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Climate Science, Simplified
March 24, 2021 · Aaron Burr

Climate Science, Simplified

First the world called it global warming, now we are supposed to call it climate change. There’s talk about CO2 emissions (what is CO2 again?), and don’t forget about all of the talk about one degree, two degrees, or three degrees Celsius. To the everyday person, these things are almost meaningless. One degree temperature change in the weather is virtually unnoticeable, so why is it such a big deal globally? Can we even comprehend a 1 degree shift in global temperature? 

Climate scientists do their jobs very well. They have established unprecedented evidence over the years to the point where basically the entire scientific community is in agreement on human induced climate change. However, their jobs aren’t necessarily to educate and establish action. 

That’s okay. Maybe it’s how it should be, but it has left a massive amount of people confused and with a lot of questions. Some people get the gist and simply follow along, but it would be impactful for everyone to better understand what all of this means. Because, we are all a part of this world and therefore a part of the decision making. Good decision making starts with the right information, and an understanding of that information.

How climate change knowledge has evolved

How climate change knowledge has evolved

As early as 1820, we were beginning to catch on that energy was being trapped in the earth’s atmosphere creating a greenhouse effect. Around forty years later, the idea was theorized that gases trapped in the earth’s atmosphere have the potential to lock in heat within themselves, and therefore within the atmosphere. So, we’ve known about climate change for quite some time, but it’s not until relatively recently that we’ve started to realize it could be a bad thing for human beings. Initially scientists actually thought of warming as a good thing, making colder areas more livable and desirable. If only it were so simple. 

In the first paragraph we mentioned how we went from calling the phenomenon global warming to climate change. While the earth is indeed warming, using the term climate change encompasses more of the actual effects of increased greenhouse gases, such as sea level rise, extreme weather, drought, etc. 

Temperature change, what does it mean?

Temperature change, what does it mean?

And now for degree changes in temperature: since pre industrial revolution, it is theorized that humans have increased the global temperature by 1 degree Celsius. Now, we are increasing the earth’s temperature by about 2 degrees per decade. So clearly, temperature increases have skyrocketed very recently. What’s the significance then, of one more degree, two degrees, or three more degrees of heating?

It’s not as if the climate goes from .99 degrees to one degree and the difference is astronomical. Climate scientists have used these benchmarks to set limits and goals on preventing the worst of climate change effects. 1.5 degrees of warming is said to be a very important point in our climate crisis because this is when major weather events go from bad to ugly, and things begin to really tip downhill. Although, as noted in that article, the crisis won’t begin and all of a sudden get worse at these points, our crisis has already begun.

The effects

the effect

already seen increased conflict due to resource depletion and scarcity. We’ve already partially attributed climate change to certain diseases and epidemics, as well as increases in weather events. Every year seems to be, unsurprisingly, the hottest year on record. But also followed by strange winters and cold weather. We can expect these effects to worsen, while also experiencing more effects that we have not yet. 

Okay, stop. Take a breath. Remember that stressing, worrying, and feeling sad about the state of things is normal, especially when we are just learning. It’s okay to feel those emotions, and to take the time we need in order to do so. But it doesn’t have to be forever, and this current state of the world doesn’t have to be forever. Because we can all do something right now, or when we are ready. Alright, let’s carry on.  

How much warming can we expect? For several decades we have based much of our action on the 1979 study that had an estimate of 1.5-4.5 degrees C of warming. A recent study conducted just as extensively concluded a more narrow estimate, from 2.6-3.9. We can conclude that yes it is less likely now that we will reach four degrees of warming, but it’s also more likely now that we will surpass 2 degrees of warming. This, all being based on the world doubling its carbon emissions. Hopefully, we can manage to not increase our emissions by so much.

But what has slowed our progress so far? Certainly there isn’t one singular reason, but much of the blame can and should be claimed by major corporations. Much of the world is ready, and has been ready to make changes in order to help the planet. Most of us don’t want to harm the planet, most of us want to help it. 

Barriers and solutions

Barriers and solutions


But simply put, people will typically buy the most affordable product available, or demand a fair price. We will also pay for convenience. But instead of delivering products at a fair price while accounting for the true costs (including environmental ones), the world’s largest corporations has decided instead to not consider the environment. And we are already seeing the costs of these decisions.

This isn’t to say that all we can do is demand that corporations act, of course we should be doing that. But we can also do things now instead of just waiting for that to happen. We can decide to not contribute to a destructive system, whenever it’s possible not to. And also strive to give ourselves more opportunities not to contribute to systems we don’t believe in. Only when we all consider our own actions, will the world begin to change. And luckily, it already has.

The science behind humans harming the planet can be confusing. But it is overwhelmingly clear for the experts, which can be relieving to know that people are on the same page. That being said, it is still our duty to put in the work and gain the knowledge necessary to act on this crisis. And don’t forget about forcing major polluters to act as well. There is much more to the climate crisis that we haven’t touched on, but we hope to continue to provide more data driven posts which are easily digestible and not as overwhelming. Until next time!