Climate Change

This page brings together the shortest, clearest and most authoritative information about our predicament that I can find, and our ways to ameliorate it. We will never be able to go back to a pre-1950 climate but it’s never too late to mitigate the situation.

Any “Climate Change Reference” page can rapidly become misleadingly out of date, since the science is new and is developing very quickly while the effects of global warming are also new and are, sadly, growing just as quickly. It means that any data or analysis more than five years old has probably been superseded. The plan here is to replace older links with newer ones as they appear; as a fail-safe, dates are given.

Climate Change: what do we know? How do we know it?

IPCC: Press release for the report released in Feb 2022, AR6. More documents are available from https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/ The best source for most of us is their Summary for Policymakers, a 40-page document with a minimum of technical language. 

NASA: Evidence, causes, effects, consensus and FAQ’s – https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/ – and Realclimatestart here.

NOAA: Atmospheric CO2 charts (2021) and more – https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide

Bureau of Meteorology & CSIRO: State of the Climate, 2022, introduced here – www.abc.net.au/news/2022-11-23/state-of-the-climate-report-2022-bom-csiro/101683628 and the 2020 report summarised here – www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-13/bom-and-csiro-state-of-the-climate-2020/12871690

BBC overview of climate change (Jan 2020), with some excellent charts https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46384067

Climate Council: global temperature change visualisation – https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/resources/140-year-heat-map-shows-clear-trend-global-temperature-change/

2023 was the hottest year on record abc.net.au/news/2024-01-10/2023-earths-hottest-year-on-record/103258396 and, in more detail, climate.copernicus.eu/global-climate-highlights-2023. Sea Surface Temperatures globally are off the charts in 2023, too – abc.net.au/news/2023-08-21/ocean-tempertature-records-2023/102701172

Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events

James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, told us in 2011 that global warming was “loading the climate dice”, making extreme weather events both more common and more extreme. Here are a quick introduction  (2011) and a more technical introduction (2012) to this work. Hansen’s more recent paper, Global Warming in the Pipeline (introduced here, full pdf here), warns that we have underestimated the real rate of global warming.

XR has a particularly good overview (2020) of the impacts of extreme weather around the world.

An overview of the connections between major floods and climate change in the wake of the Sydney/NSW floods of March 2021. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-03-28/one-in-100-years-flood-talk-misleading/100030144. Some of the issues around planning for increased flooding are introduced at abc.net.au/news/2022-10-13/what-is-a-probable-maximum-flood

Solutions
carbon crunch Figueres
The carbon crunch (from Figueres et al, 2017)

Drawdown offers a  summary of solutions to the problem of reducing atmospheric CO2, ranked by their potential to help. Each solution reduces greenhouse gases by avoiding emissions and/or by sequestering carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. https://www.drawdown.org/solutions

Tipping Points in society may be as important as the tipping points in the environment. Vox explored some of them here in January 2020. The ABC (2021) has a good explainer …/acting-now-can-buy-us-time-on-climate-change/… about the carbon budget and why acting now is so important.

Carbon Brief shows (Nov 2019) that the Paris target of limiting warming to 1.5C is slipping out of reach: carbonbrief.org/unep-1-5c-climate-target-slipping-out-of-reach (it already looked very difficult in 2012). As of 2021, we can still do it but we have to leave most fossil fuels in the ground: abc.net.au/news/science/2021-09-09/climate-change and the original research at nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03821-8.

Scientists argue (April 2021) that we can and must aim for decarbonisation by 2030, and that less ambitious targets (e.g. 2050) are based on outdated climate science and outdated energy tech. https://cleantechnica.com/2021/04/10/47-scientists-world-should-go-100-renewable-electricity-by-2030/

Energy

Energy Cost comparison (Australia, 2019): “With all subsidies taken out, solar PV and wind wipe the floor with gas, coal and nuclear. Levelised cost of solar and wind is about $50 per megawatt hour, half that of gas and coal’s $100 per megawatt hour even without a carbon price. Nuclear is way off the money, priced anywhere between $250 and $330 per megawatt hour.” https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/coalition-wilfully-blind-to-economics-of-renewables-20200209-p53z4m.html.

The carbon cost of renewables is low and falling, too: https://www.forbes.com/…./2021/how-green-is-wind-power-really

(Global, 2020) Energy firms urged to mothball coal plants as cost of solar tumbles – companies could save billions as well as curbing carbon emissions. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/02/energy-firms-urged-to-mothball-coal-plants-as-cost-of-solar-tumbles

The history and outlook for solar power: abc.net.au/news/2023-10-31/how-rooftop-solar-panels-transformed-energy-in-australia/102987100 (ABC, 2023). More history, more mind-boggling figures: abc.net.au/news/science/2021-09-19/solar-panels-why-australia-stopped-making-them-china/100466342 (ABC, Sept 2021).

The myth that Nuclear power can save us is comprehensively demolished at energypost.eu/renewable-energy-versus-nuclear-dispelling-myths/ (2016) and again, a little more simply, at reneweconomy.com.au/too-expensive-too-slow-even-the-baseload-argument-doesnt-work-for-nuclear/ (2021). And fusion power has always been twenty years off, and still is – abc.net.au/news/2022-02-10/nuclear-fusion-record-step-towards-low-carbon-energy/100818972

Methane emissions – an overview in the light of new science: abc.net.au/news/science/2020-02-20/fossil-methane-anthropogenic-climate-change-human-contribution/11975396

Gas as a “transitional” fuel. In a word, no; in more detail – theconversation.com/a-single-mega-project-exposes-the-morrison-governments-gas-plan-as-staggering-folly-133435 (2020) and www.accr.org.au/research/facts-over-fiction-debunking-gas-industry-spin/ (2022).

