Summing up, what I’ve learned as I challenged myself to actually find evidence that would answer my questions about climate change (with inspiration from a trusted friend) is that yes, the climate is changing and yes, human activity is the cause of climate change. Which now leads to my final question; is this something I should be worried about? Is climate change definitely bad? I’ve actually spent time and effort and money already trying to combat climate change, so should I continue?
My information for this post comes from www.skepticalscience.com, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and from www.climate.nasa.gov and www.epa.gov. Most of what I cite below is from the EPA and from the IPCC, since they had the most detailed information. I liked the IPCC report (ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/WG-2AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf) because it comments on levels of evidence and confidence in each bullet point of information.
Historically, the answer is yes, or at least yes, rapid climate change is definitely bad. Periods of time in the past characterized by rapid change (changes that were actually less rapid than what we are seeing today) were characterized by mass extinctions. And there are already observable changes, such as shrinking glaciers, oceans becoming more acid, and shifting animal ranges. I found references to several papers linking an increased frequency of extreme weather events (droughts, severe storms, and particularly heatwaves) to climate change.
Predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are that water resource availability will change (meaning, many people will have less access to clean water, which is already a problem in many places); that more agricultural crops will be harmed than helped, that water borne and insect borne diseases (like malaria) may become more widespread, that at some point we will be at high risk for sudden and irreversible extreme events, that people who are already marginalized and struggling will suffer disproportionately, and that violent conflict will harm everyone’s ability to adapt. All of their predictions are rated at medium confidence to very high confidence. According to the EPA, coastal cities will be more vulnerable to flooding, decreased air quality and heat waves will pose a hazard to human health, forest fires will be more frequent and intense and many other problems. There are pages and pages of information about the probable (and problematic) consequences of climate change on these websites. It doesn’t sound like a world I want for my daughter.
Since the answer to this last question is mostly predictions, it is the hardest to back up with evidence and the easiest to argue against. The people who make the predictions sound pretty sure, and their lines of reasoning make sense to me. I think what they are saying is probably, and so I’ll tell you, climate change sounds pretty bad to me. Most of the arguments I’ve read for not believing in or responding to climate change are economic; that it would be too expensive to change and that all the alarm is unnecessary anyway. I’m not sure the too expensive part is really true; I think it might be expensive to change but cheaper than coping with the consequences of not changing. As far as I can tell this article (by economist William Nordhaus of Yale) is saying that it would be economically better to take strong action to curb climate change now. Some people have even suggested that action on climate change may be economically beneficial, producing new knowledge and new technologies and new jobs. But even if that’s not true, even if it is more expensive to act now, I think we have a moral responsibility to act.
As a person of faith I believe that G-D created the earth, and loves it, and considers it good. I don’t think it’s okay for us to make a mess of it. I believe that G-D create all people, and loves them, and wants good for them. It’s not okay to continue on a pathway that is likely to harm large numbers of people, not even if changing our path is hard and expensive. So, to sum up, based on the data I can find, climate change is occurring, human activity is responsible for climate change, and climate change is bad. So, what are we going to do about it?