The planet’s climate is changing. Are natural causes or are we the main cause?
The planet’s climate is changing. “So what?” retort climate skeptics. It’s always been changing in Earth’s history. The question this time, though, is why is it changing? Are natural causes or are we the main cause?
Most climate scientists insists we are the main drivers of ongoing climate change because we have been burning fossil fuels worldwide at exorbitant rates for decades. Yet just how strong is the evidence for their views? Very strong, says an international team of scientists who have analyzed satellite data of global temperature measurements over the past four decades.
The researchers say climate data have allowed us to reach a “gold standard” level of scientific certainty. This means that there is only a one-in-a-million chance that we are not the main cause of climate change at this moment in Earth’s history. A similar “gold standard” of scientific evidence was applied in 2012 to confirm the discovery of the Higgs boson subatomic particle after decades-long conjectures about its existence.
“The narrative out there that scientists don’t know the cause of climate change is wrong,” stressed Benjamin Santer, a scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California who was lead author of a new study on the findings. “We do [know].”
Prof. John Christy, of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, acknowledged that there still exist many gaps in our understanding of climate change, pointing to various datasets that indicate different levels of planetary warming. The Earth’s climate is an exceedingly complex system and understanding all its ins and outs is a Herculean undertaking. “You may see a certain fingerprint that indicates human influence, but that the actual intensity of the influence is minor,” he said, referring to one set of satellite data.
Yet the argument that natural causes are the primary drivers of ongoing climate change is less plausible in light of new evidence, according to Peter Stott, a climate scientist at the British Met Office. “The explanation of natural factors dominating has got even less likely,” he said. The anthropogenic causes of climate change, Stott added, is “virtually certain.”