Prof. Art DeGaetano, earth and atmospheric sciences, stressed the need for “drastic measures” to combat rapid climate change in an environmental seminar series this week.
DeGaetano demonstrated how climate change is directly determined by the changing of two variables — how reflective the surface of the earth is and how much greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere.
DeGaetano said the warming of the Earth’s surface is undeniably related to human actions, pointing to human’s excessive burning of fossil fuels and deforestation as two leading causes of this warming trend.
Around 10 gigatons of carbon were released into the atmosphere this year, making 2015 the warmest on record, according to Degaetano.
“I find myself constantly updating the slides in my class because with each new year comes new record high temperatures,” he said.
DeGaetano also discussed the importance of feedback loops in the climate change process.
“Most feedbacks are positive, we warm the climate, we see more warming,” said DeGaetano.
When humans increase greenhouse gases, the earth warms, which in turn melts ice, which makes earth less reflective, which contributes to more solar radiation, DeGaetano said, elaborating on the power of feedback loops.
DeGaetano also spoke of negative feedback loops — like clouds — which have more ambiguous effects. When human activities increase the amount of clouds in the atmosphere, thicker and lower clouds become more frequent, leading to more reflected sunlight and a cooler climate. However he also pointed out that more clouds can lead to warming.
When one audience member asked if any negative feedback loops could potentially help aid in reversing the effects of climate change, DeGaetano was adamant in asserting that no negative feedback would be able to create a sufficiently dramatic change.
“I can’t see any of the feedbacks being a potential saving grace,” he said.
DeGaetano also explored the difference between natural and human climate change. With the help of a chart that tracked the cooling and warming of the earth over time, DeGaetano pointed to 1970 as a year of pivotal change in previous patterns.
“Earth should be staying stable or getting cooler, now when you include greenhouse gases, you see an increase in warming — which has everything to do with greenhouse gases,” said DeGaetano.
In his conclusion, DeGaetano emphasized that the effects of climate change will be catastrophic if humans continue to increase greenhouse gas emissions at the current rate. He warned that the world is on track quadruple greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century without the introduction of more drastic measures to counter climate change.