The climate change argument has been going on for a while, but, perhaps mostly due to Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", there now seems to be a groundswell of opinion that we do indeed face some challenging issues. Let's look briefly at the evidence.
is our climate really changing dangerously?
Large and small temperature changes have occurred throughout human history, and before. But the temperature rises in the last century are way greater than anything before, as these graphs show.
These temperature rises have been caused by increases in greenhouse gases, as shown below (don't worry if the fine print is illegible, the timescale is 1000 years and the graphs speak for themselves).
are people really to blame?
The respected Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has modelled the changes in temperature, and demonstrated that, while there may be some natural causes, human causes predominate. This conclusion is as safe as scientific modelling, which we depend on in so many ways, can be. The major greenhouse gas polluters are USA 23.5%, China 14.6%, EU 11.6%, Russia 6.2% and Japan 5%.
will it make a difference to the world?
For many people, it will, unfortunately.
- Impacts are variable, but the trend will be towards more extreme weather events.
- Some lower-lying areas close to the sea (e.g. parts of Bangladesh) will experience increased and sometimes disastrous, flooding, and some inhabited islands (e.g. Maldives, Tuvalu) will disappear. In many countries, coastal communities will experience more severe storm damage.
- In some locations (e.g. Canada, Russia, northern Europe), increased rain and warmer temperatures could lead to increased harvests.
- However in many other areas (e.g. Africa, Australia, western USA), lower rainfall could lead to prolonged droughts and, in some places, possibly even famine.
- Environmental consequences will be severe, from shrinking glaciers to loss of habitat due to drought.
are we doing enough to turn things around?
It is clear that globally, we are not yet doing enough, as many governments fear making changes that will make them unpopular with voters. But things are beginning to change.
- Many European countries are moving towards realistic targets.
- Some businesses are thinking much further ahead than governments, and are planning their own responses.
- Public opinion in the US and Australia has begun to turn.
There is still a long way to go, as we all get used to living a little more austerely and responsibly, but maybe, just maybe, we're starting to get this right.
Background information from the Australian Greenhouse Office.
CSIRO publications, including this report.
Information on Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth.
The winners and losers of climate change, by Alister Doyle (ABC radio).