‘Protecting the Planet’ & ‘Wellcome to the Science of Protecting the Planet’ (WEA courses)

Consequences of global warming:


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Updates and Extra Notes      

Outline Summary:

1. Reminder of last week (and updates):

1.1 Overview of position with regard to CO2/climate change                    #overview

1.2 Agreements, sceptics, pessimists                                                          #agreements and sceptics

1.3 More history of our understanding of climate change                          #more history (background reading!)

1.4 Media and global warming (George Monbiot)                                      #media

1.5 Some good news (HFCs, airlines etc),                                                  #good news


1.6 Coronavirus pandemic and drop in emissions.                                    #coronavirus


2.  effects                                 #effects

2.1 Likely effects on UK          #UK

2.2 weather                              #weather

2.3 consequences for wildlife   #wildlife

2.4 ice melting                         #ice

2.5 sea levels, floods               #sea levels and flooding

2.6 Reefs, Great Barrier reef    #reefs

2.7 health                                #health

2.8 food                                   #food

2.9 people and property          #people and property

2.10 forest fires                       #forest fires

2.11 other (heritage sites...)     #other

3. The Anthropocene era       #anthropocene


4. What can be done?            #what can be done  

4.1 Voluntary actions for individuals, groups, and business (alphabetical order):

Carbon footprint



Efficient use of energy

Emissions Trading Scheme

Environmental Performance Indicators




Tree-planting: #trees


4.2 National and local government, international agreements and developments:  see Week 7 and Week 8  .




1. General introduction:

1.1 Overview of the situation with regard to CO2 emissions:

2017. From ‘Unearthed’ (Greenpeace online newsletter unearthed@greenpeace.org): Global emissions have risen by 2% in 2017 after three years of near stagnation, according to a new forecast. The levelling-off of global emissions was largely driven by China, where emissions were flat from 2013 to 2016 but are now forecast to rise by 3.5% after efforts to boost economic growth. The rise may prove temporary. A return of severe air pollution to Beijing and surrounding cities has led to factory closures and suspensions of new coal plant construction.

By contrast, India is projected to see a sharp slowdown in emissions growth, falling from 6% last year to just 2% in 2017, according to data from the Global Carbon Project, an international research consortium. In the US and EU the pace of emission reduction slowed, failing to offset the increase in carbon dioxide production by emerging economies, according to the forecast. In the US, emissions are forecast to fall by just 0.4% as renewable energy partially replaced natural gas in power generation. EU emissions are forecast to fall by 0.2%.

16th Jan 2020. (Damian Carrington). The last decade has been the hottest in 150 years of measurements. 2019 was the warmest yet recorded in the seas (which absorb more than 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases). Average temperature in 2019 was 1.1 above pre-industrial average. Multiple independent data sets are showing the same picture.

Ice cores indicate the temperature is higher than it has been for 100,000 years, and the level of CO2 is the highest for several million years, when the sea level was 15-20 metres higher.

16th Jan 2020. (Larry Elliott): World Economic Forum says for the first time in its history environmental concerns are in the top 5 places for concerns likely to have a major impact over the next decade:

1. Extreme weather events 2. Failure of mitigation and adaptation by governments. 3. Human-made environmental disasters (oil spills etc). 4. Major biodiversity loss. 5. Natural disasters such as earthquakes.

1.2 Agreements, sceptics, pessimists:

Scientists − and most of the world’s governments − finalised the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, undertaking to keep the warming increase to a maximum of 2°C, and if possible to only 1.5°C.

In 2017, a UN report deemed it “very likely” that global temperature increases would reach 3°C by 2100, even if the Paris goals were fully implemented.

This means that there is agreement at UN level that CO2 levels are increasing too quickly, and that climate change – now or in the very near future - is going to be the inevitable outcome. There are inevitably some disagreements among climate scientists as to the most likely extent of the rise in temperatures, but there is no doubt that temperatures are rising.

However, as the American Institute of Physics puts it, quoting Guy Callendar, one of the first to try to pull together the thousands of measurements involved: "The subject... is a vast one, and only too easily submerged in an ocean of repelling statistics, unless firm measures are taken to reduce the mass of data into a form which eliminates distracting or irrelevant detail..."  - and it is only too easy for climate sceptics to take advantage of this and confuse the picture. See Week 5

2019. As an example of a pessimistic prediction [From Left Foot Forward 19th Sep 2019 https://leftfootforward.org/2019/09/climate-models-predict-bigger-heat-rise-ahead/?mc_cid=5ccfc561ed&mc_eid=dea8023bf6 ]: two French research centres suggest greenhouse gases are raising the Earth’s temperature faster than previously thought, according to new climate models due to replace those used in current UN projections − meaning a bigger heat rise by 2100 than thought likely.

Separate models at two French research centres suggest that by then average global temperatures could have risen by 6.5 to 7.0°C above pre-industrial levels if carbon emissions continue at their present rate, the website phys.org reports.

Also: Update. May 2020: https://theconversation.com/just-how-hot-will-it-get-this-century-latest-climate-models-suggest-it-could-be-worse-than-we-thought

1.3 More details on the history of our understanding of climate change, from the American Institute of Physics (background reading):

From https://history.aip.org/climate/20ctrend.htm#L_M033 :

Tracking the world's average temperature from the late 19th century, people in the 1930s realized there had been a pronounced warming trend. During the 1960s, weather experts found that over the past couple of decades the trend had shifted to cooling. With a new awareness that climate could change in serious ways, in the early 1970s some scientists predicted a continued gradual cooling, perhaps a phase of a long natural cycle or perhaps caused by human pollution of the atmosphere with smog and dust. Others insisted that the effects of such pollution were temporary, and humanity's emission of greenhouse gases would bring warming over the long run. All of them agreed that their knowledge was primitive and any prediction was guesswork. But understanding of the climate system was advancing swiftly.

The view that warming must dominate won out in the late 1970s as it became clear that the cooling spell (mainly a Northern Hemisphere effect) had indeed been a temporary distraction. When the rise continued into the 21st century, penetrating even into the ocean depths, scientists recognized that it signalled a profound change in the climate system. Nothing like it had been seen for centuries, and probably not for millennia. The specific pattern of changes, revealed in objects ranging from ship logs to ice caps to tree rings, closely matched the predicted effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

Guy Stuart Callendar (an English engineer) drew upon that massive international effort. After countless hours of sorting out data and pencilling sums, he announced that the mean global temperature had definitely risen between 1890 and 1935, by close to half a degree Celsius (0.5°C, equal to 0.9°F).(4)Government officials and scientists wanted more definite statements on what was happening to the weather. Thousands of stations around the world were turning out daily numbers, but these represented many different standards and degrees of reliability — a disorderly, almost indigestible mess.

Around 1980 two groups undertook to work through the mass of numbers…  One of the groups that undertook the task was in New York, funded by NASA and led by James Hansen. They understood that the work by Mitchell and others mainly described the Northern Hemisphere, since that was where the great majority of reliable observations lay. Sorting through the more limited temperature observations from the other half of the world, they got reasonable averages by applying the same mathematical methods that they had used to get average numbers in their computer models of climate. … In 1981, the group reported that "the common misconception that the world is cooling is based on Northern Hemisphere experience to 1970." Just around the time that meteorologists had noticed the cooling trend, such as it was, it had apparently reversed. From a low point in the mid 1960s, by 1980 the world had warmed some 0.2°C…

And from Yale: https://e360.yale.edu/features/air-pollutions-upside-a-brake-on-global-warming [Interview with Bjorn H Samset: Aerosols - including dust particles - reflect heat back into space, but they do not stay in the atmosphere for long]  if you removed all our emissions today, then the world would rapidly — within a year or two — warm between a half of a degree and 1 degree Celsius additionally. [My emphasis]

[Why the recent interest in aerosols?] Some years ago we thought that aerosols were interesting for people like me who like to study them, but not so important on the global scale, because it is really the greenhouse gases that matter. And that may be true. But then the Paris Agreement came around and it looked like there was momentum to keep the world below 2 degrees C of warming. So suddenly this half to 1 degree of cooling from aerosols — that actually begins to matter a lot more in the context of what we’re aiming for. So the aerosols have gone from being a perturbation to being actually very relevant because of our more ambitious climate goals. 

That puts nations in something of a bind, doesn’t it? In places like India and China, pollution is leading to hundreds of thousands of additional deaths per year. So they have a huge incentive to cut down on their pollution. Yet in cutting pollution, they are simultaneously speeding up global warming?

Samset: It’s one of those Catch-22s. They should certainly clean up their air pollution. That’s obvious, it’s an immediate concern. Not only do they have a huge incentive to cut pollution, but they are actually doing it. There was a paper that another group did before Christmas that said that sulfur dioxide emissions in China have gone down by 75 percent since 2007. You really can see it even in the satellite images. So they really are cleaning up.

1.4 George Monbiot: (3rd August 2016) on the media and global warming:

2016 has been hottest year on record, the previous record was set in 2015; the one before in 2014. Fifteen of the 16 warmest years have occurred in the 21st century... (Damian Carrington 18th June 2016 quotes Adam Scaife at the Met Office: ‘The numbers are completely unprecedented.’)... but you can still hear people repeating the old claim, first proposed by fossil fuel lobbyists, that global warming stopped in 1998.

Arctic sea ice covered a smaller area than last winter than in any winter since records began. In Siberia an anthrax outbreak is raging ... because infected [reindeer] corpses locked in permafrost since the last epidemic in 1941have thawed. India has been hammered by cycles of drought and flood... Southern and eastern Africa have been pitched into humanitarian emergencies by drought. Wildfires storm across America; coral reefs around the world are bleaching and dying.

Throughout the media these tragedies are reported as impacts of El Nino: a natural weather oscillation caused by blocks of warm water forming in the Pacific. But the figures show that it only accounts for one-fifth of the global temperature rise.

Donald Trump claims global warming is a ‘con-job’ and a ‘hoax’ ‘created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.’

The media treat global warming as not very relevant. At the US conventions... the Washington Post, the Atlantic and Politico were paid by the American Petroleum Institute to host a series of discussions at w. Industrial emissions in China were down by 18% - a cut of 250m tonnes of CO2. Car use in US fell bu 40%. But the respite was too short to have a serious effect – though it did show what the world might be like... hich climate science deniers were represented.’

1.5 Guardian editorial 24th Oct 2016: some good news!

The editorial reminds us of the Montreal Protocol, 1987, which banned CFCs because of damage to the ozone layer (after 20 years research). Now governments are agreeing to phase out HFCs (which were brought in instead of CFCs, but which are powerful greenhouse gases). Also the International Civil Aviation Organisation agreed to combat the impact of flying. And international shipping will also debate rules to cut its impacts. The Paris accords have been ratified, which makes it more difficult for nations to change their minds.  (This was before Donald Trump became US President).

1.6 30th Dec 2020. The pandemic. (Jonathan Watts).


