Global warming has been an issue that has been laughed at, ridiculed, feared, and heatedly debated for over two decades now. While industries and governments wrote off initial claims of rising global temperatures and climate change as ranting of a few science geeks. However, with temperatures steadily increasing the world over, it was predicted that, at a sustained rate of environmental degradation, the Earth would get steadily hotter. However, after an initial decade of rising, the temperatures around the world have actually come to what is known as a ‘standstill’. This was not expected and has led to greater confusion over the direction in which our environment is headed. Is global warming a real threat? Is the standstill the proverbial ‘calm before the storm’?
In simple terms, global warming refers to the rise in global temperatures triggered by an increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to their highest degree in over 500,000 years. A 2003 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC revealed that conclusive evidence showed a 0.6C increase in global temperature and 20cm increase in sea level through the 20th century. It also predicted that temperatures could increase between 1.4C to 5.8C by 2100, while sea levels would increase by 20cm to 88cm. The report also forecasted that the incidents of extreme natural climate catastrophes such as hurricanes, typhoons, droughts and floods would rise . Maslin notes that, although the concept of global warming has existed for over a century, recent advances in technology have provided concrete evidence of a steady and swift rise in temperatures, leading to melting of glaciers and polar ice caps and raising sea levels. Hence, the fact that global warming is taking place is no longer contested.
However, this information led to the sudden realization of just how serious a threat global warming poses – launching the scientific community into a state of alarm. Hence, in 2006, when Dr. Whitehouse first announced that he had noted a ‘standstill’ in global temperatures, he was not given due consideration. Whitehouse observed that the global temperatures had remained stagnant for 5 years, a statistic that was unnoticed by the scientific community at large. While members of the science fraternity as well as media have been quick to dismiss this phenomenon as a ‘debate’ or the work of skeptics, the fact that 15 year standstills have been known to take place every 80 years, is evidence enough that standstills do take place .
Another observation made recently by Fyfe, Gillett and Zwiers reveals that the predictions pertaining to the percentage rise in global temperatures on a year to year basis have been grossly overestimated. For example, in 1998, IPCC predicted the global temperatures to by 0.3C every decade . However, observed trends between the years 1998 and 2012 have revealed a projected rise of a mere 0.05C to 0.08C. This further supports the notion that global warming may be in a ‘slowdown’ phase, if not at a complete standstill .
The question to ponder here is, what does the standstill or slowdown in global warming imply? Firstly, and possibly most importantly, it gives the scientific community a ‘reality check’ of sorts. It shows that climate change and global warming are not areas of study that can be taken for granted. It leads the scientific community to consider other factors that may be influencing global warming. Finally, it gives the world a whole new perspective on just how volatile and complex our environment is –and that maintaining a balance is not going to be an easy task.
Fyfe, John C., Nathan P. Gillett and Francis W. Zwiers. "Overestimated global warming over the past 20 years." Nature Climate Change 3 (2013): 767-769.
Maslin, Mark. Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Whitehouse, David. "The Global Warming Standstill." GWFP Report 10. 2013.