About Simple Climate
As the name suggests, this blog will create a simple summary of what is going on with climate change, and what, if anything, we can do about it. That summary will be no longer than a paragraph, and relatively easy to remember. To do this, I will interview key figures researching and taking action on climate change. The passage below contains the starting draft and three-month update of this summary, and I hope to have created a finished, more polished, version by December 31 2010 at the latest.
In addition, each week I put together an easy-to-swallow digest of developments in scientific research and politics relating to climate change, which I publish every Saturday.
Climate change is a serious and complicated issue, and many of us already have enough of those in our lives. By telling you what’s going on in a simple format, I hope to save you some effort in doing what’s needed.
In order to be useful, it will also include recommendations of the top actions that can be taken.
What is going on with Climate Change on January 4 2010?
There is a great deal of concern that carbon dioxide, CO2, is trapping heat that would escape into space on the planet, raising temperatures. The majority of scientists predict that this will have a major impact on our climate. If we continue to produce CO2 unchecked by burning fossil fuels there is concern that this will have major impacts on the world. These include movements of large numbers of people affected by rising seas and growing deserts, and may be irreversible.
World leaders met in Copenhagen in December 2009 to discuss limiting CO2 output, but failed to reach an agreement that they would all stick to. More negotiations are planned, so perhaps your best bet to make an impact on global warming is to talk to or write to your political representative.
Every day humans burn large amounts of fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil to produce energy and goods. These fossil fuels contain carbon atoms which are converted to carbon dioxide (CO2) when burnt. This CO2 is released to the atmosphere where it acts as a ‘greenhouse’ gas: CO2 traps outgoing radiation and leads to a warming of the atmosphere.
Since humans begun to use fossil fuels to power industry, measurements show that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by about a third, and that global temperatures have increased by about 0.8°C. If CO2 emissions continue to rise as in the past, temperatures could be several degrees higher in the year 2100, which would negatively impact the environment and human societies. We know how much fossil fuel we burn and these rates are in agreement with the measured rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations, once ocean uptake is considered. Because we know the greenhouse-gas effect of CO2, we know this increasing CO2 concentration will cause global warming.
Burning fossil fuels increases the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, which traps reflected solar radiation. This causes a rise in temperature on earth which has an impact on the climate cycle.
In addition, at this point, because the scientists have agreed so closely on the question of what we all can do about climate change, from July on I will now ask for more from them about what might happen if we don’t.
Final explanation, chosen through a series of polls, courtesy of Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder:
The Earth is habitable because of a natural greenhouse effect brought about mainly by water vapor (60%) and carbon dioxide (26%). Otherwise its average temperature would be below zero Fahrenheit. Humans are altering the composition of the atmosphere, mainly by burning fossil fuels. As a result carbon dioxide has gone up over 35% since pre-industrial times and over half of that is since 1970. This changes the greenhouse effect and traps radiation that would otherwise escape to space, producing warming. The warming is manifested in many ways, not just increasing surface temperatures, but also melting ice, and changing the hydrological cycle and thus rainfall. Since 1970 the effects are large enough to be outside the bounds of natural variability for global mean temperatures, but global warming does not mean inexorable increases in temperature year after year owing to natural variability.
From here on, I’m going to just cover the latest research published each week – unless you want to suggest something else I should tackle?
My name is Andy Extance, and I am a science journalist, but I have not written much about the environment before. I hope that my scientific education helps me understand things reasonably well. My journalism experience means that I will question everything, and try to sum up the arguments as simply as I can. As a relative new boy to environmental matters, I am open to all viewpoints, although the evidence that I have seen about the impact of human CO2 emissions is pretty convincing. You can follow me on Twitter at @andyextance.