During the spring of 2020, flights halved, road traffic in UK fell by more than 70%... But the break was too short-lived to have a major effect.

‘In the global south, the picture was more mixed. Rhino poaching declined in Tanzania due to disruption of supply chains and restrictions on cross-border movements, but bushmeat hunting, illegal firewood collection and incursions into protected areas increased in India, Nepal and Kenya because local communities lost tourist income and sought other ways to care for their families.

In Brazil, traditional guardians of the Amazon have been weakened. The Xavante and Yanomami indigenous groups have been strongly impacted by the disease, and the lockdown has kept forest rangers at home. Meanwhile, land grabbers, fire-starters and illegal miners were busier than ever. Deforestation in Brazil hit a 12-year high.

In the UK, 2 million people with respiratory conditions experienced reduced symptoms

But the gains were short-lived. Once lockdown eased, traffic surged back and so did air pollution. In a survey of 49 British towns and cities, 80% had contamination levels that were now the same or worse than before the pandemic

The story is equally disheartening when it comes to global carbon emissions, which fell steeply but not for long enough to dent climate fears. Months of empty roads and skies and sluggish economic activity reduced global greenhouse gas discharges by an estimated 7%, the sharpest annual fall ever recorded.

That is a saving of 1.5 to 2.5bn metric tons of CO2 pollution, but it merely slowed the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, leaving the world on course for more than 3.2C of warming by the end of this century. In its annual emissions gap report, the United Nations environment programme said the impact of the lockdown was “negligible”, equivalent to just 0.01Cdifference by 2030.

On a more optimistic note, it said ambitious green recovery spending could put the world back on track for the Paris agreement target of less than 2C of warming.


2. Effects of global warming:

2.1 How will climate change affect UK?

12th July 2016, government Committee on Climate Change (CCC) issued a 2,000 page report, compiled by 80 experts over three years – it says the UK is poorly prepared for the inevitable impacts in the coming decades, including deadly annual heat-waves, water shortages and difficulties producing food, more widespread flooding and new diseases...

2.2 Weather and climate change:

2016, UK: National Trust’s review of 2016Some creatures and plants did well, others suffered, as result of varied/unsettled weather, which is ‘becoming the norm.’ Winters have become milder, and the summer wetter – which is what scientists predict with climate change. (According to Matthew Oates, green expert for the National Trust.) NT is the country’s biggest farmer, with 2,000 tenants and the biggest landowner after the Forestry Commission.


May 2016: India recorded its hottest day ever on 19th May. In Phalodi, Rajasthan it rose to 51C. The temperature in Australia last autumn (2015) was 1.86C above the average (the highest before then was in 2005, at 1.64C above average).

June 2016: ‘The impacts of human-caused climate change are no longer subtle – they are playing out in real time before us’ says Prof Michael Mann of Penn State University (D. Carrington 18th June 2016).

16th Oct 2016 (Observer New Review, Bill McGuire, UCL) Climate change and the weather:

Hurricanes vary year-on-year, and recently we have in fact not seen very many. One bad hurricane cannot be blamed on climate change, but there could be more of the most powerful and destructive kind (Kerry Matthew at MIT). There has been strong disagreement among experts, but ‘the weight of evidence looks to have come down on the side of a broad and significant increase in hurricane activity that is primarily driven by progressive warming of the climate.’ The trend is to more powerful and wetter storms, and rising sea temperature is the main factor.


2nd Nov 2016 (Damian Carrington): more than 5 million people in England are at risk from flooding.  A cross-party committee (environment, food and rural affairs, chaired by Neil Parish, Conservative) has criticised the government for not being ready for floods. Recommended measures include planting trees and putting logs into rivers, paying farmers to store flood water, building houses that are resilient to flooding. The government’s National Flood Resilience Review accepted that floods were going to be more common, owing partly to more severe rainfall (also from poor farming practices, loss of woods, and urban development, leading to more run-off) but the report lacked an effective flood risk strategy.  The review also did not include flash floods, which were responsible for much of the damage in late 2016 (DC 17th Sep)


25th July 2017, Kevin Rawlinson: Met Office warns of more winter flooding. 34% likelihood of records being broken.  Richard Allan, Univ of Reading: ‘the work complements evidence that warming of climate is already causing extreme weather events to intensify... extra moisture in the air will fuel increasing rainfall, causing a continued rise in the risk of damaging events into the future.’


3rd August 2017: Damian Carrington. Extreme heat-waves will be a consequence of global warming unless emissions are cut. Combination of heat and humidity (WBT – wet bulb temperature) is dangerous – once it reaches 35C people exposed (even in the shade) will die in 6 hours. In 2015 3,500 people died from heat-wave. In the journal Science Advances – between 2017 and 2100 4% of the population would suffer un-survivable six-hour heat-waves of 35C WBT at least once. In Iran in 2015 the limit was almost reached, with 46C + 50% humidity.

25th July 2017, Kevin Rawlinson: Met Office warns of more winter flooding. 34% likelihood of records being broken.  Richard Allan, Univ of Reading: ‘the work complements evidence that warming of climate is already causing extreme weather events to intensify... extra moisture in the air will fuel increasing rainfall, causing a continued rise in the risk of damaging events into the future.’

Recently, more severe hurricanes and storms (Kerry Matthew at MIT)

Other possibilities (Bill McGuire loc cit): typhoons reduce atmospheric pressure, and this could trigger earthquakes... ‘Global temperatures have risen to more than 1 degree above pre-industrial levels, and in southern Alaska, which has in places lost a vertical kilometer of ice cover, the reduced load on the crust is already increasing the level of seismic activity.’ See Bill McGuire’s book: Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes.



May: Hurricanes are low-pressure systems that draw upon warm water and atmospheric moisture – can be slowed by patches of dry air, crosswinds, land.

Hurricanes are intensifying more quickly, leading to more severe storms. The proportion of storms that have rapidly intensified in the last 30 years has tripled.

The warming atmosphere means more moisture in the air; also more moisture is released more quickly when they hit land, leading to intense rainfall.

Rising sea levels make the storms worse: Hurricane Sandy wouldn’t have flooded lower Manhattan if it had happened a century earlier, because sea levels were a foot lower.

A warmer band round the tropics means hurricanes/typhoons may occur in a wider area than before. (Oliver Milman, Mon 20th May 2019).

July 2019:  record high temperatures in UK: (Robin McKie, Observer28.07.19) – temperatures are rising at different rates across the world, and while the average rise is 1.0C compared to pre-industrial times, North Africa had 2.0C – this will affect UK as we are influenced by neighbouring regions. 38.7C was recorded at Cambridge: an all-time high for UK. Dr Karsten Haustein of Oxford Uni said: UK could have reached 40C last week but cloud cover prevented it. The potential for 40C is there.’

Kate Sambrook, of Leeds Uni: ‘We need to act now to urgently and decisively bring greenhouse emissions to zero. We must halve emissions in 10 years and reach net zero in 30. If we don’t we can expect global temperatures to be 3.7C warmer by 2100 and still rising.’

The weather also brought more rain, thunder storms and flooding.

Climate change made the hot spell 30 times more likely – hot air from north Africa was pulled up by high pressure to the east of the UK and low pressure to the west. (The jet stream is weaker than normal).

August: The Gulf Stream is at its weakest level in 1,600 years as a result of melting Greenland ice and ocean warming. With lower circulation of water and air, weather systems tend to linger longer. (22nd Aug 2019 – article on Arctic sea ice breaking up – this ice is older and thicker; winds and sea warming have broken it).

August: The heatwave in July 2019 was made 10 - 100 times more likely by the climate crisis, according to the World Weather Attribution consortium comprising meteorologists at the UK Met Office, University of Oxford, and other European institutions. This is not an El Nino year, so the ocean current cannot be held responsible – rather it is car exhausts, power plant chimneys and burning forests.  ‘All the climate models are underestimating the change that we see’ said Friederike Otto of Oxford. The World Meteorological Office expects the period 2015 – 19 to be the warmest five-year period ever recorded. The WMO secretary-general said there have been new records at local, national and global levels, with ‘unprecedented wildfires in the Arctic for the second consecutive month.’ (Jonathan Watts, 3rd Aug. 2019)


May 2020. Warnings of dangerous temperatures to come: https://www.ecowatch.com/dangerous-heat-humidity-conditions-2645969171.html?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2

Extreme temperatures combined with high humidity produce an effect called ‘wet bulb’ (when a surface is sufficiently hot, a wet towel will not cool it). Such temperature are being found already. ‘Wet-bulb temperatures of 35 or higher are too much for even healthy humans to survive outside for more than six hours, but wet-bulb temperatures much lower than that can still cause problems for human health. The deadly European and Russian heat waves of 2003 and 2010 respectively saw wet-bulb temperatures of only 28 degrees Celsius.’

Aug 2020. ‘Yet another extraordinary event could be added to 2020's list of historic disruptions, as two developing hurricanes may make landfall in the U.S. at the same time early next week, according to The Weather Channel.

"What are the odds? It has never happened before that two hurricanes made landfall on the same day," said Brent Watts, chief meteorologist at WDBJ, the CBS News affiliate in Roanoke, VA, in a tweet. "A tropical storm and a hurricane made landfall at Midnight on Sep. 5, 1933. We'll see how this plays out over the next 5 days."’

From: https://www.ecowatch.com/two-hurricanes-us-forecast-2647050654.html?rebelltitem=4#rebelltitem4

29th July 2020. Australia’s ‘mega-bushfires’ killed or displaced nearly 3n animals. If they survived the initial fire, there was starvation, dehydration and predation by feral animals. WWF Australia said ‘this ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history.’

Since the late 1980s Australian scientists have been warning that adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere would increase the risk of bushfires. Dangerous fire weather is starting earlier in the year.

Tim Flannery (New Statesman 17-23 Jan.2020): there have been fires before of course but today’s bushfires are nothing like the bushfires of decades past.. they are of such scale and ferocity that they threaten not just individuals but entire species.

3,000 houses were destroyed, 33 people lost their lives. Chief research scientist at Climate Science Centre at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia blamed ‘the hottest temperatures in more than 100 years and a two-year drought in many parts of south-east Austrlaia.’

Other fires occurred in California – 10,500 buildings destroyed, and brazil, though here mostly started by humans – the jungle is hotter than usual and drier in some places.


16th March 2021. (Damian Carrington): Severe droughts and heatwaves worst for 2,000 years.


The study analysed tree rings dating as far back as the Roman empire to create the longest such record to date. The scientists said global heating was the most probable cause of the recent rise in extreme heat.

The heatwaves have had devastating consequences, the researchers said, causing thousands of early deaths, destroying crops and igniting forest fires. Low river levels halted some shipping traffic and affected the cooling of nuclear power stations.

