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30 Climate Lessons I Learned in 30 Years

Posted on 6 September 2017 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from Climate Adam's YouTube channel

I'm getting older, and so is the world. I've spent thirty years and ageing and learning about climate change, and this is what I found out. Here's hoping the next 30 years involve more learning and less global warming!

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Comments 1 to 23:

  1. I don't think I'd heard of Climate Change 20 years ago. I may have heard about the Greenhouse Effect but it was to do with CFCs although that would have been more like 25 years ago...

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  2. Sure, even the deniers know that CO2 is the culprit: the main task now is to convince the captains of Industry that the rate of change of Climate Change necessitates serious changes to their industry/s now.

    But how seriously, and how seriously fast would they  be expected to do such a detrimental thing to their privatised profits? They are going to argue very seriously in order to keep their Jevons-Paradox-induced-money-making-ventures going for aslong as possible. This argument making would include making the science look as vague and alarmist as possible in order to discredit it as much as possible ... that's the politics of making money.

    Are the numbers in? What do they say about the rate of change of climate change? How can we be sure this isn't temporary natural variation? How do we know they don't employ more trolls than Putin to go about this work? How do we know it's not Putins troll army itself at work?

    Hollywood  has a lot to answer for: it promotes the fast lane lifestyle replete with endless fashionably seasonal changes to "individualised" clothing. Is Hollywood the troll of all trolls that in the end caused Climate Change when all is said and done.

    To win this battle the populace at large has to start thinking together how to change this large-momentum-system we call the world or vested interests will always win.


    Jevons Paradox is generally written so it can apply to any resource... including the populations intelligence and ability to come up with solutions together. Hollywood just dulls us into a trance of becoming ever more "individualistic" and better than our own neighbours so that the rich- read fossil fuled interests- can take advantage and take the cream of our hard earned wages via endlessly transported fashion statements, if not just pure over-indulgence on travel to advertised fashionable destinations- and over time that spells big big money.

    In conclusion, the world turns but only at the rate it can keep up with.

    (** The heart is ephemeral and looks to attach itself to things and only the sword of wisdom can cut the string of Mara.)

    (** put the above another way, I believe Hannibal Lecter once said... via the recall of Agent Starling: "We covet the things we see everyday." This explains Hollywoods roll in all of this. What about the endless morning programs and TV in general: are they not endlessly promoting fashion and perpetual fossil fuel use? We the people must wake up or stop complaining about bad habits that we obviously don't find important enough to give up! Do we really care about our kids? Well, let's get together and demand change and work out what the solution is!)

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  3. Writing more...

    The above link talks about writing more as a way to come up with less short term thinking.

    To this end the author of the video should be congratulated for putting forward his considered thoughts which can ony lead to more considered thought in this world. Well done on that count.

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  4. Bozza @2

    "Hollywood has a lot to answer for: it promotes the fast lane lifestyle replete with endless fashionably seasonal changes to "individualised" clothing. Is Hollywood the troll of all trolls that in the end caused Climate Change when all is said and done."

    I don't entirely get this, but I admit I'm not an American. I thought hollywood was behind movies and television sit coms. I think that entertainment culture would always have nicely dressed people. It's quite a big leap to say Holloywood are the biggest single factor behind over consuming lifestyles, clothing, cars etc. Hollywood would perhaps certainly be part of all this.

    I do agree that our lifestyles include modes of consumption and endless status seeking and materialism, and waste  that are a factor in climate change. Totally with you there. But the causes of this are quite complex, and to do with deeply seated drives of human status seeking and pecking orders, that is amplified by the capitalist dynamic, and associated intensive marketing and advertising that now uses finely tuned methods based on psychological research.

    It's also related to economic systems like neoliberalism that legitimise greed, competition, and material acquisition, and individualism. Holloywood both symbolises, reinforces and glorifies these trends, but is hardly an originating factor.

    I dont know how humanity gets off this treadmill, because its become like an engine, a widespread global system of values and mechanisms. But as my parents used to say, theres a lot to be said for balance and moderation, and they were right. Im still learning this lesson myself. One needs self awareness and restraint.

