Is humanity mainly responsible for climate change?


Fact Box

  • NASA defines “Climate change” as “a change in the usual weather found in a place. [...] Weather can change in just a few hours. Climate takes hundreds or even millions of years to change.” 
  • The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a report on April 19, stating 2020 was “one of three warmest years on record.” The global average temperature rose 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial age temperatures. 
  • A 2019 Pew Research poll records 59% of the US population views climate change as a major threat, 23% a minor threat, and 16% as no threat. 
  • China is the world’s largest Co2 emitter in the world, having emitted about 9.3 GT (gross tonnage) in 2017. The US ranks second after China, emitting 4.8 GT). India is third (2.2 GT), followed by Japan (1.1 GT), and Germany (0.7 GT).

Sheryll (Yes)

The role humanity has played in the warming climate is extremely clear. Studies show that the main driver of climate change is the greenhouse effect, which is a process that is known to contribute to global heating caused by the release of greenhouse gases. And though it's arguable that greenhouse gas emissions are a natural occurrence, research finds that human activity has drastically increased the concentration of some of them in the atmosphere, namely, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and fluorinated gases. 

CO2 emissions play a particularly important role in driving climate change. For most of the Earth's history, a process known as the 'carbon cycle' regulated the carbon in the atmosphere. Massive amounts of CO2 are continually exchanged through this cycle between the atmosphere, land, and oceans. And for several thousand years, this cycle was in balance and steady. Since the 19th century, however, human-induced carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion have disrupted the process, adding CO2 to the atmosphere faster than the land and the oceans can take it up.

Human-driven changes in land use, such as urbanization and deforestation, have also been shown to alter the climate. Uncontrolled deforestation is especially a concern, as trees help regulate the climate by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. When they are cut down or burned, their beneficial effect is lost, and their stored carbon is released into the air as CO2. This contributes to the greenhouse effect and, therefore, accelerates climate change.  

Veronica (No)

Both the WMO (World Meteorological Organization) and the UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) predict future climate change using a flawed model as their models are biased to overpredict warming. Even if it does get as warm, as they predict, there is also evidence that the Arctic was 7 °C warmer 10,000 years ago than it is today, prior to significant human impact. For comparison, the IPCC estimates 1.1°C in warming since 1850 and predicts up to 2°C higher in the next few decades.

Despite the 1.1°C temperature increase, according to the IPCC's own report, the frequency or intensity of extreme weather and climate events has not increased for flooding, drought, tropical cyclones, winter storms, thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, lightning, or extreme winds, which leaves you to wonder what problems climate change is actually causing. 

Greenhouse gases from human activity are often pinpointed as the main driver of climate change. However, the link between climate change and greenhouse gases and other human factors is questionable. Despite an increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, the Antarctic continent has not warmed in the last seven decades.  

Ice melting in places like Norway and Mongolia reveals evidence for archeologists that humans previously inhabited areas that were until very recently covered by ice. Clearly, humans were living and hunting in a much warmer world thousands of years ago. Humans would not have been driving climate change back then, and if it is recent humans causing climate change, we have only warmed it within the Earth's own natural fluctuations.

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