Overview: Global warming and climate change

Authors: Derek Paul and Metta Spencer

This planet is gradually warming, mainly because of the burning of fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to Earth’s atmosphere. The increased temperature changes the climate in other ways too, including the rise in sea levels; ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in the times when flowers bloom; and extreme weather events.

Life on Earth is dependent on a layer of gases, primarily water vapor, in the lower atmosphere that trap heat from the sun, while radiating some of it back and keeping our planet at a temperature capable of supporting life.

The sunlight that remains trapped is our source of energy and is used by plants in photosynthesis, whereas the remainder is reflected as heat or light back into space. Climate forcing (or “radiative forcing”) is the differential between the amount of sunlight absorbed by Earth and the amount of energy radiated back to space.

Several factors determine the size and direction of this forcing; for example light surfaces are more reflective than dark ones, so geographical regions covered by ice and snow reflect back more than areas covered by dark water or dark forests; this variable is called the “albedo effect.”

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  1. Vaclav Smil (2003), The Earth’s Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics, and Change, MIT Press (ISBN 978-0-262-69298-4), p.107. Text available on Google Books.  (back)
  2. Margaret Kriz Hobson (2016). Melting Permafrost Could Affect Weather Worldwide; It’s not just releasing greenhouse gases—it may also alter the ocean’s chemistry and circulation patterns.” Scientific American, December 1, 2016.  (back)
  3. Andrea Thompson (2012). “What is a Carbon Sink?”, Livescience.com, December 21, 2012.  (back)
  4. Climate Analytics (2015). “Global warming reaches 1°C above preindustrial, warmest in more than 11,000 years”.  (back)
  5. Extremely Bad Weather: Studies start linking climate change to current events”, Science News, Vol.182, No.10: November 17, 2012.  (back)

Author: Derek Paul and Metta Spencer

20 thoughts on “Overview: Global warming and climate change

  1. how Climate Change Could Trigger the Next Global Financial Crisis
    By Robinson Meyer . The Atlantic . 1 August 2019

    “In other words, the success of the delaying tactics of the carbon lobby create a situation in which we’re then faced with the possibility of a sudden regulatory shock, something that really inflicts major losses.”

    Many ideas discussed in this outstanding interview with the financial historian Adam Tooze.

    “Tooze: I mean, that’s been the green-modernization agenda of climate politics, certainly in Europe, since the 1980s, right? This is not simply a zero-sum game; this is a structural transformation that has many very attractive properties. There’s loads of excellent jobs that could be created in this kind of transition.”


  2. Tom Catino shared a link.
    “Compost Building in the Desert w/ Geoff Lawton,”
    You need four ingredients, carbon, nitrogen, Water, and Oxygen. You layer them in a certain way and add water. The ratio should be 9 buckets of brown material (the carbon),, six buckets of green material (the nitrogen),, and (optional) 3 buckets of animal manure. Keep it at a temperature of between 55 and 65 degrees Celsius. Stick your hands in it and if it’s too hot for you to stay there more than a second, it’s too hot for any microbial life to survive.


  3. Sandra Leigh Lester commented on this post from ClimateChangeNews.com :
    “Four countries have declared climate emergencies, yet give billions to fossil fuels.”

    The UK, France, Canada and Ireland have all formally recognised a climate crisis. But analysis shows they give $27.5bn annually in support for coal, oil and gas. For Canada, that figure was $7.73 billion. The government of Justin Trudeau has been accused of sending out mixed signals after approving a pipeline expansion on the day after declaring a national climate emergency.

  4. Adam Simmonds shared a link.
    “PHC Film: Soil is a living organism,”
    This is a marvelous video about soil as a carbon sink. There’s a symbiotic relationship of plant roots, rhizobacteria, and mycorrhizae. The widespread use of synthetic fertilizer has a harmful effect on the soil quality. Fewer nutritional minerals remain in the soil. And using fertilizer means that farmers need to plow deeper. The better way: let the roots reach through to the passageways left by other decomposing roots. They can reach deeper year after year. Plants that are given fertilizer will become diseased and need pesticides.


  5. David Marinelli shared a link on the Facebook Group “Two Triullion Extra Trees to Save the World,”:

    “Biodiversity; Size Matters.”
    Marine life, and ocean coral reefs in particular, are threatened by acidification, illegal fishing, legal overfishing, agricultural runoff, the spread of algae, excessive silt flowing in the seas and oceans caused by deforestation and dynamite fishing. In fact most of marine life will be long gone before acidification would have wiped it out. Author Elizabeth Kolbert calls climate change the equally evil twin of acidification. Climate change is causing the oceans to warm up. Similarly to terrestrial environments, the seas and oceans do not have a uniform temperature.


    1. Here’s new research showing that there’s enough room to plant another trillion trees, and that it is the best and cheapest way to help solve the climate crisis. I say “HELP solve,” because it will take too long for the trees to grow to expect them to do the job alone. But we have to start now.

  6. But here’s another Josh Gabbatiss article about rice in The Independent.
    “Carbon dioxide pollution is making rice less nutritious and could stunt growth in millions of children, finds study”
    B vitamin levels decrease under conditions of high CO2. The biggest decline – of more than 30 per cent – was seen in vitamin B9 or folate, which is often taken as a supplement by pregnant women to reduce the risk of birth defects. Scientists also recorded an average reduction of around 10 per cent in protein and iron, and 5 per cent in zinc.


  7. Josh Gabbatiss article in The Independent.
    “Rice farming up to twice as bad for climate change as previously thought, study reveals,”
    Levels of overlooked greenhouse gas are up to 45 times higher in fields that are only flooded intermittently. The short-term warming impact of these additional gases in the atmosphere could be equivalent to 1,200 coal power plants. Past estimates have suggested that 2.5 per cent of human-induced climate warming can be attributed to rice farming.


    Metta Spencer adds: “I like barley better than rice. (It’s chewy.) But I have no idea what kind of impact barley cultivation has on the atmosphere or other aspects of the environment. Is it better? Could it be used on a large scale as an alternative to rice?”

  8. Electric Car Parts Company shared a post by EMMA FOEHRINGER MERCHANT

    NV Energy one-upped its huge 2018 solar and storage procurement on Tuesday, announcing three new solar projects totaling 1,200 megawatts paired with 590 megawatts of battery storage.
    Colin Smith, a senior solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, called the procurement “hulkingly big.”
    (The picture shows miles and miles of solar panels.)


  9. Jonathan Thrift shared this from The Guardian.
    “Americans’ plastic recycling is d uped in landfills, investigation shows.”
    Consumers’ efforts to be eco-friendly go to waste as many communities find themselves with nowhere to send their refuse
    Where does your plastic go? Revealing America’s dirty secret
    by Erin McCormick and Charlotte Simmondsin San Francisco, Jessica Glenza in New York, and Katharine Gammon in Los Angeles


  10. Shared by Carine De Pauw:

    SAB Mag.
    “Emissions Omissions: Carbon accounting gaps in the built environment.”
    By Philip Gass, Senior Policy Advisor, International Institute for Sustainable Development.”
    To date, evidence for optimizing the choice of building materials has largely been drawn from life-cycle assessment (LCA) studies that consider the GHG (and other) impacts of building products at each phase of their “cradle-to-grave” lifespan (i.e., production, use and end of life).
    While LCA is the best-available approach for evaluating GHG performance of alternative building products and designs, policy-makers and building designers should be aware there are also limitations, challenges and uncertainties that need to be considered when looking to decarbonize our buildings.


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