This site provides a guide to what the problems are, and what solutions we know to be effective. It is based as far as possible on reliable sources: peer-reviewed scientific publications, higher-level peer-review bodies such as the IPCC, and good-quality journalism and blogs. It also expresses a certain degree of editorial opinion, occasional sarcasm, and possibly humour. Because we're all human.
What's the problem?
Climate change (aka Anthropogenic Global Warming – AGW) is caused mainly by increasing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, although Methane (the main component of Natural Gas) and other "greenhouse" gases also play roles. The extra Greenhouse Gases responsible for dangerous climate change are the result of human activities; mainly burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), burning biomass (e.g. wood), and from agricultural activities such as clearing forests for growing food, and ploughing and degrading soils, which releases carbon from micro-organisms underground.
What's the solution?
To tackle climate change we need to reduce CO2 emissions to practically zero, as quickly as possible, and to remove some of the excess CO2 we've already released into the atmosphere.
To do this we need to replace fossil fuels with sustainable energy sources for producing electricity, for running cars, buses, trucks, trains, shipping and aeroplanes, for heating and cooking, and for use in industry, especially producing steel, cement, and fertiliser.
It helps if we can reduce our usage of energy; by using the energy we need more efficiently e.g. in in better designed vehicles, or using less of it for example by insulating buildings better, travelling less, using less energy-intensive materials in construction, etc.
In order to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere we can grow more plants, especially trees, which lock up carbon in their bodies, and improve soils which take up carbon into micro-organisms. It is also theoretically possible to harvest and burn plant material, capturing CO2 released in combustion and sequestering it in various ways, such as pumping it into underground caverns from which natural gas was extracted. Then more plant material can be grown on the same land to take up more CO2. There are also mechanical/chemical processes being designed which could pull CO2 directly out of the atmosphere.
To tackle biodiversity loss we need to effectively tackle climate change, and also to reduce and reverse our use of the world's land and oceans, and let nature revert as much as possible of these to their wild states.
We need to use all the tools and resources we have available, and to follow the best evidence in how to use them, without letting prejudice or ideology obstruct our efforts.
How do we do it?
There are some things we can do individually:
- have fewer (or no) children,
- eat foods which have a smaller carbon footprint — mainly plant-based rather than animal-derived foods,
- travel less, especially by air and especially long distance air travel, and reduce daily commuting by car.
Other things we need to do collectively — at town, state, national or international level:
- impose a cost on carbon emissions, either through direct carbon taxes or effective cap-and-trade, to encourage a shift to lower carbon technologies,
- replace fossil fuel power stations with renewables, nuclear, and those using carbon capture and storage (CCS), and bio-energy with CCS (BECCS),
- replace fossil fuel for transport with carbon-neutral alternatives: electricity, or sustainably-generated hydrogen, ammonia or other synthetic fuels,
- invest in developing new types of nuclear, wind, solar, wave, tide and geothermal etc generators, energy storage and conversion technologies, carbon capture and storage technologies, etc,
- invest in research and development of improved agricultural technologies and practices for reducing carbon-intensive inputs to, and releases of greenhouse gases from agriculture,
- improve energy efficiency standards in building construction, and invest in replacing our worst buildings and improving the performance of the rest,
- improve town planning to reduce the need for vehicular travel and to encourage lower-energy forms of transport such as walking and cycling.
The Human Problem
We have a technical problem, for which we have various solutions. Some are more effective than others, but there isn't any one single solution: we have a serious problem and we need to use all the tools at our disposal to tackle it.
But we also have a human problem: for various reasons our brains are ill-equipped to understand, and to react effectively to our environmental problems. We are much better at reacting to threats which occur quickly, such as wars and sudden natural disasters, than to this issue which has been building slowly for decades, with (so far) no point at which it has suddenly tipped into an obvious world-wide emergency. Our minds are skilled at rationalising away disturbing evidence of the catastrophe which we are currently heading for, and most of us are in some sort of denial, whether it's the outright denialism of Trump and much of the political right or the more subtle denialism implicit in green/left groups' rejection of solutions found to be necessary by the IPCC and other experts. Even amongst activists in groups such as Extinction Rebellion few are prepared to risk arrest - one of the organisation's chief tools for trying to achieve its aims - or to give up secure jobs or careers to further the cause.
None of the above is a matter of blame or shame; rather it is an observation of our shared human psychology, and shows that we need to use the science of psychology as well as technical and engineering solutions to tackle our problems.
There are various ways we can tackle the human psychological and political problems:
- Science Communication: some people simply lack information on climate change and mitigation, whilst others have entrenched opinions which are resistant to change. There is a developing science of Science Communication which tries to find how we change our minds from prejudices to facts.
- Political action: there are various ways of influencing and changing public policy e.g. lobbying political representatives, school strikes, Non-Violent Direct Action, mobilising Trades Unions and religious groups.
- Economic action: the more prosperous we are the more economic power we can exercise, which we can use through our investment choices, boycotts etc.
A list of all the articles on this site can be found here (where names in italics are redirects to other pages). Many pages are currently just collections of links on a subject. This site is run on a shoestring and collaborators interested in developing this resource would be welcome: you can email us via our contact page.
This wiki is a companion to the Science for Sustainability facebook group