climate change: natural vs. man-made

Sample cores from the planet's polar ice clearly show the difference between natural warming patterns and our toxic handiwork.

Illustration by Wenqing Yan

I’ve got a chart here and I’m not afraid to use it! In a paper which examined temperature and carbon dioxide patterns in the atmosphere based on ice cores taken from Antarctica, there’s an interesting graph that represents climate oscillations over the past 350,000 years. And it looks exactly like this.

Through the tens of thousands of years we see nature merrily going along, getting a little warmer and a little cooler, adding a touch of carbon here and losing it there. Then, we get to the time of the Industrial Revolution and both indicators just take off like a rocket. For people who deny climate change on the grounds that what we see today could be just a natural cycle, there you go. It’s not just a natural cycle that carbon dioxide and global temperatures increase so drastically right at the time when we’re pumping greenhouses gases into the atmosphere on an industrial scale. Even if we’re going through a normal warming cycle right now, we’re severely exacerbating it with our pollution.

Look, a few hundred parts per million of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases make our planet warm enough to allow for a relatively moderate climate and complex life. What do you think will happen when we pump out a few hundred ppm more? Will chemistry suddenly decide to stop raising the planet’s temperature accordingly? Will physics grind to a half for our personal convenience and let people terrified of having to spend anything on making our world a better place keep the status quo? If the fate of other living things on our planet is any indication, nature really doesn’t care about our views and ideologies. We destroy our environment at our own peril.

# science // climate change / global warming / greenhouse gases

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