The scientists said changes in the position of the jet stream and the circulation of air over the continent caused the droughts, (though dryer summers could be due to changes in the earth’s tilt)

See: https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41561-021-00698-0

April 2021. Sandstorms in China – twice for several days in March. Higher than normal temperatures and winds, and lower than normal snowfalls across Mongolia and China. Soil is less moist – and this may also be due to overgrazing. Others blame high rates of groundwater extraction for mining and agriculture.

Parts of China have also been affected by drought, and the authorities have used cloud-seeding to induce rain.

May 2021. Drought in Taiwan. The Sun Moon Lake is drying up. Some reservoirs are down to 5% or less, and there are reports of mass dying of fish.

2.3 Consequences for wildlife:


May 2015: a ‘meta-study’ of 131 studies of the impact of climate change on biodiversity loss concludes that one in six species face extinction if nothing is done about global warming and the temperature rises by 4 degrees. If the rise in global temperature is kept back to 2 degrees then one in twenty species still face extinction. Most endangered: those that depend on Arctic ice.


29th Dec 2016: Birds migrating earlier: Researchers at the University of Edinburgh who looked at hundreds of bird species across five continents, found that birds are reaching their summer breeding grounds on average one day earlier for every degree of increasing global temperatures. (Guardian.) The research is published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, and supported by the Natural Environment Research Council. There are negative consequences when the creatures life-cycle becomes out of phase with food sources (Al Gore). Al Gore points out p 152 ff, that if the seasons change, then food (plants or insects) will not necessarily be available for creatures when they hatch – since hatching has been ‘timed’ for the point in the year when food is available. See also Al Gore p 163 for rate of loss... And see below about monarch butterflies.


However, the rate of change is slow, so there may be time to mediate the effects.

7th Feb 2017 (Damian Carrington):

Warm winters have affected salmon in rivers Wye and Usk – high water temperatures in Nov/Dec 2016 led to ‘disastrous salmon fry numbers’ (Simon Evans, chief exec of Wye & Usk Foundation). Salmon population across the Wye fell by 50% from 1985 – 2004, despite cuts in water pollution. Stream temperatures have risen by 1C in that time.

Migratory white-fronted geese at Slimbridge wetland in Gloucestershire have fallen 98% in the last 30 years owing to warmer weather further north. This is likely to have knock-on effects for the rest of the wildlife.


March 31st 2017 (Damian Carrington, Guardian)

‘Unprecedented’ migration of species is occurring, according to a report in Science. ‘Climate change is impelling a universal redistribution of life on Earth.’ The scientists represent more than 40 institutions around the world. Climate change is increasing temperatures, increasing the acidity of the oceans, raising the sea level, and making extreme weather more frequent. Land-based species are moving polewards by an average of 17km per decade and marine species by 72km per decade (Prof Gretta Pacl, Univ of Tasmania). Insects that carry diseases are shifting to new areas where people may have little or no immunity. Ticks that spread lime disease have spread northwards, and UK has seen a tenfold increase in cases since 2001 as winters become milder. Coffee needs to be grown at a higher, cooler altitude; crop pests and their predators will move. A third of forestry land in Europe is set to become unusable for valuable timber trees in the coming decades. Fish stocks are migrating towards the poles. Iceland now catches more mackerel than before, leading to ‘mackerel wars’ with neighbours who have been losing the fish. Mangrove trees are moving polewards in Australia and southern US – storm protection and fish nurseries are being lost. Kelp forests in Australia are being destroyed by tropical fish – threatening the rock lobster trade.

There is a danger of positive feedback, e.g. bark beetles destroy trees leading to forest fires and more CO2.

Sep. 2017. ‘What dies when’ …

+ 0.6C widespread extinction of amphibians

+ 1.0C ice sheets melt, krill populations suffer, threatening penguins (and whales?)

+ 1.6C about half of wooded tundra is lost – moose, lynx and brown bears

+ 2.2C 25% of large mammals in Africa are extinct (this is just over the 2C limit agreed at Paris)

+ 2.6C major loss of tropical rainforests – orangutans, sloths, jaguars extinct

+ 4.0C up to 70% of species would be extinct, coral reefs dead, deserts expanding across the globe.

May 2019. Thousands of tufted puffins in the Bering Sea (300 miles west of Alaska) died in a four-month period, probably partly due to the climate breakdown. A citizen science group collected the bodies, along with Univ. of Washington and Lauren Divine from the Aleut community of St Paul’s Island ecosystem conservation office. 

July 2019. A study in Nature Research says that even common creatures (sparrows, magpies, deer) etc are affected by climate change: the speed of change is outstripping the ability of species to adapt. Based on 10,000 abstracts and data from 71 studies suggests amphibians adapt best, followed by insects and birds – but there was a clear lag in most species.

2019: Namibia is being forced by drought to raise $1m by auctioning off some of its wildlife... (Tony Palmer research prof, climate physics, Oxford). We should contribute to climate adaptation efforts in the developing world.

2020, 19th Jan. (Observer Environment: ‘The five’). Warmer temperatures are causing monarch butterflies’ southern migrations to be delayed by up to 6 months. This causes migrations to fall out of sync with the bloom time of the nectar-producing pants the monarchs rely on for food, contributing to the 95% decrease in their numbers in the last two decades. (Columbia University: Earth Institute).

Also turtles have to travel further to find cool waters to lay their eggs. White hake and herring which puffins feed on have moved away, and they are trying to eat butterfish, but their young can’t swallow them. Fledging survival rates have fallen by 2.5% a year.

19th Feb 2020 (Patrick Barkham). High winds from global heating mean that bees cannot travel so far – reduces the efficiency of foraging. University of Sussex research by Georgia Hennessy (lead author). Nothing can be done about the wind, but hives should be placed in sheltered spots.

19th Feb 2020 (Charlotte Graham McLay, Wellington).  Mussels have been ‘cooked to death’ on a beach in New Zeeland’s north island. University of Auckland says high temperatures together with low tides exposed hundreds of thousands in Northland. These changes are irreversible...


Jan 2021. Birds in UK altering their breeding cycles and heading north. Some birds are laying eggs earlier because the caterpillars their young feed on are hatching earlier. They don’t always catch up though! They are not likely to be able to deal with more extreme weather, however.

Feb. 2021. Flying foxes dying in Australia every year – 196,000 mortalities since 2008. Bats suffering. Bat boxes were put up to help the young grow faster and protect lactating females, but in hotter weather they can be a death trap. One degree change affects bats. July 2020 63 pipistrelle bat pups rescued after they fell from an over-heated roof in Manchester.

April 2021. Long-term increase in number of shark attacks off Australia – warming waters makes them seek cooler areas, such as Queensland, and New South Wales where there are more people living.

7th June 2021. Damian Carrington. Great apes are predicted to lose 90% of their homelands in Africa in the coming decades (by 2050) unless warming is stopped and human populations stop growing... Joana Carvalho, John Moores University. Climate change will force vegetation uphill as well, - if there are no hills then a huge number of animals and plants will simply vanish.

2.4 Ice melting:

Aug 2020. Greenland losing ‘unprecedented amount of ice in 2019’ https://www.ecowatch.com/greenland-ice-melt-2019-2647049163.html

The records of Greenland's ice melt date back to 1948 and nothing in that record compares to what happened in 2019. The amount of ice lost was more than double what it has been any year since 2013. The net ice loss in 2019 clocked in at more than 530 billion metric tons for 2019. To put that in context, that's as if seven Olympic-sized swimming pools were dumped into the ocean every second of the year, according to The Guardian.

The new study, which used NASA satellite data to measure the size of Greenland's ice, found that in July alone, Greenland lost 223 billion tons of ice. That means for that one month, it lost what it normally loses in an entire year, according to The New York Times.

The study was published Thursday in Communications Earth and Environment.

Damian Carrington in the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/aug/20/greenland-ice-sheet-lost-a-record-1m-tonnes-of-ice-per-minute-in-2019


June 2020: Arctic temperatures at an all-time high: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-53140069#_=_

Article that goes into detail, and uses this to illustrate complexity of global system:



Evidence of glaciers melting: NOAA (US government National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration www.noa.gov).  This is the most visual proof of climate change, and see the pictures from Al Gore p 43 ff.

Some communities depend on glacier water (NOAA, Al Gore)

Earthquakes have occurred where ice has melted (Bill McGuire at UCL


14th June 2018. (Matthew Taylor) Ice is melting at a record-breaking rate, faster than at any previously recorded time, according to a study in Nature, and another study warns it could contribute to sea-level rises of 25cm globally, which on top of other factors would lead to more than a metre rise by 2070. If the entire west Antarctic ice sheet melts, this would bring around 3.5m of sea-level rise. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/13/antarctic-ice-melting-faster-than-ever-studies-show

The Nature article shows that before 2012 the loss was 76bn tonnes a year – now it is 219bn (contributing 0.6mm sea-level rise per year).

The second study looks at different scenarios, and argues there are some changes that can be prevented.

21st Aug 2016: A Farewell to Ice by Peter Wadhams.

Reviewed by Horatio Clare (Observer):

We have been through ice ages and inter-glacial periods (the world may have been completely covered in ice three times) but now change is happening fast. Ice only grows in winter, but may melt all year round – so there is a possibility of unlimited melting. It functions as an air-conditioner, and a water-conditioner, as well as a thermostat – through its albedo effect means that it reflects solar radiation up to ten times more effectively than open water.

The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs blasted 4.5 gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, but even after this the rate rise was slower than it is now.

Wadhams is especially concerned about the melting of ice covering the sea-beds, which is permafrost and contains massive amounts of methane. Methane is 23 times more effective in raising global temperature than CO2.

Mrs Thatcher admired Wadhams’ work, but since then no prime minister has done anything about melting Arctic ice.

He suggests ‘direct air capture’ of CO2, which has not been invented...

Ditto reviewed by John Burnside, New Statesman:

Figures from Wadhams: between 1976 and 1987 there was a 15% loss of thickness in the ice layer; now the Northwest Passage is easily navigable. In September 2012 sea ice covered 3.4m sq kilometres – down from 8m in the 1970s. ‘Today, from space, the top of the world in the northern summer looks blue instead of white... It is man’s first major achievement in reshaping the face of his planet.’

14th Oct 2016: Siberian ice. (Alec Nune)

Buildings are starting to collapse in Norilsk, a nickel-producing centre, which is 180 miles inside the Arctic circle, and has 177,000 inhabitants. 60% of buildings have been affected, and more than 100 residential buildings have been evacuated. Pollution and building e.g. sewers contributes to warming the tundra, but climate change is making it worse. Large craters have appeared, probably due to thawing letting methane escape which then explodes. Anthrax has also been released – a 12-year-old boy died in Salekhard in August.

More than 100,000 people live in ‘critical’ areas (Dmitry Streletsky of George Washington University, Washington).

Arctic islands and the coastline – where there have been research stations – are disappearing, as sea ice melts and wave action increases.

