“These days we are surrounded by debate and discussion about climate change. It is a complex scientific problem which is still not completely understood, and its implications could have major implications for the human species and indeed the rest of the world. Moreover, humans actions to reduce climate change and adapt to its effects could also have major implications. Inevitably, then, the issue is the topic of heated debate.” Richard Betts, Human-Caused Climate Change in Earthy Realism edited by Mary Midgley

After reading the science behind climate change AND the alternatives, I still wonder how people don’t understand it. Either they deny it completely or take the parts that are theory and think that it is fact. So I thought that I should explain a few of the facts behind it and reveal the legitimate doubt there is behind all of the confusion. This is a very simple overview, and there is more to climate change than just what humans are doing to it, but it’s a place to start…

Simple Fact: Greenhouse gases (like methane and carbon dioxide) absorb heat.

Too little and our climate cools down. Too much and our climate heats up.  Extremes either way make the atmosphere uninhabitable for life.

Not-So-Simple Fact (but a fact nonetheless): The collective action of life on Earth regulates and is regulated by the atmosphere to keep the atmosphere inhabitable.

The Earth is a closed system, barring the constant supply of solar energy and occasional meteorite and perhaps other cosmic phenomena, so it has its limitations, such as how well it can cope with stress to its system and how well it can maintain balance (see homeostasis).

Fact: The Earth’s climate changes naturally, being maintained between livable extremes of glacials (ice ages) and warmer interglacials (like now).

Fact: Humans are also having an impact on global warming.

Humans are digging up and burning carbon, as fossil fuels, and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  The capacity for the atmosphere to absorb heat is increasing, so, yes, it is getting warmer.

Another Fact: Humans are destroying a lot of ecosystems which weakens the Earth’s capacity to maintain itself at habitable levels for life.

One such destructive action is deforestation, which weakens the Earth’s capacity to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere. If we see the Earth like a body, we can say that humans are poisoning the Earth AND taking away the Earth’s ability to remove the poison, which, as the saying goes, adds insult to injury.

Legitimate Doubt: It is known that we are contributing to climate change but it is not known to what extent.

A spectrum between two possibilities exists, a best case scenario and a worst case scenario.

Best case scenario: We might only be warming things up a little more than usual, in which case the Earth will resume its usual climatic course and return to an Ice Age.

Worst case scenario:  That we reach some sort of tipping point where the Earth may not be able to recover sufficiently to return to an Ice Age and move into hotter climatic levels in which humans won’t be able to survive.

So, these things are not doubtful:

YES we can and do affect the planet.

YES we do have to be careful.

YES we can overpopulate the planet.

YES we can overuse resources.

YES nonbiodegradable matter can choke up the system if there is too much of it.

YES we can end up making our planet uninhabitable for ourselves.

And YES, we do have to review our effects on our planet’s capacity for life and effective changes in our ways to avoid potential climatic catastrophes.

The FACT that humanity can contribute to climate change ought to tell us that we are capable of reaching tipping point. Its happened to local civilisations that misused the environment, but now it could happen on a global scale. Considering all of the carbon that can be dug up and burnt and all the forests we are capable of cutting down, it’s not hard to imagine the Earth heading into the Worst Case Scenario, it is not impossible.

Here’s three books that I recomment reading;

Healing Gaia by James Lovelock- This is a more up to date and clarified overview of his Gaia Hypothesis, as it has since been revised, put under testing and shows its successful predictions. It also integrates some of the criticisms leveled at it and works to resolve and include these arguments within it, such as biological evolution and defining life.

Earthy Realism edited by Mary Midgely- With articles written by several people this includes explanations about Gaian or Earth Systems science but also looks at its implications for it in several aspects of human existence, political, social, economical, philosophical, ethical and spiritual.

Collapse: How societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared M.Diamond- I haven’t read it yet, but from what I’ve found on the internet of it, it shows some good examples of environmental collapse that causes the collapse of civilisations. In my “to read” list.