Climate Science Glossary

Term Lookup

Enter a term in the search box to find its definition.


Use the controls in the far right panel to increase or decrease the number of terms automatically displayed (or to completely turn that feature off).

Term Lookup


All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

Home Arguments Software Resources Comments The Consensus Project Translations About Support

Bluesky Facebook LinkedIn Mastodon MeWe

Twitter YouTube RSS Posts RSS Comments Email Subscribe

Climate's changed before
It's the sun
It's not bad
There is no consensus
It's cooling
Models are unreliable
Temp record is unreliable
Animals and plants can adapt
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
View All Arguments...

New? Register here
Forgot your password?

Latest Posts


Discussing global warming: why does this have to be so hard?

Posted on 12 February 2014 by John Abraham

Climate change long ago joined the topics of politics, religion, and money as something you just can't talk about. It seems that whenever these topics get brought up, previously friendly people get beet-red faces and leave with clenched fists and indigestion. But why?

For people who work in this field, on either side of the issue, we tend to get focused on areas of disagreement and nuances. This leads us to quickly defend our positions with a fervor that would not otherwise be needed. For climate "insiders" (and yes, this includes folks who downplay concerns about climate change in particular), we sometimes need to step back. Let's begin the conversation a different way; perhaps we can come to a different outcome.

To start, we should all recognize that no one wants to injure the planet, the climate, and the future economies and societies that our children will inherit. Even the radicals don't want to pollute the planet. Can you imagine James Inhofe sitting around the dinner table asking his family to find more ways he can pollute the air and water of this planet? I can't; it just doesn't happen.

Next, let's be honest about what is known and what isn't. Starting with what we know:

1. Humans emit a lot of greenhouse gases each year and the amount of such gases in the atmosphere have risen significantly.
2. Greenhouse gas increase should cause climate change. They do so by theory, in experiment, and by computer simulation. The history of the Earth confirms this behavior.
3. The Earth's climate has been observed to change.

None of these items are confrontational or controversial. There really isn't much doubt about them, not even amongst the most ardent contrarians.

So, where does disagreement occur? Well, in my mind, it often occurs over risk. Part of the story about why this topic is toxic is because people handle risk very differently. Some people do not want to take risk when the consequences are severe. Other people are more comfortable with risk and need to have more convincing evidence before they are motivated for action. They really want to be sure before they act.

How does this play out with the climate? Well, first we have to get into what scientists don't know.

1. We don't know exactly how much climate change will occur. It may range from very little to a lot over the next 100 years or longer. If we are lucky, climate change will be a minor inconvenience. If we are unlucky, it will destabilize societies around the world. It is most likely neither of these extremes will occur, the future will be somewhere in the middle, but frankly we just don't know.
2. We don't know how fast it will happen. Will it take a few decades or a few centuries for some of the big changes to occur? We have a pretty good idea but we can't be certain.
3. We don't know exactly how climate change will manifest itself. How will drought/flood patterns change? How will hurricanes change? How will sea levels rise? How fast will the oceans acidify? We have educated guesses but we can't be certain.
4. It isn't clear how much of what we see is due to us and how much is just natural variability.
5. How will climate change affect economies and societies? What regions and people will suffer more? Who will be impacted less?

So, how do we make decisions with uncertainty? That is a value-judgment. Do we play it safe? Do we roll the dice?

Playing it safe would mean quickly reducing emissions
. First, by using energy more wisely so that we get more out of each gallon of fuel and each bag of coal. Second, maximize clean and renewable energy generation. Third, minimize any carbon-emitting energy generation, and finally begin adaptation plans so we can manage the changing climate. The advantage of this approach is we reduce our exposure to climate change impacts. We also will save money in the long run by using our energy more wisely. The disadvantage is we have to pay to develop new energy infrastructure.

Rolling the dice basically means taking a wait and see approach. Let's not develop clean and renewable energy industries. Let's not worry about using energy more wisely. Let's wait and see whether climate change is really happening as fast and as severe as scientists tell us. The advantage of this approach is no work is required on our part. The disadvantage is that by the time it becomes clear to everyone we have a problem, it will be either too late or too expensive to fix. The quicker we take action to halt climate change, the cheaper our options are.

Click here to read the rest

0 0

Printable Version  |  Link to this page


Prev  1  2  

Comments 51 to 55 out of 55:

  1. .


    afjje1: Agreed completely. The trouble is that, reading the preposterous posts that are the majority of the "debate" in populist blogs shows that the level of basic scientific ignorance is such that meaningful debate is impossible.

    When straw man arguments trump facts you know that you are on the losing side.


    0 0
  2. Rob Nicholls @ 48,

    I appreciate the clarification, and how difficult it is to be brief yet clear when presenting opinions regarding an issue as broad and important as this one.

