After watching Bill Nye’s terrible performance debating William Happer on CNN, as well as his recent endorsement of gender fluidity and other pseudo scientific ideas, I thought I’d review his video, Climate Change 101, done for National Geographic at the end of 2015. Here are my comments:
Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Most of these slight changes are caused by small variations in the earth’s orbit.
The Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) was a time period with more than 8 °C warmer global average temperature than today. This is hardly a “slight” change.
But climate change as we know it today is characterized by an abrupt increase of the earth’s overall temperature, estimated at 1.2 to 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in just the last century.
The abruptness of the change is the issue. The figure I have seen is 0.8 degrees C over the last 120 years.
While humans have only been recording temperatures for the last 150 years, the 10 warmest recorded years occurred in just 12 years through 2014.
This is false. According to NOAA satellite measurements of global average temperature in the 36 years ending with 2014 (the period of time for which we have accurate measurements), the 10 years with the highest monthly averages have been, in order (hottest to coolest): 1998, 2010, 2013, 2007, 2003, 1987, 2004, 2005, 1991, and 1995. Only 6 of the ten occurred in the 12 years leading up to 2014.
97% of climate scientists agree that this new tendency is not caused by the variations of the earth orbit but rather very likely caused by human activities.
False. I discuss and link to a detailed refutation of this claim in the William Happer post I linked at the top of this post. I wish people would stop using this argument, since, once people understand how weak it is, all other arguments are weakened in their minds by association.
Greenhouse gases’ chemical composition trap heat radiated from the sun. The more heat they trap, the warmer our planet gets.
This is true.
Greenhouse gases occur naturally, but in excess can be dangerous to our planet. Modern human activities have increased the release of non-naturally occurring greenhouse gases because we have stepped up our demand for burning fossil fuels.
During the PETM, CO2 existed at far higher levels than it does today. The current rate of change is potentially dangerous. The high CO2 concentrations in the PETM were created over thousands of years. Also, many species did become extinct at that time, so even increasing CO2 slowly does cause significant changes to the biome.
Ocean acidification [is] a direct effect of increased dissolved CO2. Since the late 18th century ocean surface acidification has increased by 30%.
Between 1751 and 1996, surface ocean pH is estimated to have decreased from approximately 8.25 to 8.14. Because pH is a logarithmic scale, this represents a 35% change in the concentration of hydrogen ions. During the PETM, it is estimated that the pH was 0.3 lower than today.
A higher acid content means calcifying species like oysters, clams and shallow water corals are at risk, putting the entire ocean food web at risk. This is bad news for the 1 billion people relying on the ocean as its primary source of protein.
These were exactly the species that incurred high rates of extinction during the PETM.
Climate change has also causes the sea level to rise. Just in the last century sea levels have risen 6.7 inches. But the rate in the last decade has nearly doubled. Sea levels have risen because as world wide temperatures go up, glaciers, and ice sheets have seen their overall mass melt significantly. Antarctica lost 36 cubic miles of ice between 2002 and 2005. And since 1994, each year on average, the earth has lost 400 billion tons from its glaciers. When all that ice melts, it fills up our oceans, and just like filling up a bathtub, the shores can’t hold all that water, and coastal regions get flooded.
For modern countries, sea level rise is costly, but for the most part, manageable. For example, just south of Vancouver, the city of Richmond, built on the alluvial delta of the Fraser river, is very close to the sea level. They have spent years and millions building a system of dykes to protect the city. According to a city official, they are already able to deal with 40% of the worst case sea level increase predicted by the NOAA. Sea level rise is a much more serious problem for low lying countries in the third world.
A troubling sign of Climate Change are increased extreme weather events. Natural disasters, like floods, tornadoes, and deadly heat waves are more obvious to humans because of their immediate impact and the sharing of their images in the media.
The EPA report Extreme Weather & Climate Change has a lot of information about increases in extreme weather and explains the link to climate change. Update (2017-08-06): Then again, according to one extreme weather expert, ‘the world is presently in an era of unusually low weather disasters’.
Climate change, as we know it today, is change in our Earth’s overall temperature with massive and permanent ramifications. Although its consequences can be planet threatening, scientists still believe there are things we can do on a personal level to help: Recycle and reuse things. Walk or use public transportation to get to work. Turn off your electronics when you are not using them. Eat less meat: roughly 18 per cent of greenhouse gases are caused by livestock farming. While you are at it eat more locally grown vegetables and foods. And last but not least, spread your knowledge and concerns about climate change with others.
These are all good suggestions. If everyone followed them, we wouldn’t need carbon taxes, which is what Bill Nye has been advocating recently. I suggest that before creating carbon taxes, all government subsidies to fossil fuel industries should be eliminated. Supporting the smart grid, allowing consumers to use energy at off peak times, and to put solar energy into the grid at peak times, is another step I think would make a bigger difference than the carbon tax. Here in BC, we’ve had a carbon tax since 2008. I don’t think it’s made any real difference in people’s behaviors.