I doubt that many people will read this, but this is something I (or rather, my girlfriend) come across a lot. People who don’t believe in climate change tend not to understand it. SO I want to make a simple(ish) example.
Now I’m not saying everyone who knows it’s true understands it either; that’s why we have scientists who devote their lives to studying a field. If it were simple, we would already have flying cars. Hence simple(ish); it’s not a simple issue, or a simple process. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
But the fact is, the people who comment on blogs and news sites saying it’s a myth are either A) dramatically uninformed or B) plants by oil companies. You might think B sounds paranoid or cynical, but it’s not. They target older men, making it seem like scientists are trying to fool them, and younger women, to get them before they become eco-friendly hippies.
So enough about misinformation; why is climate change a fact?
It’s all about the coral reefs.
My father spends his life variously studying marine animals, selling products relating to marine animals, writing articles about marine animals, feeding marine animals, and laughing at marine animals when they do stupid things. I grew up around this, and absorbed a lot of information in a tangential sort of way. Even though I don’t keep a marine tank, I probably know more than people who do (which is a separate issue that my dad’s doing his best to address).
Everyone knows what a coral reef is. But, did you know that it’s corals themselves that make the rock that reefs are built on?
Like us, they have a calcium skeleton. On top of this is their flesh, and then their polyps, which are a combination mouth and bum, surrounded by (usually stinging) tentacles.
Inside their skin, living about two million to the square inch, are tiny algae. The algae acts like any plant and gives the coral energy from sunlight; the coral eats whatever swims into its tentacles and the algae gets a bit to act as fertiliser. It’s probably the most mutually-beneficial system in the entirety of nature.
Corals’ flesh is made out of their equivalent of stem cells. They can regrow anything that gets damaged and don’t have a lifespan! There are polyps that could easily be thousands of years old, and I don’t mean the species, I mean a single coral.
So how is this related to climate change?
There are two main ways. There are also hundreds of thousands of indirect ways, but I’m trying to keep this information clear.
The first way is “bleaching”. You may have heard, in the record-breaking summers of 1997 and 1998, a sixth of the world’s reefs bleached. There have been a few sumemrs since then where a similar thing happened. This should be absolutely terrifying, and was to anyone involved with marine biology in any way, but most people don’t understand the significance because of the wording.
Bleaching, for all intents and purposes, means dying.
When a coral is said to have bleached, it means the algae in its skin has left the coral and swum away. (Their latin name is dinoflagellates, which means whirling whip, which is how they swim.) This leaves the coral white, hence bleaching, but it also leaves it without most of its energy, without any protection against UV light, and in conditions that were bad enough to make the algae leave to start with. They’ll live for a little while after, and if conditions improve they algae might come back, but over a summer that lasts for a few months, the majority of the bleached coral died.
The second way is more directly to do with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
A lot of people hold that the rising carbon in the atmosphere is part of a cycle. This is utter, complete bollocks, and no-one should believe this. Remember how I said there are single polyps that are thousands of years old? There wouldn’t be, if this were a cycle. Carbon dioxide kills coral.
A huge amount of carbon dioxide is absorbed into sea-water, and it’s nearing saturation, so not much more is going to be absorbed.
Carbon Dioxide is an acidic gas, and it makes sea-water more acidic too. Calcium, which corals’ bones are made of, is alkaline.
You know the diet coke and mentoes thing, where the alkaline mints fizz up and dissolve in acidic coke?
Imagine that happening to your bones. Slowly, constantly, painfully.
THAT is how carbon dioxide kills coral. And that is why it is not a natural cycle, because if it was, all our coral reefs would date back to the last time CO2 peaked. They don’t; huge structures like the Great Barrier Reef were formed over MILLIONS of years. If there is any cycle at all, we have horrendously kicked it into overdrive.
So what’s going to happen to the reefs?
Basically, unless we dramatically cut back on carbon emissions and all that jazz RIGHT NOW, they’re dead.
All of them.
The rainforest of the sea, with two-thirds of the ocean’s animals (by species, more by numbers) and therefore half of the entire planet’s life, will be dead and gone within twenty years. A lot of people have just given up hope and, like my dad, are concentrating on keeping them in tanks, so we can preserve a tiny bit of that life.
That’s why climate change, caused by humans, is a fact. And that is why I loathe it when people say “it’s not real” or “it’s a cycle”. And why you should too.
Sources: The QI Book of Animal Ignorance, my life and childhood, the sites linked above.