    Nobody is forcing anyone to buy half these superfluous, wasteful products.  I dont rush out and buy the latest products of everything, even though I can afford to. Having said that I'm no saint have my weak moments of retail therapy! 

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  5. The single most significant thing that convinced me we are altering the climate was a list of greenhouse fingerprints. Unfortunatly the popular books on climate change either dont include these,  or gloss over them too briefly. It's like a murder mystery finding the incriminating evidence and how it mounts up. 

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  6. >>The single most significant thing that convinced me we are altering the climate was a list of greenhouse fingerprints. Unfortunatly the popular books on climate change either dont include these<<

    100% correct! Since the single most critical factor in climate change is the number of people on the planet it is unbelievable that the figures are so difficult to find, and why there's such a taboo on discussing it - let alone doing anything about it.

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  7. Wol @6

    Yes the number of people is a cause of climate change.

    What do you propose doing about the number of people on the planet? Engage in a China one child only policy? Make giving birth illegal? Kill off half the population? These things arent really desirable, ethical or possible.

    Other than promoting contraception its got me beaten. Population growth falls as countries become wealthier and go through the demographic transition, but this is a slow process.

    Because its so difficult to reduce numbers of people we need to reduce consumption of fossil fuels. Am I missing something with that logic?

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  8. >>Yes the number of people is a cause of climate change<<


    Actually, it IS the fundamental cause.

    If the planet's human population had never gone above, say, 1Bn, then in all likelihood even if all had a Western standard of living (which would admittedly be unlikely since there wouldn't be the consumer population to support the manufacturing segments) there would not be an overabundance of CO2 to warm the atmosphere. Natural carbon cycle would probably absorb it.

    Since neither I nor anyone else has an answer to population control (except the Chinese and that's now in the past) I really can't see any solution that's going to work.

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  9. Wol @8

    I dont think numbers of people is the fundamental cause of climate change. Our energy choices are the fundamental cause. But numbers of people is right in the mix.

    Yes your "what if" scenario makes sense. Except natural sinks wouldn't absorb the carbon any quicker, its just the atmospheric concentrations would not be so high.

    Global population is currently approx. 7.5 billion. Plenty of experts believe it will stabilise around 10 billion around 2100, as more countriies go through a demographic transition. Although rates of population growth have been exponential over the least few centuries the trend has declined slightly since the 1950s, mainly as birth rates have dropped in western countries. They are also dropping in latin america.

    The current problem is mainly Africa and parts of asia with strong population growth and only significantly increased incomes will give people the confidence, and the lower infant mortality, to have smaller families. 

    But the point is population is at least moderately likely to stabilise around 2100, so that means its worth tackling climate change. If that was the point you were making?

    And even a growing population can use alternative forms of energy, and may have to anyway as oil will not last forever. So population growth does not automatically lock in climate change.

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  10. nigelj @ 9: I can't agree with you: if there were no humans using technology to be able to exponentially increase their numbers then obviously the natural carbon cycle would be stable - as it was, effectively, until the industrial revolution.

    And this of-quoted "stabilisation" of population at 10Bn (and recently I've seenestimates of 12Bn) rather begs the question - what would be a sustainable population? Certainly even 7+ Bn isn't, starting from where we are now.

    Human ingenuity has enabled us - or, certainly in the Western societies - to superficially ignore Malthus but time ran out decades ago and whichever way you look at it - food, land, raw materials, energy, CO2 etc - the future to me looks very bleak. You can feel the pressure of population everywhere, from the streets of New York or London to Nairobi and Bangkok and to surmise that it will stabilise at any figure above what it was when I was at school - some 2.5Bn - just ignores how unsustainable it is.

