Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

The Climate Crisis Is the First Truly Global Climate Shift in the Past 2,000 Years, Studies Confirm

Climate
Arturo de Frias photography/ Moment / Getty Images

The current climate crisis is unique in the last 2,000 years of history, a trio of papers has found, in that it is the only truly global climate shift during the last two millennia.


Previous anomalies like the Little Ice Age, when it was possible to skate on the Thames, were more regional in scope, while the warming trend at the end of the 20th century affected more than 98 percent of the planet, Reuters reported.

"The main takeaway is that climate variability in the contemporary period is very different than what's happened in the past 2,000 years," Columbia University climate scientist Nathan Steiger, who co-authored one of the papers published in Nature Wednesday, told Reuters. "This is definitely further evidence that fossil fuels and anthropogenic activity actually has fundamentally changed the climate," he added.

Some climate deniers have pointed to past climate shifts to argue that there is nothing new or human-caused about the current warming period. The Medieval Climate Anomaly warmed temperatures from 800 to 1200 AD and the Little Ice Age saw temperatures fall from the 1300s to the 1850s, but the new research shows that these and other events were much more localized than current climate change. None of them covered more than half the globe at any one time, according to The Guardian.

In the past, researchers had taken evidence for these warming and cooling periods in Europe and North America and assumed they applied to the rest of the globe, the University of Bern explained in a press release. But for this week's papers, researchers consulted the PAGES (Past Global Changes) database of worldwide climate data from tree rings, ice cores, lake sediments and corals.

"It's true that during the Little Ice Age it was generally colder across the whole world," research team leader Raphael Neukom of the Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern said, "but not everywhere at the same time. The peak periods of pre-industrial warm and cold periods occurred at different times in different places."

For example, the Little Ice Age was coldest in the Pacific in the 15th century, Europe in the 17th century and elsewhere in the 19th century, The Guardian reported.

"This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle. This paper shows the truly stark difference between regional and localised changes in climate of the past and the truly global effect of anthropogenic greenhouse emissions," University College London climatology professor Mark Maslin told The Guardian.

The Nature paper was accompanied by a second, published in Nature Geoscience, that focused on the impacts of five large volcanic eruptions during the early 19th century that caused cooler temperatures, drought in Africa and the advance of glaciers in the Alps, the University of Bern further explained.

Because these eruptions occurred at the start of the industrial revolution, researchers say it is difficult to determine how volcanism interacted with the increasing burning of greenhouse gasses to impact climate at that time.

"It does sort of mask the effect of industrial processes, where they are starting to omit more CO2, because they counteract each other," Steiger told Smithsonian.com. "So volcanoes could cool, and humans would warm by the release of greenhouse gasses. It's tricky to parse out what's what."

This matters because international targets like the Paris agreement seek to limit warming to certain amounts above a pre-industrial norm.

"Given the large climatic changes seen in the early 19th century, it is difficult to define a pre-industrial climate, a notion to which all our climate targets refer," lead author and University of Bern climatologist Stefan Brönnimann said in the university release.

But what is clear is that today's warming is unprecedented during the study period. A final paper, also published in Nature Geoscience, concluded that the rates of warming documented in the second half of the 20th century were the fastest in 2,000 years.

That finding "highlights the extraordinary character of current climate change," Neukom told Smithsonian.com.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Earth's atmosphere. NASA

By Jeremy Deaton

You may have heard about the hole in the ozone layer, which hovers over Antarctica. It has shrunk over time thanks to policies that curbed the use of ozone-depleting chemicals. In the nearly 40 years that NASA has kept track, it has never been smaller. That's the good news.

Read More Show Less
Garden interns learn plant and weed identification at the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Cheyenne River Youth Project / Facebook

By Stephanie Woodard

Many Americans are now experiencing an erratic food supply for the first time. Among COVID-19's disruptions are bare supermarket shelves and items available yesterday but nowhere to be found today. As you seek ways to replace them, you can look to Native gardens for ideas and inspiration.

Read More Show Less
Although considered safe overall, aloe vera does carry the risk of making some skin rashes worse. serezniy / Getty Images

By Kristeen Cherney

Skin inflammation, which includes swelling and redness, occurs as an immune system reaction. While redness and swelling can develop for a variety of reasons, rashes and burns are perhaps the most common symptoms. More severe skin inflammation can require medications, but sometimes mild rashes may be aided with home remedies like aloe vera.

Read More Show Less
There are plenty of things you can do every day to help reduce greenhouse gases and your carbon footprint to make a less harmful impact on the environment. ipopba / Getty Images

By Katie Lambert and Sarah Gleim

The United Nations suggests that climate change is not just the defining issue of our time, but we are also at a defining moment in history. Weather patterns are changing and will threaten food production, and sea levels are rising and could cause catastrophic flooding across the globe. Countries must make drastic actions to avoid a future with irreversible damage to major ecosystems and planetary climate.

Read More Show Less
Petri Oeschger / Moment / Getty Images

By Kris Gunnars, BSc

Sleep is one of the pillars of optimal health.

Read More Show Less

Junjira Konsang / Pixabay

By Matt Casale

For many Americans across the country, staying home to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) means adapting to long-term telework for the first time. We're doing a lot more video conferencing and working out all the kinks that come along with it.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Looking south from New York City's Central Park. Ajay Suresh / Wikipedia / CC BY 4.0

By Richard leBrasseur

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered humans' relationship with natural landscapes in ways that may be long-lasting. One of its most direct effects on people's daily lives is reduced access to public parks.

Read More Show Less