Climate change

The mechanism of the greenhouse. The carbon cycle and current imbalance. Evidence of past fluctuations and link between global temperature and CO2 in the atmosphere.

The evidence

Rise in sea level over the past 150 years; rise in surface global temperature and temperature records in the last decade; increasing intensity and frequency of storms and floods; severe heat episodes; migration to temperate zones of subtropical diseases; melting of polar ice and glaciers.

Present position compared with pre-industrial in terms of temperature and level of atmospheric CO2.

Scientific evidence for attributing most of the change to human activity (UN IPCC report 2001).


IPCC predictions regarding level of atmospheric CO2 by 2050 assuming 'business as usual' (at least double pre-industrial level) and consequent temperature rise.

Increase in temperature = greater energy in the system = greater turbulence. Steeper pressure gradients and deeper troughs = more intense and more frequent storms.

Potential changes in ocean currents, e.g. threat to the Gulf Stream from melting Greenland ice.

Rising sea levels through expansion and melt ice threatening island states, maritime cities and coastal agricultural belts. Migration of plants, crops, animals and diseases. Problems arising from the rate of climate change exceeding adaptation capacity of forests.

The outlook for conventional energy. International comparisons of per capita annual CO2 emissions (UN statistics). Future prospects for availability of fossil fuels based on latest estimates of reserves. Nuclear outlook including scenarios in Royal Commission on Pollution Energy Report.

Projections of energy consumption: US, Europe, China, India, SE Asia. Concept of carbon trading and international agreements: Rio, Kyoto, The Hague.

The case for a shift from neo-classical economic theory which regards the Earth's assets as free to eco-economics which factors in the environmental and social costs of human actions, e.g. including the external costs in fixing fossil fuel prices. The 'externalities' include the contribution to global warming, effects on health, damage to crops and wildlife of low level pollution.

Ozone depletion

Caused by CFCs and HCFCs creating aerosols in the upper atmosphere which erode the ozone shield which protects against ultra-violet radiation. This causes skin cancer and damages the immune system plus damage to crops.

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