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.

Three month update – April 7 2010

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.

Six month update – July 14 2010

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.

End of year one – December 29 2010

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?

About Me

Andy Extance's ugly mug

Your correspondent

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.

16 Responses to “About”

  1. kevin Says:

    If “Climate change is a serious and complicated issue,” wouldn’t it be incumbent on you as a science journalist to provide scientific sources (and explore and report upon all scientific literature pro and con to your position [other than press releases]) for such claims as:

    -”The majority of scientists predict that this will have a major impact on our climate.” — what majority, define please?

    -”CO2 traps outgoing radiation and leads to a warming of the atmosphere.” –perhaps you could mention the logarithmic effect of CO2 concentrations?

    -”that global temperatures have increased by about 0.8°C” — is this rise out of line with any previous warming or cooling trend previous to industrialization?

    -”which traps reflected solar radiation.” — what kinds of radiation?

    -”because the scientists have agreed so closely” … –which scientists?

    • andyextance Says:

      Hi Kevin,

      Good point. I’ll put links to the blog entries related to the above explanations in now. That will show which scientists have agreed closely. Apologies for my prior lack of fastidiousness. Otherwise, you’ll find sources linked to throughout this blog.

      On the “majority of scientists” that’s in my first attempt at an explanation, which I’ve refined by talking to scientists this year. I’ve picked them on the basis of the highest profile scientific research published each week, and none of them have contradicted my initial statement directly. I’ve also tried to get comments from scientists who might contradict it, even though they haven’t published any high profile climate research that I’ve seen, but they did not want to participate.

      But if you want a scientific paper showing that the majority of scientists credit humanity’s role in climate change, there’s one covered in this entry:


      I should point out that I’m not a climate scientist: I’m a science journalist. I’ve enlisted scientists’ help to try and explain climate change simply in the way described above. So I don’t have a comprehensive explanation for all elements of climate science. For elements I don’t cover, I would recommend trying sources like the IPCC: http://www.ipcc.ch/

      The NOAA:

      The UK Met Office:

      Skeptical Science in my blogroll (on the left panel, below the calendar) also tries to tackle many climate arguments, although it’s clearly a strong proponent of the idea that humans are causing global warming.

      However, according to Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, yes warming IS outside natural variability seen pre-industrialisation. Although I don’t think I’ve covered the “logarithmic effect of CO2 concentrations” much I think perhaps Trenberth also alludes to that.


      The “reflected solar radiation” comes from a particularly simple explanation provided by Walter Immerzeel:


      As another reader pointed out in a comment on that post, this is outgoing long-wave radiation. However, I would generally prefer to use the words “energy” or “heat” in a simple explanation. Each explanation that I’ve received from scientists has its strengths and weaknesses, which is why I’m enlisting readers to vote for what they think is the best in the polls shown on the top right of the page. Have you voted for yours?

      One final comment, as you note climate change is a complex issue. But I do try and keep it simple, and from that viewpoint I would focus your questions on these few areas. Does human burning of fossil fuels produce CO2? Has the amount of fossil fuel humans burn increased? Has the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere gone up? Is CO2 a greenhouse gas that traps heat? The answer to all these questions is yes. That is the crux of the climate change situation to me, and I’m afraid that anything else is a bit of a distraction.

      Thanks for your comment – it’s helped me refine my thinking.

  2. Tom Smerling Says:

    Andy — Just discovered your excellent site. There is such a need for simple, clear explanations and graphics, in plain language. I particularly appreciate your simple graphics, simple (rated) short explanations, and thumbnail photos of the scientists you cite.

    BTW, you might be interested in checking out a brand new website, http://www.ClimateBites.org (June 2011), that has similar goals — improving climate communication — but takes a different approach. The fledgling site includes a rated “climate metaphors/soundbites” collection, plus various other tools for communicators. A colleague and I created http://www.ClimateBites.org to help empower those who speak or write for general audiences.

    With your permission, we may at some point want to use some of your graphs for the ClimateBites’ “Slide & Graphics library” (under construction), with proper credit and links back to your site, of course.

    One glitch: I wanted to login couldn’t figure out where to register, so I can log in…

    Tom Smerling

    • andyextance Says:

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the kind words! I’m going to send you a full reply offline. When you say you couldn’t log in, do you mean to comment? The buttons below are variously logins for Facebook, Twitter and WordPress. If you have profiles on any of those sites, you can use them. I’d be interested to know what you couldn’t login for if it wasn’t that.

      I’m going to send you an email now.


  3. Robert G. Quayle Says:

    I am a retired climatologist & past lab chief of the National Climatic Data Center’s Global Climate Lab. I also was lead author in the NCDC’s first global land + Sea surface temperature measurement system. The extremely simple global statistical climate model I developed for atmospheric carbon dioxide, surface air temperature & sea level started as somewhat of a lark in the late 1990s, but has proven quite good in comparison with IPCC projections. Because it is so simple & seemingly naïve, it has found no publisher to date. I’d be glad to send you a .pdf or .doc copy of a very brief summary for you to use any way you like. Just send an email to which I can forward it. If, when you see the summary, you want to see a more comprehensive document, I can update that thru data year 2012 & send it along as well.

    Here is a somewhat humorous & admittedly self-serving observation: Simple models that prove their worth in the long run can graduate from naïve to elegant over time.

    Rob Quayle
    March 17, 2013

  4. #Mancheter academic & “the #climate challenges that my morning toast poses” | manchester climate monthly Says:

    […] science journalist called Andy Extance has written a corking blog post called “The climate challenges that my morning toast […]

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