Biogas can be useful if it is basically burning methane which would otherwise be emitted anyway by decomposing organic material. Overview from the ABC, 2022: https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2022-07-23/gas-prices-high-make-your-own-cost-of-living/101248318

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has long been plagued with the same problem as fusion power (always 20 years away, always too expensive) and now (2021) it has similarly been beaten by renewables. https://www.desmog.com/2021/11/19/cheap-wind-and-solar-should-prompt-rethink-on-role-of-ccs-paper-argues/

Biofuels are another fake solution, responsible for higher emissions than the fossil fuels they replace and callously contributing to both global hunger and social injustice. theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jun/30/crops-cars-starving-biofuels-climate-sustainable

Hydrogen as a key alternative to fossil fuels: green hydrogen’s role will be to decarbonise industries and applications that can’t be electrified, while hydrogen from non-renewable sources has no future.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2021-01-23/green-hydrogen-renewable-energy-climate-emissions-explainer/13081872 (2021). Gas companies, however, are pushing ‘green hydrogen’ as an export industry for Australia. They are lying, as TAI explains at australiainstitute.org.au/post/why-are-gas-companies-trying-to-sell-us-hydrogen/

(Historical) The Changing Global Market for Australian Coal – Reserve Bank of Australia, 2019. Thorough. https://www.rba.gov.au/publications/bulletin/2019/sep/the-changing-global-market-for-australian-coal.html. History and current status of Adani’s Carmichael project on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmichael_coal_mine

Electric Vehicles vs the rest: it’s complicated, but EVs have advantages even if their electricity is fossil-fuelled. In brief, CleanTechnica (2022) – cleantechnica.com/2022/06/01/how-clean-are-electric-cars/. More detail but older- theguardian.com/football/ng-interactive/2017/dec/25/how-green-are-electric-cars (2017). The state of development of all sorts of EVs (from bikes to iron-ore carriers) is surveyed here on Green Path at …electric-vehicles-overview/

Plastics are fossil fuels’ evil twin, locking us into high emissions for decades unless we act against them. theconversation.com/oil-companies-are-ploughing-money-into-fossil-fuelled-plastics-production-at-a-record-rate-new-research-169690

Water

Extreme water stress is faced by countries home to a quarter of world population. theguardian.com/environment/2023/aug/16/extreme-water-stress-faced-by-countries-home-to-quarter-of-world-population

The insect apocalypse

Insect populations are declining rapidly, in both diversity and absolute numbers. This matters because insects are essential to both plants, as pollinators, and animals, as food. This overview is longish but has good graphics – reuters.com/graphics/GLOBAL-ENVIRONMENT/INSECT-APOCALYPSE/egpbykdxjvq/

Eating for the Planet

Our World In Data (2021) covers the issues very thoroughly at  ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food. My own overview is at …/2017/09/eating-for-planet/ and its follow-up at …/2019/12/towards-a-sustainable-diet/

Population

The population bomb may never go off. On current trends the world population may reach a high of 8.8 billion before the middle of the century, then decline rapidly, easing pressure on nature and the climate. theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/27/world-population-bomb-may-never-go-off-as-feared-finds-study

Capitalism

It has become increasingly apparent that modern capitalism (aka hyercapitalism, neoliberalism) is incompatible with the health of the living world (including us). The IMF has recently warned of the dangers and business groups are taking action although, as always, more needs to be done. Samuel Alexander points out here (2020) that persisting with capitalism will stop us from achieving a sustainable society; Robinson (2020) does the same in fictional guise in The Ministry for the Future.

The Global Economy Is a Ponzi Scheme as Joe Romm noted in 2009 – https://thinkprogress.org/is-the-global-economy-a-ponzi-scheme-2c06fbd46c3/ – and a group of economists including Stiglitz said in 2013 – https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-entire-economy-is-a-ponzi-scheme-the-global-financial-system-is-insolvent/5331143 – and it’s going to collapse sooner or later. Making the crash as slow as possible, so that we have more time to adjust, may be the best we can do.

The elephant in the room

China is so big that its choices are central to the world’s chances of negotiating the emissions and climate challenges. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-23/china-climate-change-security-water-renewables-carbon-neutrality/12772034

Visions of possible futures

‘Air is cleaner than before the Industrial Revolution’: a best case scenario for the climate in 2050 and ‘The only uncertainty is how long we’ll last’: a worst case scenario for the climate in 2050 by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, architects of the Paris climate accords, in The Guardian.

A third of the world’s population may become climate change refugees: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/11/climate-change-rising-temperatures-may-force-humans-move/ (2021)

Debunking myths, calling out disinformation campaigns

Pett cartoon - what if it's a hoax

Climate Council: a series of mythbusting articles – https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/resource/mythbusting/

The Logic of Science: debunking briefly – https://thelogicofscience.com/2016/10/18/debunking-25-arguments-against-climate-change-in-5-sentences-or-less-each/

A good, concise introduction on The Conversation to the ongoing disinformation campaigns on fossil fuels, tobacco, pesticides and more – https://theconversation.com/on-the-origins-of-environmental-bullshit-80955.

A classic study which turns up every time this topic is mentioned is Merchants of Doubt by Oreskes and Conway (2010), reviewed by The Ecologist here. My summary of it, with more links, is here.

Disinformation database on Desmog Blog: look up individuals or organisations – https://www.desmogblog.com/global-warming-denier-database