The Battle Over Climate Change Explained in Three Charts

The Battle Over Climate Change Explained in Three Charts

Climate Change is like an asteroid heading in for a direct hit on Earth.

Obama’s Climate Change Warning (& National Climate Assessment) Doesn’t Touch on the Magnitude of the Threat.

June 18-19, 2014, AUSTIN, Texas — The recent report on human-enhanced climate change points to the problem. The US National Climate Assessment, released May 6, 2014, represents the most comprehensive attempt yet to assess the current effects of human-enhanced climate change on America’s (and the Earth’s) future. Why does confusion persist about the subject? After all, Global Warming /Climate Change have ranked near the top of our Top Word lists for more than a decade.

Perhaps the major difficulty is overcoming the fact that:

  1. Few news reporters are well-versed in technical and scientific communication.
  2. Few scientists are well-versed in communicating effectively to a large public audience in non-scientific terms.
  3. The public is not trained in deciphering the reams of information that presents the case that is being argued.

Therefore, lack of technical communications skills inhibit true understanding of climate change news. As a former university lecturer on Scientific and Technical Communications, I’ve created a few rules to keep close to heart.

Rule No. 1 When Communicating a Scientific Truth Be Sure to Communicate the Whole Truth — The audience instinctively knows when you are leaving out some of the story that you think might confuse the issue.

Well known Fact: The temperatures are now the highest in 1,000 years.

Larger Reality: The global surface temperature has fluctuated greatly over the last 2100 years. Scientific and Technical writing professionals would, one hopes, clarify the discussion by writing from the audience’s point-of-view. An educated audience would expect a phrase, such as ‘not in a thousand years’ to mean ‘not ever’. They would likely be concerned if they knew an author to be shading the truth that actually obscures the larger truth.

Suffice to say the global temperature has fluctuated greatly over the last 1200 years as shown in the graphic using four different sources. Also note there was the well-known historical fact of the Little Ice Age, with many early New England documents noting various ‘Year(s) Without Summer(s)”.

 

 Temperature Fluctuation Over Preceding 1200 Years

 

Rule No. 2 Just because any particular analysis might be short-sighted, there is no need for you to be short-sighted also.

Well known Fact: PaleoIndians crossed the Bering Land Bridge to first settle the Americas.

Larger Reality: For the Bering Land Bridge to exist, the sea level had to be about 100 meters (290 feet) LOWER than its current level.

 The Bering Land Bridge About 15,000 BCE

 

The US National Climate Assessment is estimating a one-to-two meter rise by the turn of the 22nd century. Add in the human-enhancement factor and climate change will be even more dramatic (and possibly happen more quickly) than anticipated.

Rule No. 3 In 10,000 BCE, (8,000 BC), New York City was also under a mile (1.6 km) of ice. Jericho was a thriving (albeit small) city at this time. Most people who are aware of this fact, place it in the distant past, say, 1,000,000 years BCE.

Well known Fact (though not true): Climate Change began in the late 20th century OR with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century.

Larger Truth: Climate Change began with the advent of the atmosphere as we know it about 600 million years ago. This atmosphere enabled the ‘Cambrian Explosion’ as millions of life forms suddenly appeared on land.

The climate created by this atmosphere began to change at that time and continues to do so some some 600,000,000 years later though we only have specific details of the last half million years or so, as shown below.

 

 

These are a broad outline of temperature changes over the last 400,000 years as recorded by three different methods. Perhaps the most familiar is the Vostok Ice Core (Antarctica), drilled to a depth of 11,887 feet (3623 m) in 1998.

Conclusion: There are well-known facts that pale before a larger reality. Do not trim your arguments (whatever they be) to exclude the larger reality.

Well Known Fact: Climate Change is happening and its profound effect upon humankind is real. Human-influenced climate change is a new scientific reality

Larger Reality: Climate Change has a detailed in the scientific record for about 4oo,ooo years — and it has been ongoing for about 600,000,000 years.

What was the ongoing debate of our paleoindian ancestors as they watched the megafauna (wooly mammoths, sabre tooth tigers, etc.) disappear as the 5,000 ft (1.6 km) ice cap atop Manhattan melted away beneath their feet?

The paleoindians had it within their power to preserve the megafauna if they had known the consequences of their overhunting.  However, the retreating glacier, a consequence of global cooling, was beyond their control.

Today humankind faces the same two problems. And this time we have a bigger stake in the game. If the will is there, we can stop or at least alter the course of the Fourth Great Extinction. And if the will is there, we can curb at least the human-enhancement portion of climate change, whether or not the planet is subject to the larger, longer-term climatic cycles.



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