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  11. Overpopulation occurs when a species' population exceeds the carrying capacity of its ecological niche. It can result from an increase in births (fertility rate), a decline in the mortality rate, an increase in immigration, or an unsustainable biome and depletion of resources.[1]

    So we have two choices for a solution of overpopulation:

    1. Reduce our population. We can do that like China did with 1 child per family laws, or like India did with forced sterilizations, or unfortunately the more typical strategy is like the NAZIs, Soviets, Turks, Mongols and Aztecs etc… did with mass murder of entire populations. War is another way. Almost universally these are all considered unethical, even downright evil. Or we can ignore it and let nature take its course with plagues, famines etc… in a sort of Malthusian catastrophe which most people agree is almost as bad.
    2. Improve the carrying capacity of the planet. In the past we did that to avoid a Malthusian catastrophe by simply breeding better crops and increasing agricultural ground. Early on we figured how to rotate land to reduce the inevitable soil degradation caused by agriculture. Every major cradle of civilization developed higher yielding domesticated crops.

    The problem is this:

    The carrying capacity of a biological species in an environment is the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain indefinitely, given the food, habitat, water, and other necessities available in the environment.

    And there is the rub. Once Industrial ag became the dominant new improved “green revolution” production model it did increase yields, but actually at the same time increased soil degradation and habitat loss. In short it was a temporary fix that is unsustainable. Thus it really didn’t increase carrying capacity, but did allow population growth.

    Farming Claims Almost Half Earth's Land, New Maps Show

    Land Degradation: An overview

    Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues

    We will soon reach a crisis where we once again must chose between the unethical population reductions of the past involving mass destruction, war, mass murder, forced sterilizations etc…. Or a new way to do agriculture that retains the higher yields similar to the green revolution, but without degrading habitat.

    Meet regenerative organic agriculture or permaculture:

    "Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony." USDA

    "Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labor; & of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system." Bill Mollison

    “Yes, agriculture done improperly can definitely be a problem, but agriculture done in a proper way is an important solution to environmental issues including climate change, water issues, and biodiversity.”-Rattan Lal

    In short using biomimicry to make agricultural systems sustainable and even regenerative.

    Is organic farming more sustainable than regular farming?

    More importantly, this solution instead of creating more problems actually solves more.

    "If all farmland was a net sink rather than a net source for CO2, atmospheric CO2 levels would fall at the same time as farm productivity and watershed function improved. This would solve the vast majority of our food production, environmental and human health ‘problems’." Dr. Christine Jones

    Overpopulation is here now, however, that need not necessarily be true. Humans are a clever tool making species. What matters for human populations is how we use those tools. We actually have the technology to support a far larger population almost indefinitely. But we simply must convert our energy systems to renewable energy like solar, wind, geothermal and hydro etc…, and we must change our agricultural systems to regenerative organic systems.

    So will your child help accomplish these goals? If so then have 10 children if you want. We desperately need them and soon. Will your child instead be a drain on resources and/or destructive to the land? Then please, don’t even bother having children. It’s suicidal.

    Bottom line is teach your children well and raise them to understand the seriousness of the situation and we can live in paradise on Earth.

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  12. Apparently a broken link above.

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  13. Wol @10

    Im not entirely sure where you are going with this. I do reiterate our only option is cutting fossil fuel use, and would appreciate a clear cut view from you on this.

    And lets put the fundamental cause thing aside. I certainly agree population growth is a huge problem. Its putting a lot of pressure on the environment. You have no argument from me there! 

    We have to get growth rates down. It may or may not stabilise, and it really depends on whether we can shift enough people out of poverty such that it enables them to have smaller families with confidence. It really comes down to this because other options are brutal therefore economic  policy should focus on poverty reduction.

    As to sustainable levels of population, that is a huge question. I think the planet is already showing obvious signs of stress. You are right we have delayed Mathus predictions with technology, but its only a delay. Everything Red Baron says on it is true, although it goes beyond just issues of agriculture obviously to climate impacts, high levels of nitrates, over fishing, depletion of minerals etc.

    If you look at realistic pathways for agriculture 10 -12 billion might be possible, but if it gets above that bad things will happen. Or we will all be living in high rise towers eating laboratory made food, but even that probably has its limits, and its a horrible thought anyway.

    You can't have infinite population growth, it will ultimately crash. Even high growth becomes absurd, because  why would we want to pack in the maximum possible numbers of people? Its a nightmare scenario with reduced quality of life.

