Why are we worrying about climate change today?

Article by Hazell Ransome.

Over the last 1 million years, Earth has oscillated between ice ages and warmer periods [1,2]. This was not caused by humans, but by changes in the energy radiated by the Sun [3], the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, and the angle at which the Earth rotates [3,4,5].

These changes in temperature were very gradual [6], with no more than 1°C of change in the global average temperature over the past 10 thousand years [6]. This stability facilitated the development of human civilisation [7].

Nowadays the Earth is warming abnormally quickly [8]. Over the past century it has warmed roughly 10 times faster than the average increase in temperature after each ice age [9].

Despite there being similarly rapid and large changes in temperature in the distant past [8,10], current global warming is dangerous because humans have not experienced changes of this scale and speed before [11]. Increasing temperatures will affect our ability to produce food, access clean water [12] and cause rising sea levels [13] so if this change happens too quickly it will be challenging for us to adapt [14,15].

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