According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 10 of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last 16 years.
“The Earth is warming. If the Earth is warming … there’s excellent evidence of the causes of climate change,” said UNC Charlotte Assistant Professor of Earth Science, Brian Magi. “There are natural causes of climate change: The Earth’s orbit around the sun, the intensity of light received from the sun on earth, changes in plate tectonics and how landmasses are orientated on earth all change climate.”
However, the current warming trend is defying the usual causes because the sun has been cooling since 1978, and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been rising. “We have very good evidence of all the causes that change climate, and when you keep knocking things off the list, you end up with one change that is important, and that’s the change in greenhouse gas concentration,” said Magi. “This is almost incontrovertible at this point.”
The driver of that change is carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane serve as a warm insulator over the planet that naturally seeks to keep the planet in balance – never too hot, never too cold. The Earth naturally adds and removes carbon dioxide through various means, like fires, for example, and the land, vegetation and oceans absorb this gas.
With the rise of the industrial age in the late 18th century, humans have rapidly added more carbon dioxide at a rate that doesn’t allow the planet’s natural removal process to keep it in balance. Since 1850, carbon dioxide emissions have skyrocketed by 40 percent because of fossil fuel use, creating an excess amount of carbon dioxide that our planet can’t handle.
This excess carbon dioxide is the driving force behind melting glaciers that are thousands of years old in the Arctic, while increasing the acidity of the world’s oceans and the global temperature of Earth.
Magi remains optimistic despite the short-term problems his field and the world faces from climate change. “We’re not over the edge,” said Magi. “There are places where we don’t want to go in terms of temperature increase – points where the system starts to respond in stranger and stranger ways that we don’t understand. (There are) more fires and these different things that can happen, but we’re not there yet, and we can still make choices.”
While politicians and the public at large debate if climate change is even happening or that humans are the cause, science has reached a consensus. Climate change is a reality, not some trendy conspiracy theory. If we continue to debate and ignore the harsh realities by failing to adapt to the changes soon, we may be setting ourselves up for a bleak future on a planet that’s much warmer.