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Climate scientist responds to commenter saying volcanoes are responsible for planet's overheating: 'I have some bad news for you'

"Volcanoes temporarily cool the Earth. Emphasis on 'temporarily' and 'cool.'"

"Volcanoes temporarily cool the Earth. Emphasis on 'temporarily' and 'cool.'"

Photo Credit: iStock

In Dr. Katharine Hayhoe's recent tête-à-tête with a dismissive social media user, cooler heads prevailed as the exchange became Dr. Hayhoe vs. the volcano. 

In a video for The Cool Down, Dr. Hayhoe, a renowned climate scientist, addressed the social media commenter's cynicism and belief that it is not necessary to take action as far as our changing climate is concerned. 

"Climate changes everyday," the commenter wrote. "No need to act, just wait for the next volcano."

"I have some bad news for you," Dr. Hayhoe responded. "Volcanoes temporarily cool the Earth. Emphasis on 'temporarily' and 'cool.'" 

Dr. Hayhoe went on to explain that ironically, fiery, erupting volcanoes actually work to briefly cool the planet. She detailed that a large volcanic eruption produces aerosol particles that act like an umbrella and reflect the sun's energy back to space. 

According to NASA, this can temporarily block enough sunlight to induce a brief — typically one to two years — cooling period that can be felt across the globe. While it might feel hot in the immediate vicinity of an erupting volcano, it's not going to contribute net heat to the atmosphere.

"So, no, volcanic activity is not responsible for the current warming," Dr. Hayhoe concluded the video. "And even if we had a huge volcanic eruption, it would just cool off the planet by a little tiny bit for a very short amount of time." 

Dr. Hayhoe did point out that all geologic activity around the world does produce some heat-trapping gases as well, with a pollution equivalent of about three medium-sized U.S. states.

In short, volcanoes are not the fiery climate monsters many may think they are. In fact, they may eventually help to cool the planet in a more significant way. The Netherlands is exploring using heat from an extinct volcano under the Wadden Sea to warm homes, setting the country up to become a leader in geothermal energy production if it is successful, and Iceland has been mastering geothermal and volcanic energy for generations.  

Planet-warming carbon pollution from human activities is far greater than that from volcanoes, but we can all work to lessen our effect on our warming planet. 

Dr. Hayhoe says some of the most impactful actions individuals can take are to start a conversation about why climate change matters and what people can do, join a climate action group, or change where you keep your money.

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