Average temperatures in the Arctic are rising faster than anywhere else – more than 2C since 1900. Soil temperatures have increased by 1C between 1999 and 2013.

8th Jan 2017 (Observer, Steve Connor): Arctic ice is not only shrinking (covering less ground) but getting thinner and younger. The winter maximum is in March, and the summer minimum in September. Thicker multi-year ice is being replaced with thinner ice formed over one year. The thinner ice could be damaged by storms, and ‘a completely ice-free summer in the Arctic [is] increasingly likely.’ This could occur in the next 10 to 15 years. Usually ice accumulates in the Beaufort Gyre, a circular region off the coast of northern Alaska and Canada – but ice is now melting here. Since 2,000 it has been moving faster, indicating it is breaking up.

In the 1980s, thicker ice made up 20% of Arctic sea ice – now it is 3%. The thicker ice is three to four metres thick, and less prone to melting in the summer (Walt Meyer, sea ice specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, Greenbelt, Maryland). The thick ice is more fragmented now, and winds break it up more easily. Polar bears hunt seals on the sea ice, and of course it reflects the sun’s heat.

15th June 2017. Arctic: scientists in Canada have been forced to abandon an expedition to Hudson Bay to research the impact of climate change because perilous conditions off Newfoundland caused by rising temperatures!  Ice up to 8 metres thick had trapped boats and ferries – an icebreaker the scientists were on could not get through. Much of the ice was ‘multiyear’ typically seen in the high arctic. ‘It’s not something we’ve seen before’ said David Barber, of University of Manitoba – ‘We’re very poorly prepared for climate change. Our systems are unprepared for it.’

24th Sep 2017 (The Observer): Arctic ice contains plastic, melting ice affects wildlife:

As the ice melts, more plastic is being revealed. Microplastics are being carried into the region by the number of rivers that empty into the Arctic basin.

Some projections indicate that the entire Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in summer by 2050.

As the ice changes, how will this affect the animals that communicate by sound: arctic cod, beluga whales, ringed seals, walruses? Narwhals emit 1,000 clicks per second, hunting a mile below the surface.

(Prof Steve Simpson, Exeter Univ expert in bioacoustics and noise pollution – quoted by Jamie Doward)

1st Sep 2017 changes in seabed life (see next week on biodiversity), and moss has been growing four times more quickly than in 1950, changing the surface colour of the Antarctic to green (Jonathan Watts)

15th June 2017. Arctic: scientists in Canada have been forced to abandon and expedition to Hudson Bay to research the impact of climate change because perilous conditions off Newfoundland caused by rising temperatures!  Ice up to 8 metres thick had trapped boats and ferries – an icebreaker the scientists were on could not get through. Much of the ice was ‘multiyear’ typically seen in the high arctic. ‘It’s not something we’ve seen before’ said David Barber, of Univ of Manitoba – ‘We’re very poorly prepared for climate change. Our systems are unprepared for it.

1st Nov 2017 a British Antarctic research station (Halley VI) is being shut for the winter for the second time recently, owing to cracks in the 150-metre-thick Brunt ice shelf on which it stands. The original Halley station was set up in 1956, and Halley VI has been operational since 2012, but it had to be towed 15 miles to prevent it being cut off should the ice cracks grow.


June 2019: Arctic ice is melting earlier in the spring, and freezing later in the autumn. Each summer it thins further, leaving greater expanses of ocean exposed to 24-hour sunlight. .. Itis also creating a series of feedbacks that are accelerating the Arctic melt. Several are only partially understood. (Jonathan Watts, 8th June 2019). Expedition led by Till Wagner of University of North Carolina Wilmington. Since 1979 the summer ice has lost 40% of its extent and 70% of its volume. Others calculate it is losing 10,000 tonnes a second. Much of the multi-year ice is gone, and what is left is younger and thinner, from the previous winter.

June 2019:  Himalayan glaciers have lost more than a quarter of all ice over the past four decades. A billion people depend on the glaciers for regular water. (Damian Carrington 20th June 2019). 8bn tonnes of ice are now being lost each year and not replaced by snow. The lower level glaciers are shrinking in height by 5 metres annually. Research was published in Science Advances, and led by Joshua Maurer at Columbia University’s Earth observatory. The melting is down entirely to global warming.

July 2019. Glaciers melting.

A plaque will be put up to remember the Okjokull glacier, which a century ago covered 15 sq km, and is now barely 1 sq km and 15 metres deep, so it no longer counts as a glacier. In May 2019 a record 415ppm of CO2 was recorded.

The glaciers are the largest freshwater reserves on the planet and frozen within them are histories of the atmosphere.


Aug. 2019. Glaciers in Iceland: https://www.ecowatch.com/greenland-melting-ocean-warming-below-2639919864.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1


August 2019: ‘According to current trends, all glaciers in Iceland will disappear in the next 200 years.’ (Andri Snaer Magnason, author of The Story of the Blue Planet, 14th Aug 2019).

2.5 Sea levels à Floods and erosion:

May 2020. https://www.ecowatch.com/sea-level-rise-2645952057.html seas could rise by more than 4 feet by 2100.

The oceans are also warming: The depths of the oceans are heating up more slowly than the surface and the air, but that will undergo a dramatic shift in the second half of the century, according to a new study. Researchers expect the rate of climate change in the deep parts of the oceans could accelerate to seven times their current rate after 2050, as The Guardian reported.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that different parts of the ocean undergo change at different rates as the extra heat from increasing levels of greenhouse gases moved through the vast ocean depths, making it increasingly tricky for marine life to adapt, according to The Guardian.

The researchers saw grim prospects for marine life after looking at a metric called climate velocity, which measures the speed and direction a species shifts as their habitat warms, according to Sky News.

The scientists, led by Isaac Brito-Morales, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland in Australia, used data from 11 different climate models to predict what the rest of the 21st century will look like, as Sky News reported. Brito-Morales and his team looked at the past 50 years of data and projections for future greenhouse gas emissions.

"This allowed us to compare climate velocity in four ocean depth zones — assessing in which zones biodiversity could shift their distribution the most in response to climate change," said Brito-Morales, in a University of Queensland statement.

"However by the end of the century, assuming we have a high-emissions future, there is not only much greater surface warming, but also this warmth will penetrate deeper," said Brito-Morales in a statement. "In waters between a depth of 200 and 1000 meters, our research showed climate velocities accelerated to 11 times the present rate.

From Ecowatch: https://www.ecowatch.com/oceans-heating-rate-scientists-2646090903.html?rebelltitem=4#rebelltitem4


Feb 2014, Nicholas Stern:

Floods: at last people are listening to the climate scientists who have been saying that one consequence of global warming is more frequent exceptional weather... (see especially Nicholas Stern’s long piece, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/13/storms-floods-climate-change-upon-us-lord-stern (Stern is chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE and president of the British Academy)...

In one respect it’s simple: a warmer atmosphere holds more water, and will offload it as rain, especially if the oceans’ temperatures change. Other effects are less clear-cut, but it is agreed that the jet stream has shifted its position over the UK (further south) and is weaker than normal, meaning that colder air from further north is affecting us.

I only hope that the following additional points are going to be generally accepted in future:

- as Stern says, the government ‘should resist calls from some politicians and parts of media to fund adaptation to climate change by cutting overseas aid. It would be deeply immoral to penalise the 1.2 billion people around the world who live in extreme poverty. In fact, the UK should be increasing aid to poor countries to help them develop economically in a climate that is becoming more hostile largely because of past emissions by rich countries.’

- public spending is needed to deal with these emergencies, not ‘the market’

- alternatively we could follow the pattern in the Netherlands, where large areas are actually below sea-level and flood defences are of course fantastic, and where regional water management boards (set up in around 1200) levy their own taxes so there is no competition with other parts of the budget

- Cameron has put his foot in it by seeming to acknowledge the state would step in - saying ‘money is no object’ to deal with the costs of flooding (the likely costs are £1 billion according to Damian Carrington): if we can find money for this, why not for the homeless, the poor, benefit claimants, and all the others suffering from the ‘necessity’ of ‘austerity’?

- back in 2010 when the coalition was formed and the austerity agenda launched, Caroline Spelman’s environment department was cut more severely than any other, with spending on flood defences losing almost £100 million a year. She was sacked at the end of 1012, to be replaced by Owen Paterson

- Paterson slashed his department’s spending on adaptation to climate change by 40% - though he changed his mind and got a top-up in May 2013 (too little too late)

- Owen Paterson and other leading figures in the government are sceptical about climate change, and this is, some have argued, part of a general ignorance about science, so other problematic areas such as nuclear power and fracking are not seriously discussed

- public demands for dredging are misplaced: the Somerset Drainage Board Consortium (SBDC) and others argue that it isn’t (it simply pushes the surplus water somewhere else) – and whereas in the past farmers lived in areas prone to flooding and were prepared for it, now there are ‘very nice country homes’ that people want to protect (Nick Stevens, SBDC chief executive)

- blaming the Environment Agency is also pointless: for one thing, its budget is constrained by government; thus Richard Benyon, previously environment minister, rejected a grant to dredge rivers on the Somerset Levels, because the government insisted on savings being at least eight times the cost. This rule has now been scrapped! The formula also benefits urban areas (higher value of property) against rural/farming areas. Dredging all the affected rivers would cost around a quarter of the UK’s GDP.

- Benyon also spoke out against politicians seeking to become ‘armchair hydrologists’


May 2015, Guardian: ‘Already in Bangladesh 50,000 people migrate to the capital every month because rising sea levels have made their villages uninhabitable and have destroyed their arable land.’ Migration away from coastal areas in Bangladesh (World Bank)

2nd Nov 2016 (Damian Carrington): more than 5 million people in England are at risk from flooding.  A cross-party committee (environment, food and rural affairs, chaired by Neil Parish, Conservative) has criticised the government for not being ready for floods. Recommended measures include planting trees and putting logs into rivers, paying farmers to store flood water, building houses that are resilient to flooding. The government’s National Flood Resilience Review accepted that floods were going to be more common, owing partly to more severe rainfall (also from poor farming practices, loss of woods, and urban development, leading to more run-off) but the report lacked an effective flood risk strategy.  The review also did not include flash floods, which were responsible for much of the damage in late 2016 (DC 17th Sep)

7th Feb 2017 (Damian Carrington): Leeds University and Climate Coalition (a group of 130 organisations including RSPB, National Trust, WWF, WI) reported on damage to historical sites and the white cliffs.

Wordsworth House and Garden, Cockermouth suffered flooding in Nov 2009 and Storm Desmond in 2015. We are experiencing more intense winter rainfall. Record rainfall in December is now 50-75% more likely than a hundred years ago.

Birling Gap, part of Seven Sisters chalk cliffs loses 67cm a year, but during winter storms 2013-14 it lost seven years’ of erosion in two months. Buildings have been lost, and new ones are being designed to be moveable. 

