Climate Change: Asking The Right Questions

Porch Thermometer, 2006
Porch Thermometer, 2006
For several years, the climate change discussion has been confused because some were arguing the wrong question. They were arguing about whether the world’s climate was actually changing, while the actual discussion is about whether mankind has caused the change and whether we can or should do anything about it.

There’s no question that the global climate is changing.

Terminology Issue

Part of the problem was the term Global Warming, coined in 1975 by Wally Broecker, due to studies showing that the average surface temperature of the Earth has been warming for some time and is projected to continue rising.

Had the term Climate Change been used initially, we could have avoided much needless discussion. (Technically speaking, the two terms are not synonymous, though they’re often used interchangeably in non-scientific discussions.)

Why is “climate change” a better term than “global warming”? Because the Earth’s overall temperature rise isn’t steady or quick. There were 10 years or so during which the globe actually cooled a bit. I discussed that briefly in a 2008 blog entry, linking to several sources — most of which are still online. So when people see facts like that, they think: “Ah, so global warming was a myth after all. No need to worry.”

But the Earth’s temperature IS rising overall; no one should really question that. After the short 10-year interlude, 2010 (source) and 2011 (source) were among the hottest years ever recorded. 2011 in particular broke many heat records in the U.S. and 2012 continued to set records.

Notably, some record lows have been set in the past few years as well, especially in my region of the world (Central Texas, U.S.) So, while the average temperature increases very slowly, it also seems the extremes (annual range from low to high) are increasing as well. Drought severity has increased in certain regions. Wind and rain patterns have changed. Storm cycles are different now.

This is why I like the term “climate change” better than “global warming”. Regardless, both are happening.

It was simply distracting when I thought the argument was about whether the Earth was warming.

But back to the actual discussion:

So What Is The Real Issue?

Is mankind responsible (even partially) for climate change? If so, then we’re capable of ceasing our part in it, though perhaps not reversing the damage we’ve already caused. Another question, oft-ignored, is whether we should do anything about it — in other words, are the consequences really going to be that bad?

The United Nations and affiliated organizations and scientists are decidedly in the camp of “we caused it, we can change it, and we should” — as evidenced by Nov. 19’s report, though there is this worrying caveat:

“Current national pledges to reduce greenhouse gases won’t do much to change the current trajectory of temperatures…”

Worldwide, but especially in the U.S., there are also large numbers of people with the opposite position: “We didn’t cause it, and the consequences won’t be so dire, so there’s no point in doing anything about it.”

And, in even smaller camps, there’s this viewpoint: Deity is in control of the climate; it’s unethical and/or immoral to take over for him/her/it. Just like the people who purport that the climate isn’t changing at all, these groups are having their own private argument and have (perhaps unintentionally) removed themselves from the discussion that the rest of us are having.

Further Reading

For further explanation, see the following entries, written mostly for myself, to help clarify my thought processes:

Like The Climate, My Position On Climate Change Is Changing
Climate Change: Asking the Right Questions (you’re here)
Climate Change: We Are Responsible
Climate Change: Dissenters and Deniers

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