Why haven’t we fixed climate change yet?

The physics of climate change has been understood since the 1800s. With John Tyndall identifying that carbon dioxide, in particular, was very effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere. By the late 1980s the risks of Global Warming were ringing alarm bells with climate scientists. And global political leaders were convinced of the problem, for example Margaret Thatcher’s speech (Nov 1989) to the UN. This set in motion the IPCC and the tortuous journey towards making commitments to do something about it.

In 2008 the UK established the world leading Climate Change Act, committing us to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 (as well as preparing National Adaptation Plans). Things were looking positive. With all the new evidence in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report – and all the talk about ‘tipping points’ – we were hopeful of a global commitment at the Copenhagen climate summit. And I wrote my original climate website, hoping I might help a little. But then the wind seemed to drop from the sails.

…so what happened?

The global financial crash of 2008 ushered in a new government, and the age of austerity. Climate change parked itself as ‘the number one issue’ facing us…even even as emissions and temperatures kept rising. In the UK emissions continued to fall but not impressively. And it took until the Paris summit for a ‘nearly’ global agreement to be signed…and one that is currently not strong enough to meet the stated aims “limiting climate change to 2degC”.

There is more to it than economics though. I see two reasons why progress has been so slow.

1) It’s a psychological problem

The human mind didn’t evolve to deal with problems on the scale of climate change. And when we can’t deal with things we are very good at looking the other way.

Cartoon by Clay Bennett
Cartoon by Clay Bennett – on the problem of trying to engage with people on climate change, when all they want to see are reassuring stories (rather than watching Al Gore’s excellent film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’).

This fires-up any excuse for inaction. And makes people want to believe it’s not happening. For example, there were a couple of cold winters, which played to the siren call of the climate sceptics.

The Freezing Winter 2009-10 does not mean that Global Warming is not happening  1 March 2010

During December 2009 and January 2010 we experienced some harsh winter weather across the UK, Northern Europe, China and central USA. However, this is not evidence that there is now some doubt in the global warming trend. It is important to notice that during this winter, other parts of the world were a lot warmer than normal (for example in Greece and Alaska).

Categories:   Climate Change  

2) Industrial levels of denialism

Worst of all though, there are powerful lobby groups sponsored by big oil and dark-hearted media tycoons. Together they have pushed climate change denial for decades. In the name of power and profit, they have derailed climate agreements and put people and politicians off taking action. They have been very clever: making the science out to be a matter of opinion; and even retarding progress by pushing the notion of your ‘carbon footprint’…like it’s all your fault and not the responsibility of those massively rich companies to help fix the problem.

Beware climate change sceptics  

There are still people out there in denial, for example those who argue that there is “…some doubt from some scientists that climate change is really happening…or that it is caused by human activities…”. This is wrong. It may have been a fair point 15 to 20+ years ago, but the science has moved on and the evidence is now indisputable. Unfortunately, parts of the media and other organisations keep this denial alive with spurious stories like the “climategate scandal”.

Categories:   Climate Change  

Where are we now

The voices of the denialists is weaker now. Sadly probably testament to the blindly obvious number of climate-related events that are happening in the world today. Hopefully Donald Trump will be seen as the last of these dinosaurs…and I look forward to seeing some justice there, for the damage his like have done has been appalling.

photo IPCC Special Report 15 – Global warming of 1.5degC  16 October 2018

Prompted by calls from the Paris climate summit, the IPCC commissioned this report to look at the challenge of limiting climate change to 1.5 degC compared with 2 degC. The consequences for the world of just that half-a-degree difference are stark. And it is a real call to arms for the global race to zero carbon emissions.

In 2019 – possibly sparked by the SR15 report – wide scale global activism on climate change really kicked-off. Groups like Extinction Rebellion made their voices heard, with imaginative peaceful protests. Whilst these have been disruptive, the majority of public opinion has been on their side. And of course, Greta Thunberg’s ‘Schools Climate Strikes’ have plucked the world’s heart-strings. Her message being very strong and true…if we don’t tackle emissions right now, the consequences for the next generation are severe.

This was a roller-coaster of a year for me, chairing the Reading Climate Change Partnership in the midst of the sudden flowering of climate interest. The news was also peppered with stories of extreme weather events happening in the UK and across the world. Happily politicians reacted to this with Zero Carbon commitments, like it was a new fashion.

So now it’s 2020. I am looking at the old climate pages on my website, and reworking the material. Honestly – do I feel hopeful? I think things have changed – and I don’t think we will drop the ball like we did 10 years ago. However, there is so much to do. And those blockers to progress are still there. I would be pleasantly surprised if we manage to limit global warming to 2 degrees but I desperately hope it’s no more than 3. We will regret that.

What I do know is: if I am rewriting these pages in another 10 years – and we still haven’t nailed down international agreements on zero emissions – we are going to be in a very scary place. It’s last orders at the last chance saloon. We need to make things happen – and we need to be preparing to adapt right now.

Categories:   About CC  
Related Posts

graph Met Office: What is climate change?

The Met Office has a very good explanation of what climate change is. This includes evidence from UK and global sources; as well as causes and impacts, and statistics on extreme events.

photo IPCC Special Report 15 – Global warming of 1.5degC
16 October 2018

Prompted by calls from the Paris climate summit, the IPCC commissioned this report to look at the challenge of limiting climate change to 1.5 degC compared with 2 degC. The consequences for the world of just that half-a-degree difference are stark. And it is a real call to arms for the global race to zero carbon emissions.

IPCC – Fifth assessment report (AR5)
1 October 2013

The IPCC fifth assessment report (AR5) was released on the 30 September 2013. There have been improvements in the science since the last report, with 6 years of more data to analyse and more powerful climate models. It is the same story of global warming. Notably: there has been an increase in confidence that human activities are the principal cause; air temperatures a rising more slowly; but sea levels are rising faster than in the previous report.

An inconvenient truth
1 January 2010

I would strongly advise you to watch the documentary film "An inconvenient truth" to get a good understanding of the issue. Whether you know a lot about climate change or you are not sure what it is all about, this film is outstanding. And I can see why Al Gore has been given a Nobel Peace Prize for it. The web address is www.climatecrisis.net: buy it or borrow it from a library - and pass it around your friends.

Climate Change » About CC »