Before I put politics aside—as the title of this blog suggests—I want to make one important distinction. I want you to appreciate the difference between a political philosophy and a political ideology. With a political philosophy, you have a group of views and theories that help guide behaviours and actions. A political philosophy will allow itself to be open to new evidence, and a new approach when experience dictates that “business as usual” isn’t working. Also, compromise is a viable option. With a political ideology, however, there is a greater chance to hold onto those principles to an unbending degree, with less likelihood to waver from those views and theories, even when common sense, evidence, or experience suggest a different approach is better. Compromise is not so much an option. I think the world would be a better place if we all tried to hold more to political philosophies rather than political ideologies.
I can’t think of any issue where putting politics aside is more important than the environment. We don’t have to cast aside our philosophies, but we could certainly do without our ideologies. The former US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it best when he said “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.” With the climate crisis, there are so many sound bites that occur throughout the various media sources on a daily basis that it’s difficult to know what’s truth and what’s not. When it comes to knowing what course of action we need to take for something like global warming, we have to look to the facts rather than hold onto the ideologies that wail us.
The five facts I list below are undisputed and without contention. Anyone who denies these facts is simply misunderstanding the science, or choosing to ignore it. The facts are as follows:
- Carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases. The size and configuration of these molecules, each containing different atoms within them—which sets them apart from oxygen and nitrogen—have a natural ability to absorb infrared radiation energy and, thus, increase in temperature when exposed to infrared radiation. These molecules don’t absorb energy from visible light so their temperature doesn’t increase from the sun’s light until it hits the Earth’s surface and bounces back in the form of infrared radiation. Nitrogen and oxygen molecules which make up 99 percent of our atmosphere don’t absorb energy so much from infrared radiation. But they do absorb energy from the nearby greenhouse gases with which they come in contact. The more of these greenhouse gas molecules there are in the atmosphere, the warmer our planet will become simply because of these scientific properties.
- Burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), burning down forests, and agriculture all add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
- Greenhouse gas levels have been rising consistently for the last 200 years or so, but were stable in the atmosphere for thousand of years prior. As we dump nearly many millions of metric tonnes of them per year into the atmosphere, this increase should be no surprise. Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve increased the amount of the atmosphere’s greenhouse gas concentrations by nearly 40 percent, from about 280 parts per million (ppm) to the present level of about 390 ppm, simply by doing the activities listed above in fact number 2.
- Global temperatures are increasing. Recorded temperatures since the 19th century and evidence looking back into our planet’s history even earlier have shown a sharp and unwavering increase in global temperatures that would be predicted from the greenhouse gases our activities have been adding. Other factors that affect global temperature such as changes in the sun’s energy output don’t explain this observation.
- Climate change is already happening as a result of increasing global temperatures. The increase in violent storms in both summer and winter, the increase in coastal flooding, the melting of ice at the North and South Poles as well as many of the planet’s glaciers are all, sadly, predicted when facts 1-4 are taken into consideration.
If we are to avoid extremely serious and dire consequences for our planet in the next few decades, and especially for our children and grandchildren, then we have to heed these facts, put aside our political ideologies, and make the changes that will save our planet from ourselves, and for our future.