Are We Really Killing the Planet?

A factory and some industrial smoke coming out of the chimneys.These days, news about climate change is rarely far from the headlines and most of it makes fairly depressing reading. It seems temperatures are rising, polar ice caps are melting and deserts are spreading. And it’s all our fault. Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have predicted that global temperatures are set to increase by 6% by the end of this century. According to their computer models, this level of global warming would plunge the earth into unpredictable changes in climate with potentially disastrous impacts on agriculture and human populations. The science we are told is settled and to be a climate change denier is almost unacceptable. But how settled is it really: are we really killing the planet?

How much is the earth warming?

The IPCC is unequivocal about the cause of global warming and who is responsible. The rise in temperature is due to the rise in greenhouse gases, predominantly CO2, which is itself a product of increasing burning of fossil fuels. Therefore, as the world becomes more industrialised and more coal, oil and gas are burned, temperature then rises. It seems simple, but the data show a more complex picture. According to figures released by the Met Office in the UK in October 2012, global temperatures had not increased by a statistically significant amount since 1997. In the 16 years before that (1980-1996) temperatures had indeed increased, but in the 40 years before that (1940-1980) temperatures had been stable or declining. This is odd, considering the post-war industrial boom.

And is it our fault?

Although taking short periods out of context can be misleading, the fact remains that since 1880 when reliable worldwide temperature records became available, the earth has warmed by only 0.75 of a degree. This is not a huge increase and doesn’t support a direct correlation with industrialisation. It may be that global warming is indeed man made, but it should be remembered that climate has changed before – and quickly too. The end of the last ice age resulted in global flooding and there weren’t too many factories or cars then.

Image by mankale – Fotolia

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