25th July 2017, Kevin Rawlinson: Met Office warns of more winter flooding. 34% likelihood of records being broken.  Richard Allan, Univ of Reading: ‘the work complements evidence that warming of climate is already causing extreme weather events to intensify... extra moisture in the air will fuel increasing rainfall, causing a continued rise in the risk of damaging events into the future.’


27th Oct 2017 (Michael Slezak)

There could be a sea rise of 1.3 metres this century unless coal-generated electricity is eliminated by 2050, according to a paper by Alexander Nauels, Univ of Melbourne. This would destroy many cities. The extent of the rise depends on whether Antarctic ice melts. The suggested rise is 50% higher than previous estimates.

3rd Nov 2017 (Jonathan Watts): if we are on course for 3C warming then 275m people will see their cities inundated by rising sea waters according to the Climate Central group of scientists. 3C would raise sea levels by about two metres by 2100 according to Colin Summerhayes of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge.

Asian megacities and industrial hubs are most vulnerable, e.g. Shanghai, Shenzhen, Bangkok, Tokyo – also Alexandria, Rio, Osaka, Miami and the entire bottom third of the US state of Florida.

Many places are saying money needs to be spent on preparing for the worst, rather than on trying to prevent it.


Sep.2019:  IPCC report Sep 2019 says by 2050 extreme sea level events will occur every year (used to be once a century) – even if emissions are curbed. Without cutting emissions, sea levels could rise by 4 metres or more.

Losses from Greenland and Antarctica are increasing, and the oceans are getting warmer, more acidic and less oxygenated. Because of this the IPCC has raised its estimates. Also this warming harms kelp forests.

Half the world’s megacities, and almost 2 billion people live on coasts.

If levels are not cut, fisheries will be cut by a quarter and all marine life by 15%. (Damian Carrington).

Oct 2019. 300 million people at risk from rising sea levels according to a study in Nature Communications. They live on land that will flood at least once a year by 2050. Previous estimate was 80 million, based on satellite images, which seem not to have given an accurate picture of land height. Lead author was Scott Kulp of Climate Central.  In Indonesia, the capital Jakarta will be moved because it is suffering flooding and subsiding. 23 m are at risk in Indonesia. The estimates are not worst-case scenarios – here as many as 640m people could be threatened by 2100. 100m are in danger in China... (see rest of article by Jonathan Watts 30th Oct 2019).


2.6. Warming and Coral Reefs:

June 2020: https://www.conservation.org/blog/a-first-aid-kit-for-the-worlds-coral-reefs? (Conservation International)

May 2020: a strange disease killing reefs in Florida: https://www.ecowatch.com/coral-rescue-team-florida-2646064185.html  (Ecowatch)

May 2020: reefs turning luminescent: https://theconversation.com/coral-reefs-that-glow-bright-neon-during-bleaching-offer-hope-for-recovery-new-study-139048?

April 2020: https://www.ecowatch.com/great-barrier-reef-australia-recovery-2645740830.html


Oct 2010: (New York Times, 031010, Justin Gillis): reefs are dying off, or at least bleaching or going into survival mode. Coral reefs are made up of millions of polyps (tiny animals) algae get nutrients from them and live in the reefs, in return the algae capture sunlight and carbon dioxide and make sugars that feed the polyps. NB a good example of symbiosis… The first eight months of 2010 matched the highest temperatures yet recorded, in 1988 (Jan – Aug). Reefs harbour perhaps a quarter of all marine species, even though they only occupy a small space in the oceans. Reefs of the coasts of Indonesia and the Philippines provide fish – and tourism. Bleaching occurs when the temperature causes the algae to create toxins, and the polyps react to ‘spit out’ the algae (it is the algae that make the colour of the coral). Worry is about Caribbean and Great Barrier Reef…

2nd June 2016 (Michael Slezak): ‘the longest [-lasting] coral bleaching event in history is now devastating reefs in ... the Maldives’ Livelihoods depend on the reefs through tourism, fisheries, and because it is a wave break (some of the land is low-lying and the sea could flood it). The event started in mid 2014 around Hawaii. In early 2016 it spread to the Great Barrier Reef where 93% was hit by bleaching. This is a ‘global bleaching event [that] has already lasted longer than any previous bleaching event and is likely to  last until at least the end of the year.’  It started with an ‘extreme’ El Nino event, spreading warm water across the pacific – extreme El Ninos were not seen before 1982 and have occurred three times since.


8th June 2016 Great Barrier Reef: (Michael Slezak, The Guardian): Summary: Corals have algae living in them, which gives them their colours, and the algae provided 90% of the coral’s energy. When they are stressed – by increased temperature for example – they expel the algae, so the coral flesh turns white. This is called ‘bleaching’. They then starve and die, to be covered by seaweed. It can recover in ten years or so if conditions return to normal. (Michael Slezak, 8th June 2016).

The first bleaching was noticed in 1911, in Florida, then in 1929 similar was seen at the Great Barrier Reef. In 1979 ‘everything changed’ – ‘mass bleaching’ was seen throughout the Caribbean and the Florida Keys. Every year since then bleaching has been reported somewhere. In 1990 it was recognised that the cause is global warming. Extreme El Nino events (as in 1997-8) make the bleaching worse.

More complete note:

Coral bleaching: coral reefs are inhabited by organisms, polyps (or ‘zooks’ i.e. zooxantheliae] – ‘when coral is stressed by changes... in temperature or light or nutrients, they expel the algae living in their tissues – the coral flesh becomes transparent, revealing the stark white [calcium carbonate] skeleton beneath.’ Because the algae provides the coral with 90% of its energy, the polyps quickly begin to starve – and then they die, disintegrates, and the reef is taken over by seaweed.


When the coral dies, the entire ecosystem is transformed. Fish that feed on the coral or use it as a shelter move away or die. The bigger fish that feed on them disappear too. Birds that eat fish lose their food source, and island plants that thrive on bird dropping can become depleted. And of course people who rely on reefs for food, income, or shelter from waves – some half a billion people worldwide – lose their vital resource.


The Great Barrier Reef is the largest such reef in the world – 1,400 miles long, covering an area about the size of Germany – but 22% is now dead, and 93% is being bleached.

Its biodiversity is fantastic: 1,600 species of fish, 133 types of shark and rays, more than 30 species of whales and dolphins. One of the most complex ecosystems on the planet.

Tourists visit it and bring income to Australia. Indigenous people depend on it...

The problems were first noticed on a large scale in 1979. Then, with extreme El Nino events in 1982 and 1983 spread warm water and affected weather throughout the world. The Smithsonian Institute published a paper in 1990 warning that global warming was to blame, and ‘would probably continue and increase until coral-dominated reefs no longer exist’.

Since 1950 more than 90% of the excess heat our carbon emissions have trapped in the atmosphere went into the oceans. As a result, their surface temperature has risen 1C in 35 years. That puts the water much closer to the temperature limit that coral can bear. Then, when a surge of even warmer water comes through – often as a result of the El Nino cycle – corals over large stretches get stressed, bleach and die.’

Thus changes in temperature, light or nutrients can cause the coral to expel the algae it feeds on and this turns it white. If it stays stressed for more than a couple of weeks it starts to starve, become diseased, and dies.

10th April 2017: bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 will give the reef – the world’s largest living structure - little time to recover. Some reef scientists say it is in a terminal stage. The government attempted to improve the quality of the water, but without success – run-offs from catchments in the region have contributed, as have pollution from farming and the dumping of maintenance dredge soil.

Stretches of reef that have been damaged need to be connected to healthy sections in order to recover, but they have got cut off.

June 2017. Coral Reefs: Great Barrier Reef: 27th June 2017. Deloitte Access Economics report says the site is worth 33bn  and supports 64,000 direct and indirect jobs, contributing 3.8 bn to the national economy each year. There is a campaign against Adani building a coal mine in Queensland which opponents argue would increase global warming and damage the reef. John Schunert chairs the reef foundation which aims to protect the reef from environmental damage. The environment and energy minister argues Australia’s coal is cleaner than coal from elsewhere, and not building the mine would lose jobs and income – and others would export the coal to India, so damage would be worse...

Nov 2018: According to David Obura chair of the Coral Specialist Group in the International Union for the Conservation of nature, ‘Children born today may be the last generation to see coral reefs in all their glory. Today’s reefs have a history going back 25 million to 50 million years. Yet in five decades we have undermined the global climate so fundamentally that in the next generation we will lose the globally-connected reef system..’ (Jonathan Watts, 11th  Nov 2018).

August 2019: Great Barrier Reef’s condition downgraded by the GBRMPA (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) from poor to very poor. (EcoWatch) Widespread habitat loss and degradation affecting fish, turtles and seabirds. It is not just global warming but farming pollution, coastal development, the crown of thorns starfish, and illegal fishing that contribute.  The reef is 2,300 kilometres long and has 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc. It is estimated to be worth at least $4bn a year to Australia’s economy.

2.7 Health:

March 2020. The Coronavirus pandemic has led to much thinking about our relationship with the natural environment. George Monbiot makes some strong points:

How will climate breakdown affect our food supply? ... Even today, when the world has a total food surplus, hundreds of millions are malnourished as a result of the unequal distribution of wealth and power. A food deficit could result in billions starving. Antibiotic resistance is arising as a result of our industrialised agriculture, and in the US where 27 million people have no medical cover, some people are now treating themselves with veterinary antibiotics... Our denial and complacency about these forthcoming disasters - these are just two, and the Coronavirus pandemic is another - are dangerous. These crises will hopefully show us we belong to the material world.

See: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/25/covid-19-is-natures-wake-up-call-to-complacent-civilisation

Other articles have been posted here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1652661825047271/?ref=bookmarks


24th Sep 2018 Other effects of CO2. (James Bridle, author of New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future). Researchers from Beijing and Yale show people living in polluted cities are losing cognitive functions. High levels of lead cause low scores in maths and language – equivalent in some cases to losing several years of education. High levels of CO2 also cloud the mind. Currently atmospheric levels are over 400 ppm. By 2100 they could be 1,000 ppm – and people could lose 21% of their cognitive abilities. Outdoors levels often reach 500 ppm, and sometimes indoors it exceeds 1,000 ppm – in Denmark studies found over 2,000 ppm.

Bridle suggests that since those who grew up between 1965 and 1985 have been found to have 20 micrograms of lead per decilitre of blood – they are suffering from cognitive impairment which may explain some of the irrational behaviour we see now! EPA in US has loosened restrictions on power-plant emissions, so there will be more mercury in the atmosphere too...


3rd August 2017: Damian Carrington. It is likely that diseases and pests will spread in warmer conditions, affecting trees, food crops – though some crops could benefit provided there is no drought... Extreme heat-waves will be a consequence of global warming unless emissions are cut. Combination of heat and humidity (WBT – wet bulb temperature) is dangerous – once it reaches 35C people exposed (even in the shade) will die in 6 hours. In 2015 3,500 people died from heat-wave. In the journal Science Advances – between 2017 and 2100 4% of the population would suffer un-survivable six-hour heat-waves of 35C WBT at least once. In Iran in 2015 the limit was almost reached, with 46C + 50% humidity.

