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2021 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #25

Posted on 20 June 2021 by BaerbelW

Listing of articles linked to on the Skeptical Science Facebook Page during the past week: Sun, June 14, 2021 through Sat, June 19, 2021

The following articles sparked above average interest during the week: Earth is now trapping an ‘unprecedented’ amount of heat, NASA says, Fake news: a simple nudge isn’t enough to tackle it – here’s what to do instead, and Nobel winner’s evolution from ‘dark realist’ to just plain realist on climate change.

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Comments 1 to 14:

  1. Regarding the commentary: "Is the Controlled Shrinking of Economies a Better Bet to Slow Climate Change Than Unproven Technologies?"

    "The study found that holding global economic growth to zero (my note: degrowth) could cap climate warming at the 2 degree Celsius limit of the Paris agreement. While that strategy still requires low levels of carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere, it doesn’t rely on unproven technologies.

    I think a deliberate degrowth strategy is very problematic overall. Yes it would work in a technical sense to cut emissions, but the strategy has enormous practical problems. How likely is it that governments would deliberately engineer zero economic growth, which is near recessionary conditions? And how likely is it people would force zero economic growth to happen by making lifestyle changes, many of which are unappealing? 

    Taking the things a bit wider, If humanity reduces the focus on promoting renewable energy and negative emissions technologies ( as some degrowth people want) and focuses on promoting degrowth and degrowth fails, we have lost the window of opportunity to build renewables and negative emissions technologies, because doing all this takes time. If we focus on promoting renewable energy and negative emissions technology and that fails, the degrowth alternative is still there and could be instantaneous, if you can convince people to embrace it. 

    I'm not arguings against reducing carbon footprints. Some of these might even reduce growth like reducing air travel, but others might increase growth like adopting heat pumps. And I'm not arguing that we can somehow maintain high levels of growth forever because we obviously can't. Its just that a deliberate degrowth strategy does not look realistic.


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  2. nigelj,

    I will provide a longer response but will start by suggeting you reread the section in the article that is titled "A New Term in Europe Rooted in an Old American Concept".

    My comment will also recommend reading the 2020 Human Development Report (download from this UN site).

    The main point of my future response will be that what currently exists includes unsustainable over-development by the highest consuming and impacting people. THe ways that a small percentage of the global population live and profit causes the majority of the problem. And incorrect perceptions of status make things worse by making those harmful unsustainable examples the inspiration for Others to aspire to match or exceed.

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  3. OPOF @2

    "I will provide a longer response but will start by suggeting you reread the section in the article that is titled "A New Term in Europe Rooted in an Old American Concept".

    I have no problem with the steady state zero growth economy in principle. Please appreciate I said "And I'm not arguing that we can somehow maintain high levels of growth forever because we obviously can't." My comments did not include a critique of degrowth in principle. 

    Now answer the questions that formed the actual substance of what I said: "Yes it would work in a technical sense to cut emissions, but the strategy has enormous practical problems. How likely is it that governments would deliberately engineer zero economic growth, which is near recessionary conditions? And how likely is it people would force zero economic growth to happen by making lifestyle changes, many of which are unappealing?"

    Do you seriously think these things have any real probablity of happening any time soon, enough to have significant impact on the climate issue? I don't think they do. People are simply too materialistic and there's no evidence of enough changes already happening to suggest a degrowth agenda is feasible. So in what way would the rest of my comments be wrong?

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  4. nigelj,

    My longer response would be based on the understanding presented in the section of the article I suggested you reread to better understand the issue, and the HDR 2020 report, particularly the last section "Part III - Measuring human development and the Anthropocene", that provides a comprehensive evidence-based understanding of what has developed and how to correct it, including the required corrections of the measures of status and improvement (things like GDP are the wrong ways to measure success and progress).

