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Human Amplified Climate Change

Jan 15, 2014

This article original posted to Thinkyness.

You’ve heard it, may have said it, or know people that have, “the climate has always changed”. You've watched the headlines of the bushfires in NSW in October 2013 and probably heard folk tut-tutting those who used the fires as an opportunity to discuss climate change, hearing “oh you shouldn’t politicise these things”.  You saw the headlines of the polar vortex hitting the U.S and heard people agreeing with the climate change sceptics who were emboldened saying things like "this is cooling, not warming" . You may be reading this article in the air-conditioned comfort of your home or work as Australia bakes its way through another series of near record temperatures across summer. In the background you may have the Australian Open on, listening to players express concerns about the heat (here, here). It is equally likely there won’t be anything on the news discussing any correlation between these temperature events and climate change due to some convention that we shouldn’t mix politics with extreme weather events, or sport.

I disagree; I think we should be using every significant weather event to reinforce the message. But what message? Global Warming and Climate Change hasn’t worked, what about “Human Amplified Climate Change”?

Perhaps part of the problem the world is grappling with responding to how humans are changing the climate is the branding. The message started with “Global Warming” promulgated around the time of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. We were warned about catastrophic warming of the planet, melting of the polar ice, oceans rising, etc. Problem is of course by saying, “warming”, it immediately offered the opportunity for people to say “but its cooler now, so warming isn’t happening”. How effective was that counter message? In Australia we’ve gone from the “greatest moral challenge of our generation” in 2007 to electing a government who plans through Direct Action which as part will encourage polluters to correct their ways but not punish them if they don’t.

There are many clever folk and seeing that “Global Warming” wasn’t working, in around 2007 started to use “Climate Change” as shorthand for “Anthropogenic Climate Change”.  Anthropo-what? A plain English version is human induced climate change. But again, doing so opened up the avenue for folk to use factoids to point out the climate has always changed (which is has), and suggest this climate change thing is a great big conspiracy. My personal favourite in Australia by the way: socialism masquerading as environmentalism.

Fact is the scientific evidence suggests human activity is making the climate change faster than ever before: we’re amplifying it (some reports: here, here). How is this happening?

The major contributor is the fossil fuel used to provide the electricity we use and power the vehicles we drive. That air-conditioner you’re using is probably relying on the electricity grid, which in turn relies to a significant degree on burning fossil fuels. We dig up and burn fossil fuels to produce electricity; fuels, which are the embodiment of carbon the planet, spent millions of years burying.  Humans, through digging up fossil fuels and burning it to produce electricity (or fuel your car) are directly amplifying the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Oh, and if you have an electric car, if you plug it in overnight to charge, you're probably using fossil fuel power, so your electric car may not be any more green than the fuel-efficient petrol one next door.

"So what" a person may say: plants use carbon dioxide! Which is true, however we also cut down those plants in the name of progress (deforestation), and the oceans pick up the slack which are acidifying at a rapid rate as a result. Human amplification is adding to carbon to the atmosphere, carbon that had previously been buried over millions of years! We’re such effective amplifiers we have the dial turned all the way to 11. We're pumping out so much carbon to power our lifestyle there are concerns about the feedback threat: the warming melts Artic permafrost releasing methane making everything worse!

Human amplified climate change: the things people do, you do, which is amplifying the rate at which the climate is changing.

Questions, comments, insults :)

PS: According to The Guardian if you don’t have an air-conditioner (good on you) you’re subsidising those who do by up to $250 a year, how very generous of you!

Update: Here's a link to a great explainer of Global Warming in 52 seconds. Thank you @Perorationer and @Jackthelad1947

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