Lancet publishes report, 31st Oct 2017, drawn up by researchers at 26 institutions, including many universities, WHO, World Bank, & World Meteorological Organisation. WMO reported highest yet levels of CO2. Latest report focuses on health effects already being felt by hundreds of millions of people:

Christina Figueres co-chaired (she negotiated Paris agreement as UN’s climate chief). 40 indicators were examined, including: people over 65 exposed to extreme heat – number rose by 125 million between 2000 and 2016. (2003 heat wave killed 70,000 but long-term trends make this figure small says Prof Peter Cox of Univ of Exeter).

Hot and humid weather makes working outside dangerous, and in 2016 caused a loss of labour equivalent to almost a million people, half of whom were in India.

Spread of dengue fever – getting more rapid: infections have doubled in each decade since 1990 – now 100m infections a year. Transmission of dengue fever increased by 9.4% since 1950. Other dangers (Damian Carrington 12 July 2016): Asian tiger mosquito which carries the Chikungunya virus, as well as Zika and dengue fever.

Also: 46% increase in weather-related disasters around the world. 125m vulnerable adults over 65 had been exposed to heat-waves.

Loss of crops will lead to millions more undernourished children. Says Prof Hugh Montgomery of UCL.

Some small gains possible: warmer in higher latitudes (though also more cold snaps), some localised short-term increases in food production but overall ‘pattern is negative’. Prof Georgina Mace of UCL.

NB. Also, air pollution kills millions, of which 800,000 due solely to coal burning. However, coal burning peaked in 2013. 40,000 a year in UK, 9,000 in London, and costing £22.6bn . Dr Toby Hillman of Royal College of Physicians says govt needs do more about cycling and walking). From Independent: air in 44 UK cities and towns is unsafe according to WHO standards for PM2.5 (10 micrograms per cubic metre of air – EU level is 25). 

Glasgow has 16, London, Southampton and Leeds 15, Cardiff, Birmingham and Oxford 14, Manchester 13(see week 5)

2.8 Food.

May 2020. Locusts swarm in India - India is facing its worst desert locust invasion in nearly 30 years, and the climate crisis is partly to blame. The locusts spawned a swarm of social media posts Monday when they entered the city of Jaipur, as The Indian Express reported, but the crop-devouring insects have been wreaking havoc since May in an invasion that both began earlier and is extending farther than usual. Several farmers told The Wire that they hadn't seen an invasion this severe in their lifetimes.... From Ecowatch.

So far, the insects have devoured almost 50,000 hectares or 123,500 acres of agricultural land in seven Indian states, The Associated Press reported, putting pressure on farmers already struggling with the impacts of the coronavirus lockdown.

The government has responded with pesticides, drones and sprayers mounted on vehicles, while farmers have resorted to banging plates, whistling and throwing stones to drive the locusts away.



12th July 2016: Damian Carrington:  

We could have heat waves up to 48C in London in the worst case scenario. High temperatures would lead to spread of viruses in plants. Benefits could be that we grow more food – but only if the impact on water supplies and soil fertility can be overcome. Already 85% of the rich peat soils of East Anglia has disappeared. We could lose the remaining fertile soil in the next 30 – 60 years.

Global warming would affect our imports of food (we import 40% of our food).

Loss of crops will lead to millions more undernourished children. Says Prof Hugh Montgomery of UCL.

Some small gains possible: warmer in higher latitudes (though also more cold snaps), some localised short-term increases in food production but overall ‘pattern is negative’. Prof Georgina Mace of UCL.


16th July 2017, Food crops: Robin McKie, Observer. Governments are under-estimating the dangers of crop failures, says new research published by Met Office scientists – heat, drought, flooding can cause crop failures, and if there was a failure in both US and China the effects would be very serious – 60% of global production would be hit. Last year maize failed in Africa, and communities across 6 countries were affected, with 6 million on brink of starvation. Maize, rice and wheat make up 51% of the world’s calories intake. This is first time a study has considered double failures. Next they will look at rice, wheat and soya.

Aug. 2018: Rising levels of CO2 could make crops less nutritious – levels of protein, iron and zinc are reduced when grown under levels of CO2 expected in 2050. 175 million people could then develop a zinc deficiency, and 122 million a protein deficiency. Zinc deficiencies are linked with difficulty with healing of wounds, infections and diarrhoea; iron deficiencies can lead to complications in childbirth. In Nature Climate Change journal, co-author Dr Matthew Smith  from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. (Nicola Davis, 28th Aug 2018). And, of course, those hardest hit will be in parts of the world where nutrition is already poor.

June 2019: India, drought: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/12/indian-villages-lie-empty-as-drought-forces-thousands-to-flee by end of May 43% of India affected by drought, 974 farmers committed suicide last year – often due to crop failure by 2030, 40% of India’s population will have no access to drinking water.

2.9: People and property

11th March 2015: Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, warns that climate change is one of the biggest risks facing the insurance industry. Paul Fisher, a senior ban policymaker, also warned that insurers could take ‘a big hit’ if they invest in fossil fuels, which we may have to leave in the ground. (Guardian Financial).

May 2015, Guardian: ‘Already in Bangladesh 50,000 people migrate to the capital every month because rising sea levels have made their villages uninhabitable and have destroyed their arable land.’

 17th May 2016, World Bank warning:

Climate change puts 1.3bn people and $158tn (double the total annual output of the global economy) at risk, says World Bank.  The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery said total damages from disasters had ballooned in recent decades but warned that worse could be in store as a result of a combination of global warming, an expanding population and the vulnerability of people crammed into slums in low-lying, fast-growing cities that are already overcrowded.

The annual cost of natural disasters in 136 coastal cities could increase from $6bn in 2010 to $1tn in 2070.

Total annual damage – averaged over a 10-year period – had risen tenfold from 1976–1985 to 2005–2014, from $14bn to more than $140bn. The average number of people affected each year had risen over the same period from around 60 million people to more than 170 million.


Oct 2018: Climate change likely to be a factor in mass migrations from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (31st Oct 2018, OLIVER Milman and others). Crop failures are the main problem.

May 2019. NS 10-16 May 2019 editorial:  UN report of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services  (see also below). Climate change could create more than 140 million refugees by 2050 = 7 times as many as from WW2.

Oct 2019: President of Niger says he has driven down the country’s birthrate, (he blames a misreading of the Qur’an for the high number of children – 7 - per woman) and warns that the Sahel would be one of the main contributors to global migration which is predicted at 230m by 2050. ‘In Niger we are already living with the practical results of climate change. Floods alternating with droughts... a degradation of soil, forests are getting lost, there is less land and an advance of the desert. Lake Chad has lost 90% of its water. Niger loses 100,000 hectares of agricultural land every year.’ (Patrick Wintour, 18th Oct 2019).


Aug. 2019: blue-green algae in lakes : public has been warned to stay out of lakes since the algae has been blooming – it produces a toxin that has killed dogs and swans. The blooms are caused by cyanobacteria, the first organisms on the planet. When the bacteria decay they release a toxin. Most sewage treatment removes organic chemicals and harmful bacteria, but leaves nitrogen and phosphorous, which are nutrients for algae. When the temperature of the water is above 17C the algae grows best – climate change makes this more likely. Professor Laurence Carvalho of the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology says the two key factors in the growth are nutrients and heat.


2.10 Forest Fires


30th January 2017 (Jonathan Watts, Piotr Kozak, Santiago): Chile’s worst forest fires in recent history have been exacerbated by climate change and large monocultures. Blazes have spread over 145,000 sq miles and killed 11 people. The fire was out of control in January. The fire destroyed 1,200 homes in Santa Olga, and created a haze over Santiago even though it was several hundred kilometres away. Fire chiefs said plantations needed to be further away from where people live, and there should be more fire-breaks.


2019 – 20: Forest Fires raging in Australia...

(i) From Mother Jones, quoted in i weekend , Albert Evans, 9th Jan. Interview with Michael Mann.

One of the most prominent scientists studying climate change is Michael Mann, a climatologist and atmospheric science professor at Penn State University who has been a leader in explaining the contribution that human behaviour has made in creating and exacerbating the climate crisis. He was one of the scientists who created the hockey stick graph, a popular visualization of mean global temperatures of the past several centuries, showing a sudden jump starting in the 20th century.

During his sabbatical year, Mann decided to visit Australia to study the effects of climate change on the scene of bleaching coral reefs and extreme weather events. He didn’t plan for his visit to coincide with the catastrophic wildfires, but he’s now found himself at what he calls “the front lines.”

 “There is no precedent for the scale and speed at which these brushfires are spreading,” Mann tells the Mother Jones Podcast. “It’s almost like we’re being given a vision for our future if we don’t act on climate.”

To better understand the forces behind this season’s fires, Mother Jones’s James West, who happens to be Australian, spoke with Mann for this week’s edition of Mother Jones Podcast:

Since September, the combination of soaring temperatures and a severe drought has triggered wildfires across Australia that have enveloped more than six times the land burned during California’s devastating 2018 wildfire season. The current blazes encompass an area about the size of Scotland and have released an estimated 200 million tons of carbon dioxide—equivalent to about 40 percent of the country’s annual average carbon emissions—into the atmosphere above the state of New South Wales, where the fires have been the most devastating. With more than 100 separate fires still burning, the end isn’t anywhere in sight. Some estimates have wildfires continuing for months into 2020.

“We’re being given a vision for our future if we don’t act.”

The consequences are only starting to be tallied: At least 25 people have been killed, and about 3,000 military personnel have mobilized to assist in the evacuation of about 100,000 residents across NSW and Victoria. The toll on the ecosystem remains less clear, but a widely reported estimate puts the number of wildlife killed at 480 million, not including frogs, bats, or insects.

Bottom of Form

Meanwhile, the Australian government is led by conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has deep ties to the coal industry and a history of  indifference toward climate change. His government, critics say, belatedly has allocated $1.4 billion to fire recovery efforts, buttressed with a promise that “whatever it costs, we will ensure the resilience and future of this country.” For many Australians, the fire has diminished the value of the prime minister’s word—he’s been criticized for vacationing in Hawaii while the wildfires were in full force in December. During public appearances, hecklers haven’t minced words, calling him “an idiot.” Morrison’s indecisive behavior on the fires flies in the face of the scientific assessment that climate change has been a major contributor to their intensity.

A transcript of the Mother Jones Podcast interview has been edited for clarity and length below:

I’m going to be doing research here with some other climate scientists at the University of New South Wales trying to understand the linkages between climate change and extreme weather. Of course, I’ve arrived at a time when Australia is seeing unprecedented extreme weather. It’s a tragedy what’s playing out here. And yet it feels oddly fortuitous that I’m here on the front lines to observe and talk about it.