    You can't have infinite economic growth on a finite planet either, although recycling and cheap energy can prolong growth for some time yet, although probably at a lower rates than we have had in the past. Its more a question of promoting environmentally friendly growth, and wealth creation. I think in a capitalist economy that can only be done with good quality environmental laws. But thats beside your point about population.

    So to finish population is a problem, but the only realistic alternatives are promoting less poverty and thus smaller families, and also maximising agricultural capacity but in a sensible and sustainable way, and having sustainable development and environmental policies. 

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  14. RedBaron @11

    I've read more about this new (?) type of agriculture recently.  I think I prefer the term "conservation agriculture", but then a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  What interests me is what such farming would look like to a townie like me.  The following is my current understanding:

    Conservation agriculture has three aspects.  All three aspects must be present for the system to work properly.  The three are:

    (1) no tilling

    (2) crop rotation

    (3) keep it covered

    To elaborate:  Firstly, tilling is to be avoided as much as possible.  Each Seed is simply injected into the soil, regardless of what else is growing in the soil (see 3).

    Secondly, rotation of the "cash" crop is practised.  The more choice there is for these crops the better,  With a random change of crops from season to season, pests find it difficult to get a foothold.

    Thirdly, going hand in hand with the no-till approach is the practice of keeping the soil covered at all times.  This can take several forms: a cover crop that is grown out of phase with the cash crop, leaving the residue of harvest covering the soil, adding organic waste, and making use of animals.  Weeds have a hard time in such an environment.

    When carefully organized, very little or no pesticides are needed, very little or no herbicides are needed, and much less fossil fuel is needed.  There is also the potential to replace the fossil fuel with electricity.

    Incidentally, regarding animals, this ties in with Alan Savory's "mob grazing", which we've discussed elsewhere at SkS.

    Not being a farmer, I've probably got the story somewhat garbled, but the essential message is that with this type of agriculture, one sequesters much more carbon, one has much less of a negative impact on the evironment, it is indefinitely sustainable, it is profitable (but not to the people who supply herbicides, pesticides and fossil fuel), it is drought-resistant, it is flood-resistant, and it builds rather than degrades the soil.

    I'll leave it to the experts to correct my mistakes.

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  15. Digby Scorgie,

    You have it pretty good for general concepts. I would only add that the primary common feature is biomimicry. In the case of most dryland crops you have it. But it could vary depending. For example paddy rice production differs substantially, because it is mimicking a different biome, namely more marshy partial grassy wetland biomes. Here is what that looks like:

    The System of Rice Intensification (SRI)…
    … is climate-smart rice production

    A tree nut or fruit crop would appear more like a forest or open woodland biome and called a food forest. You probably are beginning to see the pattern. Grass crops are grown in fields simulating the grassland savannas, Graziers simulate the great herd migrations. No matter what the crop is, we look at the natural functioning wild biome to inform us of the pattern we need to simulate. It even applies to fish farming too!  We know we found the pattern when instead of degrading the environment, it begins to regenerate. This requires careful monitoring. There is no magic here.. Takes lots of knowledge, work, and sophisticated proactive monitoring of ecosystem services. But when it works, the results can seem pretty magical.

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  16. RedBaron @15

    Ah, I see what you mean about matching farming method with corresponding biome.

    I had a look at the article about rice.  It lists all the advantages, but doesn't say how it differs from traditional methods.  How does it?

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  17. Digby Scorgie,

    Here is a primer 101 on SRI

    SRI English Pt 1 of 3 System for Rice Intensification
    by Dana Hemingway

    SRI English Part 2 of 3 System of Rice Intensification
    by Dana Hemingway

    SRI English Part 3 of 3 System of Rice Intensification
    by Dana Hemingway

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  18. RedBaron @17

    Thanks for the links.  Part 1 says that it works.  Parts 2 and 3 describe how.  There don't seem to be dramatic differences as in no-tilling with conservation agriculture.  The biggest difference to my untutored eye was the emphasis on not flooding the rice fields during the critical period, but just keeping the plants moist.

    I conclude that there are all these vastly better methods of farming, they would be a considerable help in mitigating climate change, they are being implemented in a small way in various countries, but that wholesale change to these methods is not a priority.