    My response to "Do you seriously think these things have any real probability of happening any time soon, enough to have significant impact on the climate issue?" is:

    I am well aware that the undeserving wealthy and powerful people will not willingly give up their harmfully obtained status or their opportunity to harmfully increase their status. They will do whatever they can get away with to protect Their Interests, including abusing the power of misleading marketing to gather foot-soldiers who will excuse and defend harmful unsustainable activities. It is easy to get people to dislike understanding that what they developed a liking for or aspire to achieve is harmful and unsustainable. That is how Team Trump got poorer people to fight against corrections that would reduce climate change harm done - people were easily misled into believing that they should be angry at the wrong people (scientists and other experts and people who shared that developing better understanding). That misleading popularity included less fortunate people being incorrectly angry about the Green New Deal efforts to ensure that less fortunate people were not made even less fortunate by the required transition of economic activity.

    It has been conclusively proven that the incorrect measures of status and advancement (like GDP) that are a dominant influence in socioeconomic-political systems (all of them, not just Capitalism), developed the climate change impact problem, and many other harmful results, and powerfully resists reduction of harm done when reducing harm done would undo incorrectly developed perceptions of advancement and superiority.

    Climate change impacts and all the other harmful developments will clearly not be solved without correcting the incorrect perceptions of advancement and status. Climate action leadership starting 30 years ago with the technology that existed at that time could have dramatically reduced the current magnitude of the problem and current magnitude of the corrections required, admittedly with significant but deserved, loss of status of fossil fuelled pursuits of benefit. Instead, the system made the problem worse and still restricts the leadership actions that would actually limit the harm done.

    The fundamental of the developed systems "Do as much harm as can be gotten away with" needs to be kept from being a significant influence in the future. Without that systemic change applied to all harmful developed matters there is no future for humanity.

    That also answers your question: "How likely is it that governments would deliberately engineer zero economic growth, which is near recessionary conditions? And how likely is it people would force zero economic growth to happen by making lifestyle changes, many of which are unappealing?"

    I have no delusions regarding how difficult it will be to limit the undeserved influence and status of harmful selfish people. But I also am not so deluded as to believe that serious problems, like climate change impacts, that have been created by the success (popularity and profitability) of harmful selfish actions will be effectively limited without systemic changes that address the fundamental problem - the liking and excusing of harmful selfishness.

    Without significant system change the harm done by harmful selfishness will continue to produce far worse results than need to be allowed to develop. No harm "needs" to be allowed. An exception could be made for some temporary harm done that exclusively assists the least fortunate live at least basic decent lives. But even that harm should not be "needed" since the supposedly superior people would only be superior if they helped the less fortunate in ways that were not harmful or unsustainable and if they provided the examples of how to live harmlessly.

    Harmlessness is, of course, an ideal. But it is essential that it be the aspiration governing all human activity. All humans self-governing that way is also the ideal. But Governing that limits the harm done by people who have not or will not learn to be less harmful is not an ideal. That is the required understanding.

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  5. nigelj,

    My longer response would also address the "Tragedy of the Commons" issue which can be understood to be a problem caused by systemic "excusing and permitting of harmful actions" because of incorrect perceptions that the benefits obtained justify the unsustainable harmful activity, perceptions created by incorrect measures of status and improvement.

    The "Tragedy of the Commons" also happens because of a lack of pursuit of increased awareness and improved understanding of what is harmful and application of what is learned to limit the harm done. That lack of concern regarding potential for harm to be done excuses and defends the many harmful "externalities" that will develop in any system that does not rigorously govern activities to limit harm done.

    The solution to "Tragedy of the Commons" problems is the pursuit of increased awareness and improved understanding of what is harmful. That pursuit will lead to understanding the need for systemic changes to limit the harm done, and the understanding of what developed perceptions are incorrect and do not deserve to be excused or defended, no matter how popular or profitable they incorrectly became.

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  6. OPOF @ yes our societies are over consuming and obviously its worse with higher income people, so that is where most change has to come from. But the point I'm making is this requires massive levels of cultural change and such processes take time. I doubt it will come soon enough to be of much help stopping warming hitting 2 degrees. I'm just reacting to the article I quoted and the more general commentary we see about degrowth, not suggesting we give up on promoting the idea.