This is like a real-life everyday laboratory for you to see this extreme, unprecedented event take place.

Absolutely. It’s one thing to make model projections and study data, but it’s something else when you see it up front, playing out in real time. Australia may soon break new all-time records [for heat]. It’s not going to help that wildfires continue to spread across this continent.

We’ll get to this science in more detail in a moment, but I just wanted to get what you saw and what you felt when you were in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, somewhere I’m really familiar with. As a kid I’d go there quite a lot. You were there, and what did you see?

We were saddened to arrive, expecting to see these remarkable vistas, this expanse of temperate rainforest that’s framed by these ridges and mountains in the background. And the bluish tinge comes from the so-called terpenes, chemicals that are emitted from the eucalyptus trees that actually absorb and scatter light in a particular way that gives it sort of this bluish tint. But all we saw was brown smoke looking down into the valleys.

It was surreal to arrive at this. Now, there is a postscript. The morning that we were getting ready to leave, the wind directions shifted and we actually did finally get those views. But most of the time, we were looking at brown smoke rather than Blue Mountains.

Is there a sense in your science that some weather predictions are a bit broken because the fires themselves are creating weather? Are we in uncharted territory?

That’s right. There are surprises in store and they’re not going to be welcome. One of the things we worry about is sort of a tipping point.

“There is the possibility that there are processes that are playing out in nature that aren’t actually contained within our models.”

You cross this threshold where you enter into this new regime of catastrophic wildfire. There is the possibility that there are processes playing out in nature that aren’t actually contained within our models. You allude to one, the fact that these wildfires can actually create their own weather and feedback on themselves.

You get these towering pyrocumulus clouds that produce thunder and lightning, but they’re actually created by heating from the fire beneath the atmosphere. And those lightning strikes can beget additional fires. There’s the very real possibility that we are under-predicting with our current models how bad things can actually get, because some of these things cascade. All of a sudden, things get far worse because a whole new set of processes enters the playing field. These are what keep us up at night as climate scientists who care about the impact of climate change.

The current prime minister, Scott Morrison, is not really a climate change denier. [He’s] not literally dismissing the reality of climate change, but dismissing its significance.

Australia has basically joined Russia and the United States under Trump and Saudi Arabia and a small number of petroleum states who stand against the will of the rest of the world. [They] literally tried to sabotage the latest international climate negotiations in Madrid. Australia under this administration is certainly not demonstrating good faith when it comes to the international efforts to act on climate. It’s different from what we have in the United States. It’s not outright denial of the science, but it’s still the same sort of basic policies of inaction.

Podcast: https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2020/01/michael-mann-australias-wildfires-podcast-climate-change/ 

(ii) Blaming the environmentalists for Australian wildfires... A counter view from Damian Cave, New York Times, Jan 8th 2020.

The idea that “greenies” or environmentalists would oppose measures to prevent fires from ravaging homes and lives is simply false. But the comment reflects a narrative that’s been promoted for months by conservative Australian media outlets, especially the influential newspapers and television stations owned by Rupert Murdoch.

And it’s far from the only Murdoch-fuelled claim making the rounds. His standard-bearing national newspaper, The Australian, has also repeatedly argued that this year’s fires are no worse than those of the past — not true, scientists say, noting that 12 million acres have burned so far, with 2019 alone scorching more of New South Wales than the previous 15 years combined...

An independent study found online bots and trolls exaggerating the role of arson in the fires, at the same time that an article in The Australian making similar assertions became the most popular offering on the newspaper’s website.

But a search for “climate change” in the main Murdoch outlets mostly yields stories condemning protesters who demand more aggressive action from the government; editorials arguing against “radical climate change policy”; and opinion columns emphasizing the need for more back-burning to control fires — if only the left-wing greenies would allow it to happen.

The Australian Greens party has made clear that it supports such hazard-reduction burns, issuing a statement online saying so.

Climate scientists do acknowledge that there is room for improvement when it comes to burning the branches and dead trees on the ground that can fuel fires. But they also say that no amount of preventive burning will offset the impact of rising temperatures that accelerate evaporation, dry out land and make already-arid Australia a tinderbox.

(iii) Denial from Harbingersdaily.com by Breitbart:


https://harbingersdaily.com/ezra-levant-australias-fires-climate-change-or-arson/ (lists ‘arsonists’...)

Who are Breitbart? Their climate denial, from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breitbart_News#Climate_change_denial

In November 2016, Breitbart News published an article summarizing a Daily Mail piece that falsely claimed that record-high global temperatures were unrelated to global warming.[194] The Breitbart article, by James Delingpole, was cited by the United States House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, for which the latter itself was criticized.[195][196][197] Weather.com condemned the Breitbart story in an article titled "Note to Breitbart: Earth Is Not Cooling, Climate Change Is Real and Please Stop Using Our Video to Mislead Americans".[198]

In June 2017, Breitbart News published an article by Dellingpole that claimed that 58 scientific papers disproved anthropogenic climate change. A number of scientists criticized the article, describing it as cherry-picking, derogatory, inaccurate, misleading, and employing flawed reasoning.[199] In April 2019, Breibart News published an article that claimed that a scientific study on past climate proved that man-made climate change was a hoax. Climate scientists sharply criticized the article, variously describing it as ignorant, misleading, and misrepresentative of the study’s actual findings.[200]

In October 2017, Breitbart News published a false story claiming that an illegal immigrant was arrested in connection with the October 2017 Northern California wildfires.[204] Sonoma County's sheriff department responded to Breitbart's reporting, "This is completely false, bad, wrong information that Breitbart started and is being put out into the public."

(iv) British Minister repeats false claims about arsonists: “There is currently no intelligence to indicate that the fires in East Gippsland and the North East have been caused by arson or any other suspicious behaviour,” a Victoria police spokeswoman told The Guardian.

(v) Desmog article, naming some of the deniers involved in distorting the picture about Australia:


(vi) Desmog again:  NSW Rural Fire Service boss @RFSCommissioner has shot down @Barnaby_Joyce's claim that 'green caveats' stopped his team from conducting hazard reduction burns, leading to the bushfire crisis. #7NEWS https://7news.com.au/sunrise/on-the-show/shane-fitzsimmons-dismisses-barnaby-joyces-claims-bushfires-caused-by-green-caveats-c-637354 

June 2020. Update on destruction of forests: https://www.ecowatch.com/rainforest-loss-2019-2646150833.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1


2.11 Other

27th May 2016 (Fiona Harvey). A UN-sponsored report says that world cultural heritage sites across the globe are in danger from global warming – Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, Statue of Liberty, Venice... are vulnerable to rising temperatures, melting glaciers, rising seas, more intense weather, worsening drought and longer wildfire seasons.

Rising temperatures in wildlife parks in Uganda could affect the habitat of endangered mountain gorillas.

Stonehenge is under threat from floods linked to increased rainfall.

A sea defence is being built in Venice that is likely to end up costing more than £4bn.

Other possibilities: typhoons reduce atmospheric pressure, and this could trigger earthquakes... ‘Global temperatures have risen to more than 1 degree above pre-industrial levels, and in southern Alaska, which has in places lost a vertical kilometer of ice cover, the reduced load on the crust is already increasing the level of seismic activity.’ See McGuire’s book: Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes.


2019 (?): A positive note: two cycads (a male and a female) have bloomed on the Isle of Wight for the first time in possibly 60m years... Curator of Ventnor Botanic gardens says ‘it is a strong indicator of climate change being shown... by plants.’

3. The anthropocene era:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/30/anthropocene-epoch-have-we-entered-a-new-phase-of-planetary-history Nicola Davison (Guardian Longread)

Geologists are the guardians of the Earth’s timeline. By studying the Earth’s crust, they have carved up the planet’s 4.6bn years of history into phases and placed them in chronological order on a timescale called the International Chronostratigraphic Chart. That timescale is the backbone of geology. Modifying it is a slow and tortuous process, overseen by an official body, the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS). You can’t just make up a new epoch and give it a convincing name; the care taken over the timescale’s construction is precisely what gives it authority.

To many geologists, accustomed to working with rocks that are hundreds of millions of years old, the notion that a species that has been around for the blink of an eye was now a genuine geological force seemed absurd.

At a meeting of the Geological Society of London, in 2006, a stratigrapher named Jan Zalasiewicz argued that it was time to look at the concept seriously. Stratigraphy is the branch of geology that studies rock layers, or strata, and it is stratigraphers who work on the timescale directly.

Geologists called the spans of time that the rock formations represented “units”. On the timescale today, units vary in size, from eons, which last for billions of years, to ages, which last for mere thousands. Units nestle inside each other, like Russian dolls. Officially, we live in the Meghalayan age (which began 4,200 years ago) of the Holocene epoch. The Holocene falls in the Quaternary period (2.6m years ago) of the Cenozoic era (66m) in the Phanerozoic eon (541m).

hey began by looking at the atmosphere. During the Holocene, the amount of CO2 in the air, measured in parts per million (ppm), was between 260 and 280. Data from 2005, the most recent year recorded when the working group started out, showed levels had climbed to 379 ppm. Since then, it has risen to 405 ppm. The group calculated that the last time there was this much CO2 in the air was during the Pliocene epoch 3m years ago

Next they looked at what had happened to animals and plants. Past shifts in geological time have often been accompanied by mass extinctions, as species struggle to adapt to new environments. In 2011, research by Anthony Barnosky, a member of the group, suggested something similar was underway once again. Others investigated the ways humans have scrambled the biosphere, removing species from their natural habitat and releasing them into new ones. As humans have multiplied, we have also made the natural world more homogenous. The world’s most common vertebrate, the broiler chicken, of which there are 23bn alive at any one time, was created by humans to be eaten by humans.

Then there was also the matter of all our stuff. Not only have humans modified the Earth’s surface by building mines, roads, towns and cities, we have created increasingly sophisticated materials and tools, from smartphones to ballpoint pens, fragments of which will become buried in sediment, forming part of the rocks of the future. One estimate puts the weight of everything humans have ever built and manufactured at 30tn tonnes. The working group argued that the remnants of our stuff, which they called “technofossils”, will survive in the rock record for millions of years, distinguishing our time from what came before.

 In 2016 24 working group members co-authored an article, published in the journal Science, announcing that the Anthropocene was “functionally and stratigraphically distinct” from the Holocene.

See an earlier article on Morton, dealing especially with anthropocentrism:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/15/timothy-morton-anthropocene-philosopher by Alex Blasdel

The Anthropocene idea is generally attributed to the Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and the biologist Eugene Stoermer, who started popularising the term in 2000.  Crutzen set out the idea in Nature in 2002.

In the Anthropocene, Morton says, we must wake up to the fact that we never stood apart from or controlled the non-human things on the planet, but have always been thoroughly bound up with them. We can’t even burn, throw or flush things away without them coming back to us in some form, such as harmful pollution. Our most cherished ideas about nature and the environment – that they are separate from us, and relatively stable – have been destroyed.