    My method for evaluating the 'genuine concern' of a person questioning the science is whether they wish to improve the science, or if they try to get away with any of the deceptive things that a person trying to deliberately deceive would pursue. I pay particular attention to the assertions regarding the validity of the need for the most fortunate to rapidly develop away from burning fossil fuels. Often the defense of the continuation or expansion of those unsustainable and damaging activities is behind, or even clearly tied to, attempts to discredit selective points of the climate science or the scientists themselves. And they will focus on a single disputed point without ever acknowledging that the point in dispute by itself does not meaningfully alter the best understanding of the higher level issue based on the total scope of the issue and all the available information.

    By that measure very few contrarians seem to genuinely wish to improve the science.

    However, I will admit that many people appear to be immersed in the greed that our socioeconomic system tempts them to embrace. And those people could be willfully blind and tempted to 'genuinely fall for' the deliberate deceptions created by more knowledgeable people who deliberately ignore information they are aware of and carefully craft misleading claims. It is sad that a brilliant mind would be tempted by greed, but I believe the ‘debates’ through the past 20 years prove how easily it can happen.

    0 0
  3. afjje1@50,

    I believe it is essential to recognise the influence and power of greed. Though climate science is just the science, communicating it cannot avoid the way the conclusions contradict what greedy people want to believe and want to get away with.

    Greed is a choice. And the socioeconomic systems encourage people to develop a greedy attitude. The greedy ones have competitive advantages in almost all the systems. But even in systems where greed struggles it can be challenging to of get people to care about future generations when personal sacrifice by giving up an easy opportunity is required for the benefit of future generations.

    The original intent of Kyoto was clear. The most fortunate who had benefited the most from their predecessors burning fossil fuels needed to show global leadership in giving up that easy but damaging and ultimately unsustainable activity. The intent was to motivate the most fortunate to do something that their socioeconomic systems were clearly failing to motivate them to do and to genuinely assist the least fortunate develop to sustainable better lives.

    But Kyoto was easily made unpopular by people who pointed out that it required those who wanted to benefit from burning fossil fuels to be ‘limited’.

    And the climate science is clearly tied to that unpopular idea.

    So I would suggest that the target audience should be those who may have been tempted to be greedy, but who can also be tempted to be considerate about developing a better future for all, leaving this world better than they found it. The way to reach those people could be to make a clear example of every invalid or weak claim attempted by the truly greedy. In addition to clearly pointing out why the claim is wrong, remind the audience of the bigger irrefutable point that ‘everyone cannot benefit from burning fossil fuels now and especially not into the future, and the activity is damaging to others, particularly those in the future, and not just because of excess CO2’. Then ask the audience to explain why the person made the clearly questionable claim. Those who are tempted to be considerate should shift out of their greedy mode.

    I recognise that my suggestion is polarizing. However, I believe that polarizing the deeply greedy and the deeply intolerant against everyone else is required. I add the intolerant because there is clear evidence that the greedy and intolerant are willing to work together to collectively improve their changes of getting away with their unacceptable preferences. The greedy and the intolerant cannot be allowed to continue to succeed. That can only be achieved by pointing out who they are and hoping that the clear majority of the population will not be too tempted to like them or be like them.

    0 0
  4. Russ R. is I think correct to draw attention to climate change (mitigation) policy as a factor in people's response to climate change.

    Some people, particularly on the right, reject claims about global warming because they reasonably expect that it will invoke a highly-centralized, "world government" policy response, and this is ideological anathema to small government conservatives and libertarians. Think for example of the reaction on the right to cap-and-trade, or the UN's Agenda 21 action plan for sustainable development.

    Imagine also, someone who believes the evidence for global warming, but does NOT believe that human society as a whole will get its act together to do anything about it (arguably, this is a thoroughly rational posture). Such a person might be motivated mainly to secure his/her own safety/prosperity, in the face of whatever disasters may lie ahead. Such a person's rational choice is to accumulate as much personal wealth as possible, rather like a first-class passenger on the Titanic competing for a seat in a lifeboat. The ship is going down, most of the passengers will die, and nothing can change that!

    0 0
  5. we are not playig nothing safe : humans are changing earth and that's a good thing, I like the scientific evolution of our society which makes us confortably discussing on the internet of possible climate in the future centuries. this is a huge progress and it can continue to evolve.

    BUT : it means we have to stop fighting for stupid questions. the most important problem is to have food, water, energy, houses.

    if we can produce and distribute that all other the planet, it will be good. clearly, the biggest fear is capitalism which makes all these things too expensive and forces us to work for silly reasons (and consume more and more CO2 for nothing !), much more than climate change which even with 4°C shouldn't imply wars and food problems because it will be very slow compared to our lifes.

    so fire the assholes which serve us of governement, and let's assist the climate change without fear.

    0 0
    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Please take the time to review the Comments Policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.

    You also make a number of eyebrow-raising assertions. eg "capitalism which makes all these things too expensive" and " 4°C shouldn't imply wars and food problems". If you are going to make assertions, especially contrary to mainstream thought, then you need to back these with supporting references.

Prev  1  2  

You need to be logged in to post a comment. Login via the left margin or if you're new, register here.

The Consensus Project Website


(free to republish)

© Copyright 2024 John Cook
Home | Translations | About Us | Privacy | Contact Us