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The Climate Change Debate Explained

By: Mike Watson - Updated: 17 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Climate Change Global Warming

Whilst it can be little doubted that there has been measurable climate change over the last century, with a marked increase in global warming temperature in the last 10-20 years, it is very difficult to gauge exactly what way the climate is changing. Warnings about climate change have ranged over the last 100 years, from those predicting a dramatic increase in temperature, to those predicting a dramatic decrease. To further confound this confusion about the environment, scientists fail to agree to what extent man made fuel emissions have a direct effect on the rate of climate change, with some even arguing that fuel consumption is not a factor at all.

Difficulty in Gauging Climate Change

The weather is subject to a huge number of influences, all of which can have further knock on effects. This makes it very difficult to say with any certainty exactly how the climate will change.

It is agreed that we are likely to see sea levels rise as polar ice caps melt. The melting of polar ice caps may further speed global warming as polar ice currently reflects the sun's heat; a reduction in their surface area will mean that more heat will become trapped beneath harmful greenhouse gases, further speeding global warming. However, as the melting of polar ice caps will lead to an increase in sea levels, and therefore an increase in cloud cover (as more water vapour is produced), the temperature may balance out, as clouds form a barrier and reflect the sun before it reaches the earth. Whilst this in itself demonstrates an uncertainty as to exactly how things will unfold in the environment, it must be noted that some scientists argue that the formation of more clouds due to the melting of polar ice caps will actually increase temperatures further, as the clouds will trap the suns rays, in much the same way as greenhouse gases do.

This debate highlights the difficulty in gauging the effect of even one small aspect of global warming. Increased floods, hurricanes, hotter summers and harsher winter spells come together to further confuse the issue on the environment. Additionally, natural climate changes that have occurred over the last few hundred years (such as the 'Little Ice Age' and 'Medieval Warm Period', see separate article) leave some critics arguing that climate change is not man made at all. Periods of unpredictable activity and temperature changes are common throughout history.

This argument plays into the hands of the few scientists, politicians and companies that still deny the role of carbon emissions, produced by the burning of fossil fuels that still deny that humankind has a role to play if we are to reduce the pace of climate change. However, even many of those that denied our role in climate change (such as the U.S. Bush administration) have recently conceded that measures should be taken to ensure a healthier environment; although we have yet to see how serious they are in helping to implement such measures. The Bush administrations failure to take man made climate change seriously so far may cost the environment dearly, due to their refusal to sign up to the U.N. Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change (see related article: Carbon Footprinting). It must be noted, that those that deny that climate change is at least partially man made generally have stake in the fossil fuel industry, or are funded by those who do.

What is very difficult to deny is the fact that carbon emission, although not necessarily contributing to the bulk of global warming, certainly contribute something to it, and it is therefore in our interests to cut harmful emissions. This is undoubtedly the case in view of the fact that oil, coal and natural gas are all due to run out: The development of new energy sources to power vehicles and produce electricity is essential.

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