other fossil fuels. Call them alarmists.
A third group of people are known as climate realists or skeptics. Unlike deniers, they don’t question the existence of warming but wonder about its magnitude. They’re also open to the possibility of natural causes for it.
Contrary to claims that “97 percent of climate scientists” are in the alarmist camp, most actually fall into this third category. And the greater consensus among paleoclimatologists—who study climate over long periods of time—is that recent warming is not unique.
In fact, paleoclimatology reveals that the world underwent similar warm periods during the 1st and 10th centuries A.D. These two periods are known as the Roman Warm Period and the Medieval Warm Period.
If the current warming is similar to these periods, in which humanity thrived, why be alarmed? The answer lies in how the modern warm period is being sold to us.
Alarmists conveniently ignore the previous two warm periods, avoid mentioning when the Modern Warm Period began, and exclusively focus on temperature changes since about 1850.
As a result, a graph of global temperature appears steep and dangerous. There’s even a name for it: the hockey stick graph (long stable temperature followed by a sudden rise). But that was debunked.
The previous two warm periods occurred without significant carbon dioxide emissions from human activities. This suggests that humans played no role in them.
They also reveal that global temperature increased and then dropped without any intervention. One such severe drop was the famous Little Ice Age of the 17th century, which froze the River Thames.
The 18th century brought a steep increase in global temperature, long before industrialization brought carbon dioxide emissions high enough to have a measurable effect on it. And global temperature has continued to rise. Hence we call the period from the 18th century to now the Modern Warm Period.
So, yes there is warming! But when did it begin? Before we even began to emit huge quantities of carbon dioxide.
Have the emissions from fossil fuels contributed to the rise in temperatures? Yes, probably. But how much? Not enough to be dangerous to human, animal, and plant life.
Temperature measurements from the past two decades pose a serious problem to the claim that human carbon dioxide emissions contributed heavily to the Modern Warm Period. The previously steady warming seems to have stalled despite an exponential increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Satellite measurements of lower atmosphere temperature indicate that there has been no significant warming for the past 19 years.
This absence of significant warming is evident from the dramatic divergence of computer climate model forecasts from real-world temperature data. This is acknowledged by staunch alarmists like Dr. Michael Mann and skeptics like Dr. John Christy.
At the same time, while our carbon dioxide emissions have not contributed much warming, they have helped plant growth. This is documented scientifically and can be observed in the simple practice of greenhouse farming, in which farmers maintain high levels of carbon dioxide inside greenhouses to enhance plant growth.
If climate is stable, why do we hear about polar bears dying off and walruses supposedly committing suicide because of global warming? Polar bear populations have actually grown in the past two decades. And there is no scientific evidence to show that Netflix’s infamous walrus “suicide” was due to climate change.
Despite the coordinated call from celebrities, school children, politicians with vested interests, and even academicians, real-world temperatures have not shown any serious deviation from their two-centuries-long gradual warming phase.
In fact, we might be headed into a period of cooling. Scientists studying the sun have forecasted that the next two solar cycles will be the coolest in recent history. They could even make global temperature plunge lower than the 17th century Little Ice Age freeze.
Are we destroying our environment with carbon dioxide emissions? No. What will the future hold? Only time will tell, but we have no evidence to prove a warming apocalypse.
Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Contributor for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Chennai, India.