Facts and uncertainty about Earth’s climate

Fact: Earth’s average annual temperature is rising.

Fact: There was a considerable slow-down, referred to as a pause, in Earth’s warming trend from about the year 2000 through about 2012.

Fact: Sea level overall is rising – although not uniformly around the world due to the rising and sinking of land masses.

sea level rise

This chart, courtesy of EPA.gov/climate-indicators, shows the global average absolute sea level change from 1880-2015. Absolute sea level change takes into account the rising and falling of land in locations where those events are occurring.

Fact: Scientists are pretty sure the sun is heading into a minimum with respect to sunspot activity, which is leading to the cooling of the outermost part of Earth’s atmosphere. How long it will last and how much it will affect our surface weather is yet to be determined.

Fact: Using air bubbles trapped in ice cores, scientists have concluded that in the past 400,000 years, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has not been has high as it is now (since the about 1950). That is not to say “never,” but only to say as long as we can look back using the ice cores as a proxy.

Fact: There is still a fair amount of uncertainty regarding how long-term (decadal and multi-decadal) oscillations in the oceans and atmosphere influence the average global temperature of the planet.

Fact: There are also things that are difficult to account for in modeling future scenarios that can affect the global temperature including volcanic activity, future energy use, and solar activity.

In order to have an intellectually honest and open conversation about climate change, one must consider all the facts. Of course, the ones listed above are not all the facts. They are the ones I can think up off the top of my head on a Monday morning after a long, holiday weekend.

Another requirement for honest discourse is embracing the unknowns and unanswered questions. This is where many people falter. Not knowing the answers can be scary. Knowing that finding the answers may prove the current hypotheses and theories wrong may be even scarier. It’s easier to use the word consensus and disparage those bold enough to ask questions than to face the possible reality that there is still so much that we don’t know we don’t know. (Yes, I meant to repeat those three words.)

Here’s another fact to which as a member of the media I can attest: the reporters, producers, and publishers of the world are the gatekeepers of critical information. In an age when that information must be conveyed in the shortest possible manner such as five to eight-second soundbites or tweets of a couple hundred characters or less, it’s not possible to tell the whole story, or even a fraction of the story, when it comes to complex scientific research. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you advertising or selling you to their advertisers.

In this blog, I do my best to present thought-provoking information when I’m not simply explaining the weather. It’s up to the readers to do the thinking and to seek out more information if they feel the need. I am always happy to point to my resources through hyperlinks and answers. I’m also always happy to seek out new resources as time permits. Feel free to send questions through my Facebook page or to my email: niki@kingsdalemedia.com.