“We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
—Native American proverb
Recently a blog I follow addressed concerns about the oil sands in Alberta, and pointed out the fact that the European Union may soon declare Canada’s source of fossil fuels as “highly polluting.” This comes down to an important question we face in society: do we as citizens and governments make decisions based on what’s best for the economy of today, or what’s best for the environment of tomorrow.
A supporter of continuing on with business-as-usual made the comment that fossil fuels are safe and clean, and that if we ignore this important energy source we would put millions of people at risk of harm unnecessarily. A documentary that is available on Youtube was referenced (known as the Svensmark documentary—you can find it here) which helps to disprove the “facts” that climate scientists have been claiming for years, trying to illustrate that carbon dioxide levels follow climate change and not the other way around.
The Svensmark documentary may be well produced, raise provocative food-for-thought, and have been done by a scientist, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct. The documentarian’s theories are controversial at best, and there are many more climate scientists who disagree with his views than agree with them.
The basic problem is that climate change is complex. There are a number of factors that play a part in it. Over the long term, orbital forcings (subtle changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun) will have an impact. Over shorter terms, fluctuations in solar irradiance (the sun’s overall energy output), levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, volcanic activity, and the El-Nino southern oscillation all play a part.
When any one of these is affected, global temperatures change. A good example of that is the recent solar minimum we experienced with the last sunspot cycle, leading to a lack of increase in global temperatures despite increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, what global warming skeptics often refer to as proof that our emissions aren’t the culprit.
I’m still amazed that some people will look to any possible explanation to write off our own responsibility as a species in contributing to the problem. It’s hard to ignore the addition of 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by our species every year, and not think it can have an impact when carbon dioxide is a known greenhouse gas, something that even the strongest of skeptics can’t deny because it’s basic physics and an indisputable fact.
Indeed, I acknowledge that many people will be affected adversely if we stop using oil completely and abruptly—mostly those who profit by industries affiliated with fossil fuels—but if efforts could be put into using renewables more and fossil fuels less, it would certainly make a difference. Since fossil fuels are going to run out eventually—they are not a renewable energy source despite what Republican congressional candidate Jesse Kelly claims—the need for alternative energy sources is something our planet will ultimately face anyway. I’d just like to see us start making a transition now instead of waiting until we face two serious crises: the devastation from global warming and the absence of fossil fuels because they’ve been used up completely.