A Beastly Burden – Fourteen Extinctions of the 21st Century

Extinction is a natural part of life and evolution.  However, there have been several episodes in Earth’s history when the rate of extinction increased dramatically. Perhaps the most infamous of these events was the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

That was the fifth great extinction event the planet has witnessed, but the current rate of extinction (a rate that has persisted since the end of the last ice age) puts this period – the here and now – firmly in the ‘mass extinction’ category. Yes, we are living through the sixth great extinction event Continue reading “A Beastly Burden – Fourteen Extinctions of the 21st Century”

Global Storming – Tropical cyclones and climate change

The hurricane season of 2017 saw several massive cyclones batter the USA and Caribbean in quick succession. First Harvey, then Irma, Jose and Maria all reached category 3 or higher. The intensity and frequency of these events resulted in huge media coverage and led many to speculate on the role of global warming in these storms. Continue reading “Global Storming – Tropical cyclones and climate change”

Climate Change and the Paradox of Time

“Compared to a star, we are like mayflies, fleeting ephemeral creatures who live out their whole lives in the course of a single day.”                                         Carl Sagan

One of the biggest cognitive barriers to understanding climate science, and indeed many other scientific fields, is the short nature of a human life. According to the World Health Organization, the average global life expectancy is 71.4 years. That’s just 857 months or a measly 26000 days! Given that our planet is 4.54 billion years old, our perception of time is extremely short-term – far too short to fully comprehend the universe we live in. Continue reading “Climate Change and the Paradox of Time”

The Ghost of Climates Past

Picture the scene: The air is cold, crisp and dry. You stand on an expanse of grassland extending as far as the eye can see with nothing but gently rolling hills to break the horizon. Tiny flowers sparsely cover the ground which crunches slightly under foot, a thin powdering of frost on the surface. This is the Late Pleistocene some 15000 years ago. The age of ice and mammoths, a time when multiple human species roam the earth. You are standing in what will become the North Sea, a land connecting what will become Britain to continental Europe, a land commonly dubbed ‘Doggerland’. Continue reading “The Ghost of Climates Past”

Carbon Dioxide: Friend or Foe?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve probably heard something about Carbon Dioxide (CO2). In recent years it has increasingly become something of a bogeyman in the mainstream media, synonymous with pollution and negative human impacts on the planet. ‘Low carbon’ technologies on the other hand, are routinely hailed as a glittering path to a utopian future. In contrast, climate sceptics have repeatedly espoused CO2 as everything from a benign and perfectly natural component of the atmosphere to a vital pillar of global agriculture and natural ecosystems which can only benefit society in the future. Continue reading “Carbon Dioxide: Friend or Foe?”

What Drives Climate Change? – Forcings and Feedbacks

One thing which both climate scientists and climate sceptics can agree on is that the climate has changed in the past and that changes in climate can be natural. However, that climate change has occurred in the past does not mean that current climate change is natural. That assertion is equivalent to pointing to the existence of lung cancer before the discovery of tobacco as evidence that smoking can’t possibly cause lung cancer. Nonetheless understanding how and why the climate has changed in the past is important to understanding how and why it is changing now. Continue reading “What Drives Climate Change? – Forcings and Feedbacks”