Is there a consensus in the scientific community on the dangers of climate change?

by Kincaid MacCulloch and Nick Liston

Yes. 

The short answer to this question is yes, there is a consensus in the scientific community about climate change in general, and why it is happening. We know climate change is caused by humans and we know the repercussions will be bad for us. We still don’t know how bad these changes that we are beginning to see will get.  

Origin and Prevalence 

In 1895, Svante Arrhenius, with a degree in electrochemistry, was the first scientist to ask the question, “Is the mean temperature of the ground in any way influenced by the presence of the heat-absorbing gases in the atmosphere?”. This is asking the ever-more prevalent question of how do greenhouse gasses affect our Earth? This led him to further investigate how carbon dioxide specifically would impact Earth’s temperature. Even today, people have been asking scientists what exactly climate-change means for our environment and communities, and what we can expect to see in the coming years. Scientists have been researching trends in the environment and changes in our ecosystems to figure out how major changes will affect our day to day lives.  

This question has been asked and will continue to be asked as long as climate change is a problem. The people of Earth want to know what is going on in the place they all live, and they are worried that this issue is going to compromise their way of living. Here on NASA’s page the question is addressed and answered by multiple scientific associations. All these sources agree that humans are causing climate change, and we need to do something about it. Another example of important people asking this question is the Paris Agreement put out by the United Nations. The Paris Agreement is an agreement with almost all the countries in the United Nations (who also happen to be some of the countries the worst greenhouse gas emissions) to cut back on their emissions and start working on a more sustainable future. The Paris Agreement is proof that even governments are aware of the issues linked to climate change.  

This question is important for many reasons. One, being able to recognize the causes and reactions of climate change will help us in trying to stop those actions, therefore beginning the restoration of our world. A second reason would be understanding the potential dangers of climate change. That will allow us to prepare ourselves and improve our infrastructure to further dampen the impacts. 

Issues and Analysis 

In the past, scientists didn’t have enough evidence to link climate change to humans and their interactions with the environment. In today’s day and age, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), “97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.” While a 100% consensus is what we’re hoping for, this number is much better than 0% of scientists believing humans are causing climate change. 

Many scientists have confirmed that the greenhouse effect is the main cause in global temperature rise. The greenhouse effect is like a blanket covering our atmosphere. When infrared radiation enters our atmosphere from the sun, some of the energy is absorbed by the Earth, heating up the surface in small amounts, while the rest of the energy is reflected off the surface and back out towards space. As greenhouse gasses are added to our atmosphere, they trap the reflected energy, making the Earth even warmer. Some greenhouse effect is good, it allows the earth to stay at the climate it is at now, staying habitable to all living species. But we have added too much, and the more greenhouse gasses we add to our atmosphere, the more Earth will experience warming. There are lots of different greenhouse gasses, but the main two are carbon dioxide and methane. Carbon dioxide comes from the burning of coal, fossil fuels, and any carbon-based life (Plants and animals). According to the NRDC “more than 2,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere by human activities” since the invention of the first steam engine. They also explain how methane is produced mostly from the agricultural business. Cows and other livestock let off methane gas as a result of natural processes.  

Most scientists have decided that the best way to convey the message of climate change is to give examples in the real world on how climate change is affecting the world. One great example put out by many scientists is the melting of glaciers and sea ice that has major repercussions and will impact our way of life if left unchecked. According to World Wildlife Foundation, “since the early 1900s, many glaciers around the world have been rapidly melting. Human activities are at the root of this phenomenon.” This melting is due to the exact phenomenon described above, warming the temperatures of the Earth. Because of this warming, many other side effects are emerging. WWF goes on to state how melting glaciers are putting large amounts of colder fresh water into the ocean that are not only causing the ocean levels to rise but is changing acidity levels and disrupting currents that are vital to fisheries and wildlife habitats. Further investigating these side effects, National Geographic has an article from this year, 2019, expressing how rising seas “can cause destructive erosion, wetland flooding, aquifer and agricultural soil contamination with salt, and lost habitat for fish, birds, and plants.” These vast effects across the globe will only become worse as greenhouse gas levels continue to rise. These above statements are the facts that are believed by many scientists, and is the consensus in our scientific community. 

If the science behind climate change is so clear, it seems hard to refute climate change, but people continue to deny it even today. Even one of the astronauts on the Apollo 17 mission, Harrison Schmitt (who is also a geologist), says that the warming we are experiencing is a natural process of the Earth and that increased levels of carbon dioxide would actually benefit humans. Talk like this allows people to continue to invalidate climate change, making it difficult to sway the minds of unbelievers. Making a change in climate change is more than just reducing your own carbon footprint. Politics play a pivotal role in what we can do in order to make a difference. 

Oil is power in today’s society; we have created an entire infrastructure that relies on oil to function. Because of this, the oil industry has leverage in our society. They are preventing us from making real and relevant changes to our society. Even on ExxonMobil’s site they state that “ExxonMobil’s support of candidates and political organizations reflects corporate interests”. They give money to the politicians in return for benefits towards their company and lesser regulations. This prevents change in the system we rely on to make decisions in a sustainable way, hence preventing any alteration in climate change.