Climate change refers to a long-term average change or shift in the climate of a region or the earth. The climate change debate continues, as there is a clear division between politicians, scientists, environmentalists and the public over climate change issues such as causes, the effects, mitigation and the whole notion of climate change. The debate over climate change is polarized and divided between those who believe that climate change and global warming is real, and those who disagree with the entire notion of climate change or differ on certain aspects of climate change. The media continue to cover the controversy that is of global significance with the mainstream media and news outlets keen on the threats of climate change while the conservative media concentrates on the political and scientific skeptics. A large number of world scientists consent to the notion of climate change, with many arguing it is that human actions are the major causes of climate change. The scientists skeptical about the notion of climate change on the other hand hold that scientific work is not a popularity contest hence they continue to challenge the entire notion of climate change or some of its elements by challenging the models and data sets. This paper provides a detailed analysis of the controversy and debate around the climate change topic.
Those who dismiss the entire notion of climate point to the SPM reports and the IPCC-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports on which Copenhagen and the Kyoto accord are based as completely false and manipulated science and data. They maintain that climate change is a hoax arising from faulty science. According to April 12, Wall Street 2006 there is no consensus on the issue of climate change and those considered as majority are not unanimous. Instead, some of the scientists reject the entire notion of climate change. Scientists who believe that climate change is real claim there is a wide consensus on the subject with many referring to the IPCC report which claim that majority of scientists acknowledge the phenomenon of climate change (Editorial May 8, New York Times).
Human or natural causes of climate change.
There are proponents of human caused climate change who argue that industrial activities as from the past century are the chief cause of climate change. Some scientists continue to challenge the notion that humanity play a major role in the climate change arguing that climate change is but a product of natural forces. The controversy here is whether human beings are the chief cause of the rising trends of global warming and the manifestations of climate change. The skeptics of human role in climate change maintain that they do not trust the IPCC report s report thus it does not represent a consensus that human beings cause climate change. The proponents of anthropogenic causes of climate change argue that recent increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases because of burning of fossil fuels, which in turn releases carbon dioxide in whose recent concentrations, is greater any period in the past thousands of years.
The proponents of anthropogenic climate change maintain that carbon dioxide absorbs IR radiation and emits the same: a fact known for a long a time. The supporters of natural causes and opponents of human causes observe that water vapor, which in itself is a greenhouse gas is actually responsible for the soaring world temperature and carbon dioxide. The non-human water vapor arising from the melting of ice act as a natural accelerator to climate change as it is the most potent of the greenhouse gases. The argument is that one cannot wholly attribute carbon dioxide levels to human activities. This group refers to the medieval warm period that occurred between the tenth century and fourteenth century in which the earth experienced above average temperatures especially in Western Europe, to support their argument. They equally refer to the little ice age lasting until nineteenth century when the earth began to warm again. Those who hold that climate change is because of natural factors argues that human being contribute to a very small fraction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and those natural occurrences such as volcanoes are the chief contributors of carbon dioxide (Editorial May 8, New York Times).
The supporters of natural factors as the cause of climate change observe that climate of the earth, historically changed due to natural cycles. In this case, the carbon dioxide levels often vary widely due to cyclical patterns of 100,000-year glacial period and 10,000 interglacial periods. The skeptics of ‘human caused’ climate change hold that instruments such as climate models which correlate the rise in carbon dioxide emission to climate change as unjustified science that depend on faulty science. The talk of ‘consensus’ according to this group only serves the purpose of appealing to the majority in a more political fashion than withstand a scientific discussion.
Predictions of temperatures rise
Some critics of climate change hold that they are only skeptical about the crisis levels. The have been certain predictions on the future levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the Earths atmosphere (Pamela 68). Critics note that most of those who believe there is a consensus in the climate change phenomenon are predicting catastrophic consequences of climate change in the future as a result of build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in order to further their argument and make nations, economies and industries to stop or minimize the use of fossil fuels. The crisis level predicted by some scientists’ shows that the earth would experience runaway global warming when the climate reaches the ‘tipping point’ causing serious melting of the sea ice. The skeptics of such arguments maintain that the predictions are depending on faulty models and scientific instruments hence do no not reflect the future crisis level (Daniel 76).
The inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts the global warming rate in the tropical troposphere to be twice the rate at the surface, meaning 0.2-1.2 C each decade in the tropical troposphere influenced by carbon dioxide and other green house gases. The skeptics on the hand maintain such models exaggerate the warming forecasts. The solar scientists are equally predicting a ‘cooling’ to begin in the coming decades.
There are certain computer models that climate scientists use to demonstrate how the green house gases especially carbon dioxide cause climate change. The modeling climate is a tool scientists use to explore possible future climates and are useful in the production of projections and forecasts of long-term global climate trends that might arise due to the build up in carbon dioxide and other green house gases (Daniel 47). The accuracy of such models depends on the best available knowledge of chemical, physical and biological processes. The confidence on such models arises from the demonstrated ability of the model to represent the key features of the current climate realistically, and equally represent the properly documented climates of the past realistically.
Some of the skeptics agree that carbon dioxide emissions contribute towards climate change but only to a small extent. The scientists challenging the notion of climate change claim the computer models do not represent or reflect the reality. According to this group of scientists, the change in climate is not moving in a catastrophic or alarming level as proposed by their counterparts, who argue that climate change is real, the effects will reach catastrophic levels if there are no proper mitigation mechanisms (Daniel 65). The proponents of climate change are under attack from the skeptics because of the recent discovery mistakes or errors with the United Nations climate study dubbed the ‘climate -gate’ and thus they continue to question whether climate change is really caused by human activities. The snowstorms in certain parts of America such as Washington D.C only fuels the debate with some scientists arguing that there is no global warming, the earth is actually cooling as evidenced by the snowfalls.