    And building renewables at scale might tend to increase economic growth because it requires a big increase in manufacturing output, and effects so many parts of the economy. Studies have suggested this. Even if consumption decreased in other parts of the economy theres no guarantee you would cancel that out end up with zero economic growth. We might need a high growth economy before we reach meaningful degrowth. This is what some of the degrowth advocates just don't understand. They appear to see high consumption and economic growth equals problems, so just cut those things. It's just not that simple.

    Read Joseph Tainters work. Michael Manns book The New Climate War also highlights the problems of some aspects of the degrowth agenda as I'm sure youre aware.

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  7. nigelj,

    Here is a supplement to the back-and-forth that has already occurred.

    We are indeed pursuing a common understanding. But I sense that you have not yet read the Human Development Report 2020. It has a significant focus on Climate Change but covers so much more. And it provides alternative measures of “progress” that indicate that what is perceived as growth has not actually been sustainable improvement.

    It is important to share a framing/perspective, basis for understanding, in order to develop a common understanding.

    The framing/perspective that is likely to be a good basis for achieving a common sense understanding, reinforced by and aligned with the HDR 2020, is the knowledge that it is important for everyone’s thoughts and actions to be governed by the pursuit of increased awareness and improved understanding applied to reduce harm done and to help others. Admittedly that is an ideal that will never be fully achieved. And it requires more effort, and requires limiting or giving up some modern conveniences than the more harmful unsustainable ways of thinking and living. But pursuing “less than an ideal” will not produce the best possible results.

    The problem is “all” of the harmful unsustainable things that have developed as a result of the successes of “failures to govern that way”. Climate change impacts are indeed a significant problem. But biodiversity loss is probably more serious. And all of the Sustainable Development Goals are an integrated understanding. They all need to be pursued in parallel. It would be unacceptable to pursue climate impact reduction in ways that result in higher final impacts than could have been achieved and have it done in ways that are also unsustainable and harmful. And it would be unacceptable to excuse that “more harmful than possible result” because the efforts are compromised by people who want to benefit more from harmful activity.

    A key point is “what is the measure of growth or progress”? Everybody’s actions add up to become the future. And the higher status people have more ability to impact things. So an important understanding is that the higher a person’s status is the more they should be leading by example, being less harmful and more helpful than those who have lower status. Any measures of status or advancement that do not accurately relate “status” to that understanding are an incorrect measure of status or advancement.

    What is meant by de-growth can be misunderstood if the measures of success are incorrect. More important is understanding that reducing harm done is not de-growth. It is “What is required, the quicker the better”. The key becomes changing the system to actually make it work to end harm done, and make the system improve the lives of the less fortunate while the harmful activity is rapidly ended ... meaning less concern about reducing the incorrectly over-developed perceptions of status of many among the more fortunate.

    People can only have the influence they are able to have. But it is important for everyone to be pulling the levers available to them in the same direction – towards achieving all of the Sustainable Development Goals and more rapid reduction of climate change harm everywhere, putting pressure on those who have higher status to prove they deserve to have their higher status by leading by example.

    More to the point of the current developed climate change challenge. Countries like China, Indian, Brazil and Russia are justified to say that they plan to develop their activity up to the peak level of per-capita impact example provided by the USA 10 years ago then reduce their per-capita impacts at the same rate as the USA from that point.

    However, to achieve the actions now required due to the lack of responsible systemic cultural change leadership by the more fortunate, the failure to set better examples through the past 30 years, the level of harm done and the challenge of responsibly limiting the harm to 1.5 C impact are now monumental. Countries like China, India, Brazil or Russia behaving the way the USA have behaved, following that leadership example, would be disastrous. And the wealthy and powerful, especially in the supposedly more advanced countries like the USA, Australia and Canada must be made responsible for achieving the dramatic systemic changes needed to set responsible examples for others to develop towards. And the fact that harmfully selfish people made the problem worse today because of their lack of responsible leadership through the past 30 years means they do not deserve protection from significant loss of status as the required corrections are achieved. Some over-grown aspects of the developed economy need to be un-grown.

