A perpetual favourite: anthropogenic climate change, and why it’s a bad idea
Green – increase in precipitation
Yellow – decrease in precipitation
Grey – disagreement between observed rainfall and climate models
White – insufficient data
A new study in Nature today says humans appear to have altered global rainfall patterns in the last 75 years. There has been a suspicion for some time that human activity has altered rainfall patterns, this is the first time scientists have been able to tease out the actual change due to human forcing from the climate record. This is not terribly important in and of itself, but it does help illustrate a few things worth blogging about. And it has implications that go beyond the scope of the study.
The primary thing it illustrates is that it’s another example of humans altering global climate. I know there’s still skeptics out there who are literally stuck in 19th century thinking…that the Earth is too big for humans to effect change on. This is another nail in the coffin of that quaint idea. Not even sure how the idea got started, there’s all sorts of systems around us that are easily altered by very small changes, a trivial change in blood chemistry for example can render a person unconscious or dead. I suspect it’s more a religious idea than anything else. A lot of scientific scepticism appears to be rooted in religion, who would have guessed?
This also once again illustrates the difference between weather and climate, another point that a lot of people, especially skeptics, have trouble with. Though to be fair, the confusion here is not limited to skeptics. In other words this study has no bearing on the terrible rains going on in the UK right now. Weather is what is going on outside your window right now, climate is average weather patterns over time. It’s a minor but crucial distinction, it’s not possible at this time to link extreme weather events to human activity. And it may never be possible. More importantly, it doesn’t matter. If climate changes, we all experience the change even if the local variation is subtle.
Note also that some areas of the map above “do not agree with the models.” I suppose there are some who will use this to attempt to discredit the whole study. I hardly even know where to start on this line of reasoning. Basically if one looks for minor discrepancies or areas where scientists don’t fully understand something, one could discredit any scientific theory. No scientific theory is so complete that there aren’t fuzzy areas that are not fully understood. If one wants to discredit a scientific theory, one has to come up with an alternative theory that better fits the available evidence. It’s easy to snipe at a theory, it’s a lot harder to actually come up with and prove a better theory.
And while this study is not terribly alarming in it’s own right, the whole idea that humans are altering global climate is alarming. The historical evidence is overwhelming that climate change has caused the collapse of numerous human civilizations. Civilizations are based on their agriculture, agriculture is very sensitive to climate change. So it’s a no brainer that changing the climate is a highly risky thing to do. I’d rather not be in the first civilization to collapse because of self induced climate change. Every study like this is further evidence that we are heading down a road that will lead us to places we don’t want to go.
In other words, the global polluters need to prove that what they are doing is harmless. If we wait until there is absolute proof that what they are doing is causing climate change, it may very well be too late. We are literally gambling with our own future.
(The above illustration is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. Credit: Nature.)