Global warming: Haven’t there been climate shifts before?

MrsChili Sez:

I’ve always been under the impression that this earth has experienced a great many climactic shifts in her lifetime. In the not too distant past (relatively speaking), most of the world was under a lot of ice. There is geological evidence that the climate we have now is NOT the climate that our ancient ancestors had. This past winter was NOT the warmest on record, nor was last spring the wettest (at least, not around here). Didn’t it SNOW in JULY in New England in the 1800’s?

While I understand and agree that humans are having a largely detrimental effect on our environment, doesn’t the earth go through cycles and shifts all on her own anyway?

This is absolutely true. The Earth has gone (and still is going through) constant climactic change. Our climate is not static, never was, and (hopefully) never will be. It is important to distinguish between climate and weather though. Climate is the long term weather pattern – minimum of a decade or so, better if a century. Weather is the shorter term (both day to day and tear to year) variations in weather. That means that if this year (or last year) were wetter, colder, snowier, etc, we are talking about weather, whcih does not have any relevence to global warming. When the wetter, colder, snowier, etc. conditions last for a decade (or the trend lasts for a decade – each year in the decade could be wetter than the year before), it starts to become climate.

This is what has lead to the confusion about if there really is a “human effect” on climate. Who is to say that the changes in climate (they are real) are not natural things? Fortunately, even politicians have been forced to face the reality that people are changing the chemical characteristics of our atmosphere, and the physical charactersistics of the surface of hte earth enough to have an effect on climate. The current warming trend (Climate) may have been innevitable, but there is very little doubt that we have helped push it along, and may have increased the rate of change. The big question now (nad we don’t have an answer) is if the natural ballancing reactions to the climate change will kick in. It is possible that the changes that people are causing will allow the warming trend to continue past the point where nature would naturally reverse it. We don’t know yet, and by the time we do, it will probably be to late to really make any difference.

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