    So, by all means proper leadership would focus on building sustainable renewable energy systems. But it would also make efforts to reduce energy demand to most rapidly end the use of fossil fuels. And at the same time it would improve the lives of the less fortunate. And it would do all of that even if the incorrect measures of progress seem to indicate that the result will be negative for some higher status people.

    As for your expressed reluctance to ‘give up things that you like’, the less fortunate have more excuse for behaving more harmfully. The most fortunate have No Excuse. Everyone of higher status than you needs to become less harmful than you before you should be obliged to reduce how harmful you are. And someone in New Zealand probably already has a very low level of impact, so not much more needs to be given up any time soon even if the higher status people in the global population get the message and lead the push for others to be as low impact as they rapidly become.

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  8. OPOF @7

    I don't disagree in the main. I think you are probably reading too much into what I'm saying. My point is quite narrow, and is related purely to these degrowth people that rubbish renewable energy and electric cars etc,etc, and who think that most of the climate solution is cuts to economic growth (as conventionally measured) to zero or less, and to be achieved in the next 10 - 20 years so as to keep warming under 2 degrees. For example M Moore in his movie Planet of the Humans pretty much implied this. I think its delusional, and I've explaned why. For example the urgent needs to build solar and wind power would probably cancel out most cuts in consumption to things like flying. And truly huge short term cuts in consumption would probably cause a massive economic depression. And it would require quite draconian cuts to consumption, and not just by rich people.

    I didnt say 'I' was reluctant to give up things I like. I'm not particularly materialistic. I said a lot of people might be reluctant to do this too much, and motivating people might be quite hard so looks like being a longer term project.

    I still mostly promote cuts in consumption when posting comments on various websites, but I focus on realistic goals. Some things are easy of course, for example flying is mostly not an essential sort of thing. Tiny homes might also catch on but I think it will take time. But getting very substantial reductions in consumption gets harder, because it starts to become uncomfortable or painful, like turning heaters down on low, doing a lot of cycling or walking etc. I doubt many people would do that and theres certainly no sign of such things taking off widely. Instead it's going to also require adoption of more fuel efficient systems, more use of public transport etc. Of course its all place specific depending on conditions and geography. In some places you could have genuine walkable communities.

    Levels of consumption have to fall sooner or later. And obviously more so with rich people. The SDG's are laudible but they are basically a wish list. But theres no magic bullet about how to do all this. We have a very challenging and complicated situation on our hands.

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  9. nigelj,

    We are generally agreeing. But your first comment implied some things about the nature of the presentation of information in the article "Is the Controlled Shrinking of Economies a Better Bet to Slow Climate Change Than Unproven Technologies?" that were incorrect which prompted my responses.

    The study that the article is based upon opens with the following abstract:

    "1.5  °C scenarios reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) rely on combinations of controversial negative emissions and unprecedented technological change, while assuming continued growth in gross domestic product (GDP). Thus far, the integrated assessment modelling community and the IPCC have neglected to consider degrowth scenarios, where economic output declines due to stringent climate mitigation. Hence, their potential to avoid reliance on negative emissions and speculative rates of technological change remains unexplored. As a first step to address this gap, this paper compares 1.5  °C degrowth scenarios with IPCC archetype scenarios, using a simplified quantitative representation of the fuel-energy-emissions nexus. Here we find that the degrowth scenarios minimize many key risks for feasibility and sustainability compared to technology-driven pathways, such as the reliance on high energy-GDP decoupling, large-scale carbon dioxide removal and large-scale and high-speed renewable energy transformation. However, substantial challenges remain regarding political feasibility. Nevertheless, degrowth pathways should be thoroughly considered."

    And there is ample presentation of information to indicate that the degrowth perceptions are based on the use of GDP as the measure of "growth" rather than the more correct measures presented in HDR 2020.

