Science

Climate Change, Me, and You

Climate change is happening. Anthropogenic climate change is happening. Period.

That is my honest, educated opinion as a geologist and an oceanographer. As a skeptic, I often try to listen to all sides of a story. For awhile, I did listen to those with other opinions– global warming isn’t happening. Global warming isn’t anthropogenic. These days, I still try to listen to all sides of the debate, but I disagree with those who say six billion humans driving millions of cars aren’t affecting Earth’s climate. That concept is completely illogical to me. Of course we’re affecting the climate! We should be!

At the moment, I’d say anthropogenic global warming is happening. Climate change is perhaps a better phrase to use, in the long run, as anthropogenic influences on the Earth and its oceans may ultimately lead to vast global cooling. Earth is in a particularly warm, mild period right now, and so eventually the Earth will plunge into another ice age. The Earth will do this “naturally” because of various solar cycles, but humans may speed the process up somewhat.

Because this issue is such a politcal one, the media often tries to give credit to both sides of the story. A newspaper will try to be “unbiased,” interviewing two scientists with opposite opinions, one believing in global warming, the other not believing in global warming. Media reports such as these sometimes, perhaps uninentionally, make it appear that the scientific community is divided on the issue of climate change. A layperson reading this article may think that half the scientists are uncertain about the issue. What I see as a young scientist at both MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, however, is that nearly all geologists and climate scientists believe– based on scientific study and evidence– that anthropogenic global warming is happening. Those who don’t believe seem to be few and far between, at least in my own personal experience.

As a graduate student friend of mine said recently, “Well, it’s about time six billion humans started influencing the planet’s climate.” The reality that six billion humans do affect Earth’s climate is one which, in my opinion, should neither surprise nor terrify anyone. I side neither with the political left nor right on this issue. I’m not about to go out and buy a fleet of SUVs, but on the other hand I’m hardly willing to move into a solar-heated yurt in the woods of Vermont. I just want to live a comfortable life, making choices that are better for the Earth as often as possible without compromising my standard of living.

As a responsible citizen and geologist, I do feel that it is important to be informed about global warming. While I do not think that anyone should panic about news stories such as a giant ice sheet breaking free from the Canadian arctic, I do think that people, especially geologists such as myself, should pay very close attention to these stories.

Let me make something clear: I do not study climate, at least not directly. I study volcanoes and volcanic gases, which can affect climate. However, my research is not directly focused on climate. I focus on petrology, geochronology, and the study of trace metals (including pollutants) in volcanic gases.

Even though I’m not a climate scientist, though, I can say with some certainty: yes, ice is going to melt. Yes, the ocean is going to be affected. Yes, climate may be affected and the Earth may warm or cool as these melting ice sheets influence ocean currents. The best defense? Knowledge, in my opinion. And, perhaps, millions of people driving a smaller cars and having fewer babies. Even if many ice sheets break free and melt, we’ll probably be okay. People living on coastlines might not do so well, but I imagine our species will survive. Meteorite impacts, on the other hand… or supervolcanic eruptions… well, I’ll save those disaster stories for another day.

As for climate change? Let’s stop wasting time and money debating whether or not this change is happening. It is. Now, let’s see what we can do to monitor the changes and keep Earth and its six billion humans as happy and healthy as possible.

Evelyn

Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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9 Comments

  1. To paraphrase George Carlin: The PLANET will be just fine. WE'RE the ones in trouble. And even if we destroy ourselves (and a few other phylae and species along the way), it is most likely that Life itself will roll along merrily without us. There really isn't much to fear.

  2. Interestingly, JohnF, although the root "phyl-" comes from Greek, the endings are actually Latin. "-um" and "-a" are the typical endings for a Latin neuter noun in the singular and plural, respectively. The original Greek word is apparently "phylon" and would decline differently.

  3. If I remember "That's 70s" show correctly, someone should shout "BURN!!" right about now :D

    Regarding climate change, I think humans as a species will probably survive. Particularly if you consider the rather extreme temperature range people are already living in today (between -50°C and +50°C I think).

    Of course, the human race will no longer count 6 billion members when the worst has passed …

  4. Phylum/Phyla. 100% definitely!

    I remember in my Latin lessons, when the English "phylum/phyla" was mentioned by someone in class, we were told that it was unattested in Classical Latin and that it was from Greek with a "fake" modern Latin (2nd decl. neuter) ending stuck on, making it a weird hybrid sort of monstrosity that would have made Cicero, et al., recoil in horror. (Weren't Greek loans into Latin mainly found in the 3rd declension, Joshua, complete with stem changes for oblique cases? Or was that mainly for names, with regular nouns appearing wherever most appropriate?)

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