Climate change basics – What’s actually happening

The issues related to climate change have degenerated into a mix of vested interest-based self serving assertions. The facts are a lot more complex, and far less easily defined. Meanwhile, everything from the pool pump to the carpet is being redesigned on the basis of sustainability, linked to climate change and other issues.

Climate change- A historical perspective

This is an interglacial period on Earth. Until recently, scientists were worried about a possible new Ice Age, partly based on the fact that ice ages occur every 100,000 years or so. Recent discoveries indicate that ice ages are a result of lower CO2 levels. During the Snowball Earth periods, CO2 levels are believed to have been extremely low. During the hot periods, they were very high, and even oxygen levels were higher.

This atmospheric gas mix is far from simple. It includes a lot of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and many other gases. It’s not a homogenous mix, and it’s an interactive mix. Many gases are also diffused in the seas. There’s an endless series of cycles of movement of gases, affecting all aspects of life on Earth and climate. The different gases and compounds also conduct heat in different ways.

The current situation

People often talk about a “natural balance” of environmental elements. In practice, it’s more like a “natural imbalance”. Transfer of gases, heat and energy are the mechanics of life, happening constantly. So – What happens if someone starts pouring billions of tons of carbon dioxide, per day, into this very active chemical situation?

To start with, the thermal properties of the atmosphere must change. It wouldn’t actually matter what you put into the atmosphere, in those sorts of quantities. The effect is that atmospheric mix of gases has changed, therefore the thermal properties are changed. Some gases conduct more heat than others. Hence the expression, Greenhouse Effect. This isn’t guesswork, it’s the reason Earth’s atmosphere is heating up.

Now – If the atmosphere heats up, what happens to the chemistry? It changes. The water cycle speeds up, to start with, and that’s one of the major factors in any environment on a planet literally covered in water. The extra heat is also transferred, very unevenly, to the different gases and compounds. If you remember your high school chemistry, all elements and compounds have their own responses to heat.

Trying to get it right

Being an interglacial period hasn’t helped with assessing macro level changes in the environment. Climatic variations in interglacial periods are complex things. Observation continues to produce new data, often unexpected data.

The observed facts:

  • Sea temperature levels are rising.
  • Permafrost in Siberia and Alaska, frozen for thousands of years, is melting.
  • The Arctic ice cap is visibly shrinking.
  • Greenland now has green zones all year round.
  • Icebergs the size of Luxembourg are breaking off the Antarctic.
  • Exceptional droughts and floods are being reported around the world.

The real issue is how prepared the human race is to meet the inevitable interglacial climate change, whatever it is, when it happens. Let’s face it, when severe climate change happens, “I told you so” isn’t exactly the best possible response.

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One Response to Climate change basics – What’s actually happening
  1. Chidi okorie

    The facts here are good.

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