Nasa climate change time machine
An image of the temperature on Earth from Nasa's climate change time machine. NASA

Climate change was the raging topic of debate throughout 2017. When the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, it spelled disaster to many people. There was a spike in global climate calamities with the United States seeing a large number of hurricanes ravage coastal states.

The growth of human technology over time has led to vast changes in Earth’s landscape and it is clear that this has had several detrimental effects on climate and in-extension, our co-habitants on this planet. But a new study has shown how humans are actually helping reduce the speed of climate change using a novel model to measure the effects of human development on climate.

Using science and social psychology in equal measure, the model studied the effects of human behavior on the climatic changes we are seeing unravel. The model analyzed the impact of human activity on the global temperature change, a topic of heated discussion last year.

The model factored in the changes that would have occurred naturally in Earth’s climate, a major argument of those claiming that human impact on climate change has been chalked up to much more than it actually is. According to these people, Earth goes through changes constantly which is much greater than we could ever cause like the ice age that occurred 2.6 million years ago before our technology growth.

The model looked to analyze how Earth’s changing climate affected human behavior too, an angle which hasn’t been studied before. The researchers took into account the impact of human efforts to curb climate change like switching to solar energy and public transportation to reduce emissions.

According to them, a global temperature change causes a change in humanitarian efforts. As we adapt to higher climates we change our environment and the cycle will continue.

Using past climate projections and social processes, the global temperature is predicted to increase by 3.4 to 6.2°C in 2100, but the latest model shows that it could only be around 4.9°C.

Due to the complexity of physical processes, climate models have uncertainties in global temperature prediction. The new model found that temperature uncertainty associated with the social component was of a similar magnitude to that of the physical processes, which implies that a better understanding of the human social component is important but often overlooked.

The model found that long-term solution devised by us to counter climate change like electric cars had by far the most impact in reducing greenhouse emissions. This showed the team that only humans can counter the climate change we could’ve so easily triggered.

"A better understanding of the human perception of risk from climate change and the behavioral responses are key to curbing future climate change," said lead author Brian Beckage, a professor of plant biology and computer science at the University of Vermont in a press release.

"It is easy to lose confidence in the capacity for societies to make sufficient changes to reduce future temperatures. When we started this project, we simply wanted to address the question as to whether there was any rational basis for 'hope' -- that is a rational basis to expect that human behavioral changes can sufficiently impact climate to significantly reduce future global temperatures," said NIMBioS Director Louis J. Gross, who co-authored the paper and co-organized the Working Group.

"Climate models can easily make assumptions about reductions in future greenhouse gas emissions and project the implications, but they do this with no rational basis for human responses," Gross said. "The key result from this paper is that there is indeed some rational basis for hope."

The changes that societies undergo with changing climate by adopting new policies to reduce emissions will be integral in the future.

"We may notice more hurricanes and heat waves than usual and become concerned about climate change, but we don't always know the best ways to reduce our emissions," Lacasse said. "Programs or policies that help reduce the cost and difficulty of making long-term changes or that bring in whole communities to make long-term changes together can help support people to take big steps that have a meaningful impact on the climate."

The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change on Jan.1.