    Indeed when an incorrect measure like GDP is used the development of "sustainable growth" activity can appear to result in zero-growth or degrowth, especially because the highest-consuming highest-status portion of the population really does have to reduce their consumption starting now. That proof of deserving higher status by setting the better behaviour example should have been required of the highest status people starting 30 years ago. But it is never too late to demand and get better behaviour from supposedly superior people rather than just believe that it is OK for higher status people to be deliberately harmful if that is the way they choose to be.

    I support increased building of renewable energy and shutting down existing fossil fuel generation even before its "investment end of life", even if that is more expensive than fossil fuel alternatives. And that earlier shutting down of existing fossil fuel operations should be further expedited by pressure on the highest energy consumers to reduce their energy consumption. That also means ending the belief that GDP is a valid measure of progress or success (and ending the very flawed belief that popularity and profit are inherently good indications of the relative merit of alternatives.

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  10. OPOF @9,  New Zealand is already trying some potentially useful things as  alternatives to the traditional economic growth measure:


    I don't normally read Forbes. It was just a covenient description.

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  11. nigelj,

    Indeed, New Zealand is not "the norm" among the more advanced countries. But GDP can be adjusted and corrected rather than being "ditched". The reading I suggested are indeed far longer reads than a magazine article (as is reading the study that is the basis for the article "Is the Controlled Shrinking of Economies a Better Bet to Slow Climate Change Than Unproven Technologies?"). But deeper understanding is better obtained from reading more extensive presentations.

    It is important to understand that things like GDP, democracy, capitalism, and freedom can be Good if harmful activity is effectively kept from being able to compete for popularity and profit. A particular problem is all forms of misleading marketing that distract or delude easily impressed people, including systemic problems like the Propaganda Model influence on profit pursuing presenters of information that was developed by Edward S. Herman and presented in Manufacturing Consent, with an updated evaluation by Alan MacLeod in "Propaganda in the Information Age". That systemic misleading is often observed to be promoting Nationalist Pride to distract from and excuse harmful realities of the harm that the leaders of a country are actually doing (examples are the ways it can become popular to excuse attacking Others, including the related misled anger at people who expose the injustice or question the merit of the popularized attacks on Others).

    Effectively limiting climate change harm requires the systemic norm to shift. Without that correction of the systemic norm it is unlikely that the required corrections of developed behaviour will be pursued.

    Tragically the resistance to the systemic shift of the norm in countries like the USA, Canada and Australia has set bad examples (showing that harmful cheaters can win) and delayed helpful action (making it less popular to take the actions required because the problem is now bigger and more has to be given up to limit the harm done). A big tragedy was the multitude of harmful things that occurred because of Trump-style Republicans still being able to win power in the USA by appealing to many more harmful interests than the interest in benefiting from fossil fuel use. And a related tragedy is the reluctance of the Democrats to act helpfully because of the misleading popularity of harmful actions in that culture.

    More cultures are making the systemic change to recognise that harmful activity is not Good, even if it is connected to things like employment, investor benefit, government revenue. But more of that cultural systemic change is required for humanity to develop a sustainable improving future.

    The most glaring cases of harmful leadership are actually not fossil fuel activity. The most harmful activity that is excused by leaders is military spending, and military actions, and clandestine operations trying to Win dominance over Others (something that New Zealand is not powerfully trying to achieve).

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  12. nigelj,

    If you are hesitant to read the fully study report that is the basis for the article "Is the Controlled Shrinking of Economies a Better Bet to Slow Climate Change Than Unproven Technologies?", a quick read that includes the political question you express concern about would be: the Abstract, Introduction, the last part of the Results: "Political and economic feasibility", and the Discussion. But there are inter-relatonships between all of the information that is presented in the study report, so a fuller reading is better.

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  13. There are plenty of possibilities for solutions. We just have to get out of the dogma that the current frantic capitalism placing the maximization of profit ahead of any and every other consideration is the only way. It's not. That does not mean that a revolution is necessary. Just doing things differently. By the same token, it does not have to be top down, from centralized government.

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  14. I definitely think ideas like the doughnut economy and the circular economy have considerable merit. But building new economic systems like this is probably going to take time. Its like turning around The Titanic! 

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