Climate Change: Natural or Human caused Crisis

They say that the only thing constant in this world is change.

Posted on Jan 3, 2023 by Prakash Kini (PK)


They say that the only thing constant in this world is change. An article that I read recently opened up a series of questions in my mind about one of these changes, climate change …

Until then, I had assumed that climate change is caused by rising C02 levels in the atmosphere, and other greenhouse gases such as methane, and their greenhouse effect, which lead to warmer surface temperatures; all caused by human activities such as fossil fuel burning, unabated livestock and deforestation. I saw this as a painful reality, all done and dusted and scientifically proven, and all my efforts as an individual and humanity as a whole should be towards reduction in such emissions and halting and if possible reversing climate change impact. 

This belief got further solidified due to recent natural calamities such as the floods in regions such as the US West Coast, Nigeria, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, the heat wave in Europe, and the recent unprecedented blizzard in Buffalo, New York.

Moreover, there has been a lot of global dialogue and support for sustainability which is literally changing the way we live - the way we grow food (organic), manufacture (sustainable materials and circular processes, corporate ESG goals), produce power (green renewable power), ship (clean fuels), consume (vegan), travel (EV), and invest/hedge (ESG funds, carbon credits).

Several global organisations have been set up around this idea, e.g. IPCC and several global forums are held where countries and firms lay out their targets, strategies and performance such as the recent COP27 and sign treaties such as the Paris accord and Kyoto Protocol.

The key questions

This post and article, for me, opened a whole new can of worms:

Is all climate change natural, or is some or most/all of it attributable to human activities and industry? Or is it all just simply natural earthly cycles or are we actually disrupting the natural cycles?

Or is it grossly negligent and irresponsible to turn a blind eye to climate change, and do nothing? Are reindeer and polar bears really dying because of us? Will we be left with a flooded world or a world without enough potable water or breathable air? And should humans invest their energy on conservation and sustainability initiatives that we have been already marching towards, perhaps with even more urgency than before?

Let us say that we learn that attributing all or most of climate change to human activities is incorrect, will this or should this reduce our collective motivation to become more sustainable?

If not, what aspects of our initiatives should we drop and which ones should we continue forward on?

For example, it does not make sense either way, to continue unabated deforestation and wildlife and ocean life extinction. It moreover does not make any sense to continue polluting our land and oceans with plastics, thus impacting our own food, water and air supplies.

Either way, are we destined for a very different “anthropogenic” future?

Through the below article does not provide answers, I have attempted to highlight the key topics of ongoing debate, and I would urge you to keep an open mind and to go through the material to spark your own curiosity on such a critical topic and make your own conclusions. I might have erred, at points, on sharing more anti climate change arguments as we are already inundated with a lot of pro climate change material across media.

Let us get slightly deeper

Climate change has been a hot topic (pun intended) since the past few decades. Climate change, or as defined, long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns, have been forever been monitored and forecasted by meteorologists and climatologists, and been the nemesis called out by environmental activists, the academia and media, and eventually politicians also picked up on this sensitive topic.

Several apocalyptic predictions and prophecies have been made through time; through the 1970s the narratives revolved around “global cooling” and the “big freeze” which then switched into debates regarding “global warming” and thereon evolved into “climate change”. These have ranged from mass extinction to flooding of the coastal areas of the world and so on.

On the flip side, there have also been several attempts at debunking these claims,

a few pointing out that although there might be some truth to the claims the fear mongering is unwarranted and unscientific, whereas others have called the whole climate change thing a big hoax.

The pro-climate change groups have accused the anti-climate change groups of being funded by the big oil companies to discredit proven scientific results, and in turn the anti groups have accused the pro groups to be politically motivated and fan apocalyptic fears and use these to garner billions of dollars in funds (often taxpayers money) and route them for conservation activities and emission reduction research and initiatives across the world.

The very petition that sparked this post has been challenged in the below article, stating that hardly 1% of the signatories are actually climatologists and most are just dead, or are ex-employees of large oil companies such as Shell, or just engineers, fishermen or lobbyists.

The article also points out that a key signatory, Ivar Giaever, is a joint winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1973 for work on superconductors. However, he has never published any work on climate science. 

Here is another article that attempts to dislodge the claims made by the anti climate change groups:

Here are a couple of key topics raging in the ongoing climate change debate …

Rising C02 levels in the atmosphere: is this a good thing?

Although they may however differ on the root causes, i.e. on how much of this is just natural and how much is human-caused, one thing that both the pro and anti groups seem to agree on is that C02 levels are rising in the atmosphere.

Levels of C02 have risen from mid 300s just 50 years ago to now in the mid 400s.