Scientists and ecologists continue to face the challenge of working with the spatial and temporal scales in order to in order to arrive at defendable conclusions. The debates over the anthropogenic causes of climate change versus the human causes continue to influence the nature of climate debate. Questions such as what are the natural and human causes of climate and whether climate change accelerated because of the increase in green house gases directs the controversy.
According to Richard in the 12 April Wall Street Journal, those who challenge the role of carbon dioxide emission in the climate change argue that there is but a carbon dioxide of small or minor fractions in the atmosphere accounting for an estimated 0.0381 percent of the atmosphere. According to the skeptics, carbon dioxide is a life-giving molecule miscast (Editorial May 8, New York Times) by certain environmental groups, political movements and scientists as an environmental hazard. Carbon dioxide is a molecule that is crucial for all life on earth as all living organisms exhale it and plants use it for the purposes of photosynthesis. The standard air contains 370 parts per million of carbon dioxide. The scientists, who question the role carbon dioxide emissions arising from human activities in climate change, emphasize that much of carbon dioxide emanates from natural sources of which human beings have no meaningful control over.
Scientists who argue that climate change occurs naturally argue that alteration in the intensity of sunlight which reaches the earth results in cooling and warming cycles are regular features of the climatic history of the earth hence a major cause of climate change. In this case, the solar cycles such as four interglacial swings occurring in the past 400,000 years extend over long periods and can result in a 5-6 degrees centigrade change. The Earth in this case has been in the ice age characterized by much higher carbon dioxide levels. During the Paleozoic era and Ordovician age, the earth was in an ice age characterized by carbon dioxide levels estimated at 4400ppm (Pamela 68).
The solar activity has been an ingredient in the controversy over the cause of climate change (natural or human activities). The proponents of natural causes argue that increased solar activity the current solar activity, depending on the sun spot activity is historically high. They suggest that the solar activity in the past 60-70 years has been at its highest levels hence the climate change. Those who disagree with this notion maintain that solar activity reconstructions show that small fraction of the rise in global temperatures is due to sun’s activity. Stanford Solar center holds that a maximum 25 percent of the recent variation in global temperature is due to solar irradiance.
An argument against the anthropogenic causes of climate change challenges the contention that the increase in carbon dioxide emission into the atmosphere and other greenhouse gases is the cause of climate change due to its correlation with global warming. On the other hand the proponents of notion that carbon dioxide and other green house gas emission is responsible for the climate maintain that the correlation does not contribute significantly to the ultimate evidence. The correlation of rising temperatures and the beginning of industrial revolution does not scientifically imply that industrial activities are the chief cause of climate change .The argument supports the idea that current global temperatures are similar to the past climate change (Richard ,12 April Wall Street Journal).
The proponents of carbon dioxide and the Greenhouse gases as the major cause of present day climate change argue that the rise in the average global temperatures as from mid nineteenth century is due to the dramatic rise in the carbon dioxide levels as a result of industrial revolution in the twentieth century. The IPCC climate models for example assume that global temperature is bound to rise with the increase in carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. It is an assumption based on the physical constant depicting the absorption of energy at various wavelengths by carbon dioxide. The contention over the role of carbon dioxide in climate change equally involves a disagreement of the residence time of Carbon dioxide; how long does carbon dioxide stay in the atmosphere before its absorption? Certain scientists argue that carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere for centuries while scientists of contrary opinion hold that carbon dioxide ‘sinks’ such as oceans and vegetations quickly absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The Solar Activity
There has been a steady but slow rise in the temperatures since the Little Ice Age of 1600-1850 ended. A number of solar scientists maintain that a slight fluctuation or alteration in the irradiance of the sun can cause significant climate changes. The proponents of natural causes of climate change attempts to correlate climate change to irradiance of the sun. The argument here is that sun played a role in the past climate change hence will continue to do so. Certain graphical analysis equally represents a correlation between the sun’s variations and the rise in global temperatures (Michael 14).
The IPCC on the other hand rejected the use of sun’s irradiance or solar correlation due to the little knowledge of the physics behind it. The scientists who oppose the argument that sun’s activity is responsible for climate change such as Peter Foukal maintain that the sun spot variation has insignificant impact on the climate change since the variation is too small to cause any significant climatic change. These scientists claim there is no net rise or increase in solar brightness in over past thousand years. According to Peter Foukal, the solar cycles can only result in a 0.07 percent increase in the suns brightness in a period of over thirty years (Foukal 13).
In conclusion, it is important to note that controversy and debate of climate change is about whether it climate change is real or a hoax, whether caused by human activities or natural factors, are the predictions of future consequences accurate or exaggerated? Is there a consensus amongst the scientific community about the climate change phenomenon or there is lack of consensus. Scientists and the public hold different opinions on the evidence of rising global temperatures and the reliability of such evidence. It is however important to note that majority of scientists agree that there is climate change and that human activities contribute significantly to the climate change.
The recent discoveries of scientific errors in the climate models and climate reports by the Inter governmental Panel on Climate Change give impetus to the scientists who challenge the entire notion of climate change or those who challenge certain aspects of it such as the cause. It is equally important to note the debate about the carbon dioxide concentration in climate change appears to be getting much attention and focus recently even as other skeptics continue to question its significance to climate change. The scientists on both sides of the debate continue to carry out research that can solidly prove their point.