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Talking climate change basics with Halifax climate scientist Jeffrey Taylor 

From greenhouse gasses to what committed change means

click to enlarge Climate scientist Jeffrey Taylor says "we're past the point of the status quo" on climate change. - SUBMITTED
  • Climate scientist Jeffrey Taylor says "we're past the point of the status quo" on climate change.
  • SUBMITTED

T he Coast sat down with local climate scientist Jeffrey Taylor to talk the basics of climate change. His key points about what climate change is—and isn't—all centre around the idea that "for the most part, we've all accepted that we as humans have impacted the planet, it's caused the climate to change," he says. "Now it's up to us whether we want to minimize that change and kind of adapt to the future."

Climate change is certain
The Climate Atlas of Canada, an interactive tool about climate science complete with data, maps, stories and videos, explains the concept of scientific consensus in simple terms: At least 97 percent of scientists agree that climate change is happening and that it is caused by humans. And scientists, states the Climate Atlas of Canada, have to be very very certain about something before they agree with each other.

Climate change is our problem
The world has generally accepted the anthropogenic (caused by humans) nature of climate change. However, for some people it's still a leap to accept responsibility for the problem. "As Canadians, we live a pretty privileged life, we're doing great, so we're not often exposed to the kinds of extreme threats that the rest of the world sees," says Taylor. "That buffer can kind of blind us a little bit, to some of the challenges that climate can pose."

Climate change is happening
Although Canada may be getting off easier than other countries so far—see wild fires in Australia—climate change effects are already being felt across the country, especially in northern latitudes.

Taylor explains that we're already in a state of committed change (the notion that we've already added enough greenhouse gases—gases like CO2, methane and others, emitted through human activities, most notoriously the combustion of fossil fuels—into the earth's atmosphere to cause changes in the climate).

"If we were to turn off all our CO2 emissions, we would still have some warming," says Taylor. "We're past the point of the status quo. So we're committed to a change."

Because we've already significantly changed the composition of the gases in the atmosphere; we're locked in to at least some level of climate change.

Climate change is in flux
One of the symptoms of a climate in flux is more extreme weather; this can include warm-weather storms and flooding, but also extreme winter events like destructive blizzards and ice storms. (Taylor adds the importance of noting the difference between weather and climate. Climate, he says, is "not a moment in time, it's not what's happening outside right now. It's an average of what you expect to see at a location, at a given time of year.")

The effects of fluctuating climate change are broad and complex, says Taylor "in ways we maybe don't generally appreciate. Things like infectious diseases spreading, things like loss of resources that sustain life in certain areas—like freshwater—or loss of traditional ways of hunting and gathering" are all issues that are connected to climate change.

Climate change can be changed
"I do think that we as humans, we're resilient, we'll adapt," says Taylor.

In its 2018 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (a body of the United Nations responsible for assessing climate change science which is made up of experts from a variety of scientific backgrounds) warned the world that in order to avoid the negative effects of climate change, we would have to significantly curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

This requires long-term thinking. "It's almost a human nature question," says Taylor. "Are we concerned about big, long-term distant challenges or are we concerned about a loud, acute problem right in front of us today?"

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