2℃ of warming and we’re in heaps of trouble.

Almost as soon as you think about this proposition it sounds strange. After all, the biggest natural warming we all see occurs every year, when winter turns to summer. Most places, that’s a lot more than 2℃. So is the difference between day and night; or the coast and the inland. What is it about a bit of warming induced by human activity that makes experts so worried?

Occasional pieces  ...

essays posted from time to time


Our grandkids’ grandkid’s future …

Looking at James Hansen’s PLOS ONE paper, December 2013


Our Grandkids’ future: some thoughts on a “solution” to the climate problem.

I began noticing the issue of climate change in the first years of my retirement, and around the time my first grandchildren were born. A couple of years after that, after reading Tim Flannery’s book, I knew for sure this was a very big problem - something one ought to learn about and help to remedy.  As I’ve become more familiar with the details since then, one thing has been very hard to understand, and it still is - the nonchalant  response of the world’s people to this alarming news.


Our planet has been naturally cooling for 50 million years. Almost as soon as it began to do so, the first winter sea ice appeared in the Arctic. A permanent, year-round polar cap formed about 14 million years ago, at the same time as the great Antarctic ice sheet reached its modern size. The Arctic we know is about 3 million years old.

Now something astonishing is happening: the ice on the top of the world is heading for extinction.


Last month, observatories all over the Arctic - in Norway, Greenland, Alaska, Iceland and even Mongolia, began reporting something new - daily average CO2 concentrations over 400 ppm by volume.


It’s easy to get confused about this issue: are recent extreme weather events caused by global warming; or are they really just part of the normal ups & downs of the unpredictable climate system?

You will hear climate deniers appeal to the record of the past, and inherent climate variability to deny there’s anything unusual about recent events.

But they are wrong. The climate IS changing - not by much, but quite enough to make a difference to the patterns we experience.

And there’s more to come.


Earlier this year, the UN’s International Energy Agency (IEA) announced unpublished estimates of global emissions for 2010, showing a record increase of just under 6%. Now, the US Department of Energy’s CDIAC has released its own preliminary estimate of 5.9% for emissions due to fossil-fuel combustion and cement-making.


How climate “sceptics” get it wrong: a lesson from Bob Carter’s book

One of the hardest things to understand about climate science is why its findings about the human influence on global climate have provoked such fervent and widespread opposition. What makes it harder still is that among the most visible opponents are some senior scientists who ought to know better, using the methods of propaganda rather than science to make their case, all the while insisting that it is their enemies who have abandoned scientific rigour.


The experts are worried

Not long ago (in September 2009) a conference was held in Oxford to discuss the significance of a 21st century warming of at least 4℃. Some of the best minds in the business were there, specifically to consider what, only a short time before, had been - well, unthinkable ... that we might be facing a near certainty of this much warming, with a high probability of even more.


Mean planetary temperature is an abstraction, in the same way “the average Australian male” is. It is a handy concept which points to what really matters – the amount of heat in the planetary surface and atmosphere. Just as we don’t expect to meet the average bloke in the street, you don’t experience the average climate anywhere – but in a sense it is there just the same.


Strange as it might seem, the story of human occupation on a small island in the remote western Pacific can tell us a lot about the situation that is looming for our grandchildren.


Ian Plimer, a distinguished professor of mining geology, and well known climate “sceptic” recently published a book in which he claims to show that concerns about warming are unscientific - that they are really a kind of spiritual yearning - and boldly sets out to prove the contrary: it’s getting colder.


Here I summarise three studies from the last few months that appear to tell us important things about trends in the climate system


April 2010



September 2010












The participation of ordinary citizens in climate politics appears to be absolutely necessary. In this essay, I argue that citizen engagement is essential if our representatives are to do their job. And at the same time, it is a tonic of just the right kind for democracies stricken with a disconcerting malaise.

The idea of limiting global warming to less than two degrees is so routine now that you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a well worked out scientific principle - but it’s not. And there’s been a growing rumble of discontent among scientists, specially since a brief article in Nature last year by David Victor & Charles Kennel, and another this year by Oliver Geden

Citizen Engagement

2C or not 2C





The Paris agreement

At the end of 2015, almost 200 national representatives gathered in Paris to try to agree on a plan to decarbonise the global economy. This time it was different. Fear of failure, the force of scientific argument, growth of renewable energy deployment, good organising, and something like a sense of common purpose and historical momentum helped to give these talks a hopeful outcome such as we've not seen for more than 20 years.



Paris revisited

It's turned out to be remarkably hard figuring out exactly what did happen at Paris. Not too long after publishing the above piece, I began to think it was quite inadequate, yet not quite worthless - so I decided to leave it there, and add this updated reflection. It's focussed on some ideas about how economic and political systems constrain our freedom of action.





& the climate

What are we to think of a situation in which sovereign citizens cannot get their elected representatives to do what needs to be done about the climate problem?

Is there something about democracies that makes this hard? Are there things wrong with our democracies that could be fixed? Or is democracy as helpless as any other possible governance sytem in face of this perplexing problem?



What is


If you worry about the very tardy and inadequate response of our societies to the climate problem, you must have thought about political polarisation, and what it might mean. I decided to explore this question from a particular angle, asking what the notion we usually call 'conservatism' really is. It seems to me this is not at all obvious, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to need an explanation. This is not a final one, but it may help you, as it did me, understand this very puzzling thing a bit better: how come we decide to fight, just when we need to cooperate most?



It's a strange thing - amid abundant public talk about the climate problem, one thing is almost never mentioned: it's actual and true cause. To a physicist this is straightforward - Earth is adding heat to its surface - or, it is in a state of positive energy imbalance.

We don't hear about this. Instead, we hear lots about distant net zero targets, carbon capture, economic impacts, North-South justice, reparations, and so on. In this short piece, this puzzle is clearly stated. Solving it might need another and longer essay.

The cause of Earth's fever