Arctic mountains surrounded by the sea.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

There’s no question that our climate has shown significant changes since the early 20th century. Scientists agree that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) have increased noticeably.

The precise causes, however, are still open for debate.

The ways we manufacture and how we use land have certainly changed over the years, but have they actually caused the fluctuations in our climate?

It’s not as simple as you might think. Early climate change data is sketchy at best. British physicist John Tyndall was the first to run experiments on the topic back in 1859, showing that CO2 in the atmosphere absorbs the sun’s heat. But it took until 1938 for a scientist—engineer Guy S. Callendar—to suggest that our use of fossil fuels could be what causes climate change. (His study, “The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and its Influence on Temperature,” appeared in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society on February 16, 1938).

At the time, the scientific community was skeptical of Callendar’s findings, noting that it was just as likely that natural fluctuations and atmospheric circulation changes could affect our climate.

Since then, many scientific studies have been conducted in an effort to find the underlying cause of climate change. And while modern science is much more replicable, it’s often based on some of these earliest studies, where data collection and conclusions weren’t as systematic and foolproof as they often are today.

On March 2, 2008, the Heartland Institute held an international conference on climate change to discuss possible causes. As part of that event, 98 eminent speakers, including PhD climate scientists from major universities, argued that climate change is most likely a natural event.

Is this enough evidence to confirm that climate change is not manmade? Hardly. But it does point toward the idea that the causes behind climate change are by no means completely understood. There’s still enough data out there with varying possible interpretations that makes this more than just an open and shut case:

  • There have been no significant and prolonged temperature changes since 1997. Recorded temperatures started on an upward trend in the mid-1970s, but since 1997, they’ve plateaued. That’s more than 17 years without the sort of significant change in temperatures we’d likely see if climate change were directly affected by our actions.
  • Many theories in favor of manmade climate change are based on inaccurate data. Let’s face it: the science of 100+ years ago doesn’t have the same attention to detail and pinpoint accuracy of science conducted today. So when it comes to being able to precisely replicate experiments and confirm data, it’s not so easy. Can scientists accurately base climate change assumptions on this sort of long-term data?
  • The amount of Arctic ice has increased by 50% since 2012. That fact in and of itself doesn’t mean we haven’t seen some changes in climate, but it does go against alarmists’ view that the polar ice caps would have melted entirely by now based on our interactions with our planetary resources.

Scientists generally agree at this point that climate change is happening. As far as why it’s happening, though—that needs more research and discussion in the scientific community to confirm one way or another.

About 

Martin Ackerman is a freelance writer and current editor originally from Staten Island, NY. His university schooling focused on English education and Japanese. He has a (not so secret) passion for art history and political science. When he isn't writing or editing you can find him at sci-tech conventions, building the latest LEGO city or pampering his cat, Tea. You can follow him on Twitter @MarMackerman.