Conventional wisdom tells us that years of unabated deforestation, burning of fossil fuels etc. has caused this, and leads to global warming.

However arguments are emerging whether this is actually a good thing?

Could rising C02 levels actually help plants make more food, and hence become more productive, thus leading to a greener cover across the earth?

Arctic Warming: is this even a thing?

The cold blasts such as the recent blizzard in Buffalo, NY, are being attributed to a phenomenon called “Arctic Warming”. It is also foretold that such incidents are only going to get more frequent (unless we work on reducing emissions).

Sea Ice Volume is calculated using the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS, Zhang and Rothrock, 2003) developed at APL/PSC.

PIOMAS Arctic Sea Ice Volume Reanalysis

The Arctic Sea ice melts in the summers, but global warming over the past decades has brought down the summer ice levels dramatically. This alters the jet stream pushing the colder Arctic air into southern regions.

However, a few scientists have challenged both the reduction in residual ice levels, as well as the claims of full summer melt predicted by 2027-2030.

In fact, some scientists also claim that, on the contrary, the Arctic sea ice levels are making a comeback.

They also accuse the pro climate change groups of often switching their narrative conveniently to Antarctica, knowing that their Artic narrative is falling flat.

And as for the claims that climatic events are getting more frequent and it is only going to get worse, they claim that the number of such events in the past couple of years is no different than previous decades.

They also call out that most predictions have been based on current atmospheric and ocean models, and warn that current climate models do not accurately portray the atmosphere-ocean system.

Fossil Fuels: can we just get rid of them?

Fossil fuels have received quite a negative if not evil vibe in the past couple of years.

Pro climate change narratives have highlighted the harm created by “dirty” fossil fuels and urged a sense of urgency in moving to cleaner and greener fuels.

However the world has painfully realised that it is quite challenging to just get rid of fossil fuels, especially in a world with inflation, where citizens are already reeling from high prices, and war, when critical fuel supplies can be shut down at a moment’s notice or might get disrupted. Any level of bravado is bereft with risks. For example, multiple European countries have had to resort to and restart coal fired power plants, when Russian supplies of natural gas were cut off, and renewable power was insufficient and power demand grew due to multiple heat waves.

Although technologies such as hydrogen are knocking on the door of progress, one of the key questions is - will and how soon will green energy and renewable power be able to catch up with fossil fuel driven or nuclear power and replace base load, solve the scale issue?

Could large scale battery storage also play a role?

Green technology and battery storage require metals, including rare earth metals, and their sustainable mining is crucial, otherwise we might end up with a different but bigger problem than we started with.

This question may have different answers for different country scenarios

What works for a low population prosperous country such as Finland or Norway may not work for a Germany, UK or France let alone a highly populated country such as China or India or a country such as Ethiopia.

Therefore, energy transition plans have to keep in mind a country’s current and future needs scenario, energy independence and energy security, adequate strategic reserves, supply availability and supplier partnerships and the geopolitics around these, commercial and engineering capabilities, solutions viability, and have to be executed stepwise and systematically.

For example, the debate in the newly formed US Congress is between going all out on green energy or introducing an intermediate step of investing into exploration and production of natural gas, a cleaner fossil fuel, especially given their big LNG opportunity to be the supplier for Europe and the world.

The Ozone layer: are we mending it?

Well, the question is, does positive human intervention really make a difference?

Well it seems like there is some good news after all, it looks like we are making a huge difference as it concerns the ozone layer, due to serious adoption and deliberate execution of the Montreal Protocol.

These reports and articles pretty much capture all that is happening to the ozone layer:

The road forward

It is pretty clear that, although there might be much truth to human influence on climate change, both negative and positive, and great merit in rapidly moving towards green, clean energy, and sustainable industry, perhaps the time for unscientific sensationalism and alarmist claims is over. These may repel the right allies and attract the wrong ones, which could use these for their own selfish objectives, and thus cause more harm than good.

Energy transition is too important to fall prey to noisy and unproductive debates on whether the world is going to come to an end in 2027 or 2050.

The harsh reality (however sad it might be for some) is that fossil fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas do have a role to play at least for a few decades to come.

Experiments have a big role to play, we need to think big but perhaps act small, not reject any ideas, and try out tech such as small nuclear modular reactors, fusion, hydrogen, etc. in smaller regions, fail fast, and then once we taste success, adopt and scale rapidly while keeping in mind specific needs and scenarios.

The path to the future will be determined on how countries of the world collaborate while keeping their own energy security and economic freedom in mind, and the policies they come up with and enforce, how firms temper their lofty promises and marketing rhetoric and focus on grassroots level execution, the ability of agencies, activists, academia and all the media to influence big decisions, and how rapidly can our research scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs innovate unbridled and empowered.