Four Hundred Parts Per Million

And so concludes week two of the Future Learn Exeter University course on Climate Change.  The learning has increased and the science has become more challenging – I am still glad of Biology degree!  The reflections on this week’s progress have become a lot more profound as we start to contend with the notion of rising levels of carbon dioxide and the implications thereof.  400 parts per million is the level of CO2 in the atmosphere currently, an amount only previously believed to have existed 3 million years ago.

The most important themes this week were of the nature of ancient climate in the Mid-Pliocene (3.3 to 3 Ma) and the very much more recent return to climate conditions that have not been seen since (see, for example).  The elephant in the room is also clear for all of us to see: although our current climate is analogous to that of the Mid-Pliocene, 7 billion post-industrial revolution humans did not inhabit the planet then.

A good working knowledge of the climate science of Mid-Pliocene earth has been a challenge to attain.  However, I am now far more aware of the ramifications of variations in the Earth’s inclination, obliquity, eccentricity and precession (both apsidal and axial) along with changes in solar radiation that all inform the Milankovitch Cycle Theory.  Yet, despite the massive cycles in geological time that have bought about many variations in our planet’s conditions we still maintain the caveat of anthropogenic influence that may exacerbate orbital, volcanic or climatic effects.

So it was with little humour and no little irony that I read in today’s “i” news website stories of both hope and despair in respect of our ability to adapt to the climate change that we are forcing.  On the one hand, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is overseeing a reduction in spending on climate change mitigation which will handicap our ability to cope with the changes in our weather patterns.  On the other, the government is funding solutions to energy production through local community initiatives that will serve to reduce carbon emissions.  It seems, as we have always known, that we have to take matters into our own hands at community level to make any change.

And so finally, if I learned one thing from this week it is that greater, shared knowledge on climate change, its realities and solutions, along with leadership at grassroots will ensure that we adapt our mindset and behaviours to a) cope with the climate change and b) lead the social change for our children.

On to week 3…


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