There are many different opinions on whether the climate is being affected by human activity and it’s fair to say that even the most trusted sources might be biased. As always, we’re in a storm of emotional and political arguments, obscuring the reality of the issue. Add to this the incredibly tricky task of assessing complex data, one that even scientists (whose profession it is) fail at sometimes, and we’re left truly snow-blind.
To find our way, it’s best to figure out first why it’s such an emotional topic. It seems to me that this is because if climate change is caused by humans, then each and every one of us becomes one of a guilty party, accused of a crime of global proportions that we were only indirectly aware of committing. Being accused of fault is one of the worst feelings there is; it’s like human-kind have been caught with their collective hand in the cookie-jar, and there’s this instant attractive feel to denials and excuses since they protect our collective ego. However, there’s a different attraction to owning up: it feels noble, the “right thing” to do. This “rightness” is a strong emotional weapon, and it’s pitted against an equal and opposite resentment of the “high and mighty” attitude it represents. Xkcd sums this up amusingly.
So we seem to be split by these emotions into two warring camps, denialists and supporters, weak/strong, selfish/altruistic. But here’s the pinch: neither noble and sacrificial support, nor guilty and ego-protecting denial make us right. The more emotion there is, the harder it is to assess the facts and come to an informed opinion. Thankfully, there are people out there who educate instead of preach, and who provide carefully explained evidence instead of guilt and shock-tactics as a means of convincing their audience.
This short visual presentation (that I came across originally on astronomer Phil Plait’s blog) is a great place to start. It includes easy-to-interpret graphs and common points for and against the idea of human-caused-warming. No judgement, no social manipulation, just well presented data, of which this is a small sample:
I personally believe that climate change is most definitely occurring (that’s a no-brainer, climate change of some sort is always occurring), global warming seems rather convincingly to be the shape of that change (although as with any global trend, there are minor fluctuations, complexities and uncertainties to be taken into account), and that all of or a significant part of this is most likely caused by human activity.
So, the most informed and unbiased opinion I’ve managed to gather is that it’s us, and it’s severe enough to be too late to effectively reverse what we’ve done, but in the end this leaves me with no feeling of nobility, nor high mindedness. I feel instead anxiety in the anticipation of how bad the effects will be, and the sinking feeling that when some people/governments realise this, they may use it as an excuse to take no action.