    P.S.  Use of the word "singularly" in the videos is wrong; it should be "singly".  I also can't stand the background music, but I suppose my saying so will just earn me strange looks!

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  19. Digby Scorgie,

    The key elements in SRI are Mycorrhizal fungi and methanotrophs. Both of which need the beds to dry out to grow.

    As far as wholesale change, yes it is happening. India's rice revolution

    How Millions of Farmers are Advancing Agriculture For Themselves

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  20. RedBaron @19

    I was thinking of the full set of the better farming methods, not just of SRI.  For example, there is a vegetable farm a kilometre away from where I live; at the moment it is just a vast stretch of bare ground — so much for cover crops.  The message is not getting through to enough of the world's farmers.

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  21. Digby Scorgie,

     Surprisingly, vegetable farming in both a regenerative and scale-able production model is about one of the hardest of all. In fact it is the subject of my own personal research and development. But it is only about 1% of land.[1] The vast majority of ag land is rangeland and forest, followed by the commodity grains, wheat, rice, corn.

    I could probably show them some tricks, but it is the gap as of yet not thoroughly vetted. Gives me something to do, but I never try to fool myself as to scale. Rather insignificant. Of course in my mind 1% of something as big as worldwide agriculture is still plenty important enough for me.

    For climate scientists though, the main thing to understand is we know quite well how to use regenerative ag in commodity grains and rangeland. It is enough.

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  22. All right, I won't be too hard on the vegetable farmers!

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  23. Wol@6,

    The Highest Impacting portion of the population is the real problem.

    The 1 billion highest impacting people being the only ones on the planet would be rapidly creating problems for the future 1 billion while rapidly reducing the resources available for those future generations (a fundamantally unsustainable situation).

    Red Baron correctly points out that increasing the carrying capacity is helpful. But reducing the impacts of human activity is also a way to increase the carrying capacity of the planet's environment. In fact, reduced burning of fossil fuels combined with farming changes could 'reverse a portion of the already created climate impacts' which would be a real Win-Win for future generations.

    So I agree that it is frustrating that the elimination of the impacts of the highest impacting portion of the population is not being discussed (instead there are attempts to claim that simplistically thinking about reducing the population will lead to a solution).

    Since the highest impacting portion of the population, the ones getting away with creating the most trouble, are also very wealthy and fortunate because of the competitive advantage they get away with, my personal preference is for that portion to change their minds rather than 'be neutralized/eliminated', with all of the wealthier and more fortunate being required to neutralize/eliminate the aspects of their ways of living that contribute to the climate problem.

    And it is essential that 'all of those wealthier and more fortunate people' actually neutralize/eliminate the climate impacts of their ways of living in meaningful real time (no playing pretend that the hoped for total lifetime CO2 reduction of planting a tree today somehow immediately and certainly offsets impacts they immediately create, and especially no absurdities like claiming that keeping a portion of rain forest from being cut down grants them permission to create impacts - reestablishing already cut down rain forest is an offset, but only the benefit such an act actually produces in the year should count as a credit in that year).

    The push by a portion of the higher impacting people for 'everyone to be freer to believe whatever they want and do whatever they please' can be very popular. And demands that people should only have to behave more responsibly if they choose/want to is not helpful (only the less fortunate have the excuse to behave less acceptably - and even their excuses are limited). Pushing for people to freer to think and do as they please without wise considerate responsbile self-restraint is clearly not a push for Liberty (Liberty includes the requirement for everyone to act with Wisdom and Self-restraint). It is a push for Anarchy, Chaos and Barbarism (and misguided Loyalty, Nationalism or Tribalism). It is a push against Civil Society, a push against advancing humanity, against improving/maintaining human civilization (with likes of Team Trump-Bannon-Sessions and ISIS being a couple of the many current day proofs of the damaging consequences of Temporary Regional Winning by people pushing for that type of Dogma to be believed contrary to what can be better understood).

    That is the understanding regarding 'population problems' that I have learned through the past decades. And it isn't just due to the behaviours exposed by the climate change issue. There are many other examples of undeserving Winners who push to get away with things that are understandably contrary to the Sustainable Development of Humanity which is currently best presented by the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (which include action on climate change).

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