The chief reason that we are waking up to our entanglement with the world we have been destroying, Morton says, is our encounter with the reality of hyperobjects – the term he coined to describe things such as ecosystems and black holes, which are “massively distributed in time and space” compared to individual humans. Hyperobjects might not seem to be objects in the way that, say, billiard balls are, but they are equally real, and we are now bumping up against them consciously for the first time. Global warming might have first appeared to us as a bit of funny local weather, then as a series of independent manifestations (an unusually torrential flood here, a deadly heatwave there), but now we see it as a unified phenomenon, of which extreme weather events and the disruption of the old seasons are only elements. 

See another book of his: Hyperobjects…  hyperobjects, in their unwieldy enormity, alert us to the absolute boundaries of science, and therefore the limits of human mastery. Science can only take us so far. This means changing our relationship with the other entities in the universe – whether animal, vegetable or mineral – from one of exploitation through science to one of solidarity in ignorance… we can’t transcend our limitations or our reliance on other beings. We can only live with them.

If we give up the delusion of controlling everything around us, we might refocus ourselves on the pleasure we take in other beings and life itself. Enjoyment, Morton believes, might be the thing that turns us on to a new kind of politics. “You think ecologically tuned life means being all efficient and pure,” the tweet pinned to the top of his Twitter timeline reads. “Wrong. It means you can have a disco in every room of your house.”

 “Don’t hide under a rock, for heaven’s sake,” Morton had said to me at one point. “Go out in the street and start making any and as many kinds of political affiliations with as many kinds of beings, human or otherwise, that you possibly can, with a view to creating a more non-violent and just, for everybody, ecological world.”

Critics say he doesn’t understand contemporary science (and is mis-using ideas from quantum physics etc – not the only one?), that his philosophy wouldn’t be taken seriously in an academic context (is that a criticism?!), or from the left that he talks about ‘humans’ damaging the planet, while the main problem is with the wealthy white western capitalists (there’s a point!).

And: His PhD thesis, which is recognised as an important contribution to the study of Romanticism, showed that the vegetarianism of Percy and Mary Shelley was intimately entwined with their politics and art. 

April 2019. Deep time. Taken from ‘Up from the depths’ by Robert Macfarlane, Guardian 20 April 2019.


‘This is a phrase coined by John McPhee in 1981’ – deep time is measured in units of millennia, epochs and aeons, as with geology – deep time is kept by rock, ice, stalactites, seabed sediments and the drift of tectonic plates.  It is ‘the catalysing context of intergenerational justice; it is what frames the inspiring activism of Greta Thunberg and the school climate-strikers, and the Sunrise campaigners pushing for a Green New Deal in America. [It] requires us to consider not only how we will imagine the future, but how the future will imagine us. It asks a version of Jons Slk’s arresting question: “Are we being good ancestors?”’

(ii) the challenges of the anthropocene (from Ghosh: The Great Derangement):

- how to represent unfolding of actions and consequences in deep time

- how to recognise the aliveness of the more-than-human

- how to come to terms with the profound decentring of human presence

Human activity the dominant influence on nature. (From India Bourke, New Statesman 12 – 18 Feb 2021). https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/environment/2021/02/how-nobel-winning-chemist-paul-crutzen-changed-way-we-see-nature

Term coined by biologist Eugene F Stoermer. But Feb 2000 at a scientific conference, Paul Crutzen first used the term publicly. Crutzen was Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist, died Jan 2021. Published 360 peer-reviewed articles and 15 books. 

Previous ca. 12,000 years = Holocene. 

‘The long-held barriers between nature and culture are breaking down. It’s no longer us against ‘Nature’... Instead it’s we who decide what nature is and will be.’ He wrote of acidified seas, omnipresent plastic and a sixth mass extinction.

Early research on emissions of supersonic aircraft persuaded him nothing was safe from humanity. In ‘60s and ‘70s showed industrial gases were thinning the ozone layer. This underpinned Montreal Protocol of 1987.

Also predicted ‘nuclear winter’ in the event of nuclear war.

Is the term dangerous because it inflates our importance/power? (So we may think be over-optimistic about our ability to protect nature).

2011: ‘In this new era, nature is us.’

‘The impacts of human-caused climate change are no longer subtle – they are playing out in real time before us’ says Prof Michael Mann of Penn State University (D. Carrington 18th June 2016).

Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research: ‘We are catapulting ourselves out of the Holocene ... the geological epoch that human civilisation has been able to develop in because of the relatively stable climate. It allowed us to invent agriculture, rather than living as nomads. It allowed a big population growth, it allowed the foundation of cities... We know from Antarctic ice cores that go back almost a million years that CO2 was never even remotely as high as’ [it is now: over 400 parts per million].

India recorded its hottest day ever on 19th May. In Phalodi, Rajasthan it rose to 51C.

The temperature in Australia last autumn (2015) was 1.86C above the average (the highest before then was in 2005, at 1.64C above average).


4. What can be done about CO2 emissions?


Cf. www.futurelearn.com course ‘Climate change solutions’: mitigation, adaptation and geo-engineering... for me, prevention is the main point.


4.1 Voluntary actions for individuals, groups, and business:


Topics in alphabetical order:


Carbon footprint - reducing your carbon footprint: Do you know what your carbon footprint is? Try EPA's Household Carbon Footprint Calculator to estimate your annual greenhouse gas emissions.



22nd March 2020: food expert Tim Lang discusses what is wrong with our food supply:


29th Oct 2019: Damian Carrington: research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that eating a healthy diet is almost always also best for the environment. Fruit, veg, beans and whole grains are best for both avoiding disease and protecting the climate and water resources. Eating more red and processed meat caused the most ill-health and pollution.

Bucking the trend: fish is a more healthy choice but has a bigger environmental impact than plant-based foods. And high sugar foods had a bad impact on health but not on the environment.

Research was led by Michael Clark at Oxford University. How and where a food is produced does affect its environmental impact (viz. Intensive meat production is bad) but to a much smaller extent than food choice. ‘Choosing better, more sustainable diets is one of the main ways people can improve their health and help protect the environment.’

Divestment from Fossil Fuels:

15th June 2019, Jillian Ambrose: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jun/15/climate-crisis-coal-asia-power-generation-fossil-fuels.

The world’s largest sovereign wealth fund is preparing to leave fossil fuels behind. Last week, Norway’s parliament confirmed by unanimous vote that its $1tn sovereign wealth fund would dump $13bn of fossil fuel investments. Wind and solar renewable power is the world’s fastest-growing energy source: it grew by 14.5% last year, led by a surge of investment in China. But the strides do not go far enough, fast enough. “You have to run very fast just to stand still,” Dale says.

22nd Jan 2018: Lloyds of London plans to stop investing in coal companies. Insurance is one of the industries worst affected by hurricanes, wildfires and flooding in recent years. Lloyds offers a marketplace for almost 90 syndicates of other insurers (it doesn’t underwrite operations directly). Big insurance companies have moved £15bn away from coal in the past two years, says the Unfriend Coal network (NGOs, Greenpeace, 380.org). AXA has dropped companies with at least 30% coal, and Church of England uses 10% as criterion. Analysis by ClimateWise shows that the ‘protection gap’ – the difference between the costs of natural disasters and the amount insured had quadrupled to $100bn a year since the 1980s.

Efficient use of energy (see also Energy policies):

UK Climate Change Committee: The majority of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions arise from our production and consumption of energy – whether that’s driving cars, manufacturing goods or simply boiling a kettle. Emissions can be lowered by becoming energy efficient and by switching to low-carbon fuels. Both will be necessary to meet UK carbon targets, along with action to tackle non-energy emissions.

Being energy efficient doesn’t mean going without a warm and well-lit home or making big sacrifices. Many energy efficiency measures are low cost and even save money.  Whether on a large-scale, or at the individual level, there are many opportunities to save energy through better insulation, more efficient boilers and appliances, using heating controls and lights more efficiently.

Emissions Trading schemes: https://leftfootforward.org/2019/04/brexit-is-an-opportunity-to-improve-on-the-eus-failed-emissions-trading-system-but-the-tories-arent-taking-it/?mc_cid=06e3915a5d&mc_eid=dea8023bf6

An article from Australia on research into the effectiveness of carbon pricing (in favour, but surely this is obvious, and the key question surely is how high the price is set, and how it is traded): https://theconversation.com/carbon-pricing-works-the-largest-ever-study-puts-it-beyond-doubt-142034

Environmental Performance Indicators: link: https://epi.envirocenter.yale.edu/epi-country-report/USA

Fashion (and climate crisis): https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2019/jun/18/ministers-reject-charge-of-1p-an-item-to-clean-up-fast-fashion

Some astonishing figures here: fast fashion, which sees 300,000 tonnes of clothing burned or buried in the UK every year. Textile production contributes more emissions to the climate crisis than international aviation and shipping combined, consumes lake-sized volumes of fresh water and creates chemical and microplastic pollution.  Report by cross-party group of MPs: Environment Audit Committee.

[ for Week 4: Fishing: worried by the pro-Brexit anger of our fishermen, I’m not sure what the best view is of the common fisheries policy etc, but here is a charity/NGO that seems to me to have the best line: http://www.bluemarinefoundation.com/about/what-we-do/  ]

Flying: generated 7% of Britain’s greenhouse gases in 2017 Number of flights expected to double in next 20 years  - while IPCC has recommended net zero emissions by 2050. Aviation contributes about 2% of emissions overall... (Jasper jolly, on electric planes, 15th June 2019)



Carbon credits etc see Richard Murphy...



March 2020. What kind of planting is best for reducing CO2?


Response from Guy Shrubsole (FoE) to article cited below: ‘there are trade-offs between the types of woodland we create: exotic conifers suck carbon out of the atmosphere faster, whilst native broadleaved species grow more slowly but tend to support more species of wildlife’ but we should not be fighting amongst ourselves over this! ‘We Face a dual ecological crisis – the climate emergency and the breakdown of nature. FoE’s analysis shows we easily have enough land to double UK tree cover. By growing the right trees in the right place, we can help lock up millions of tonnes of carbon and create much more space for wildlife. To do this we need a diverse group of approaches, including rewilded woods, sensitively planted commercial forests, bigger hedgerows, and agroforestry on farms....’ (29th March 2020).

Report says that commercial tree plantations do not help store carbon as they are cut down too soon: (Patrick Barkham)


Dec 2019: planting trees must be done in the right way:


If the 350m hectares of reforestation are all natural forest, they can capture as much as 42 petagrams of carbon. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes that to keep global warming below 1.5C 199 petagrams must be removed from the atmosphere this century, so that is a significant contribution from the world’s forests. However, if the trajectory of the plans already submitted carries on, at least 45% of that cover will be commercial plantation. If our natural forests are protected under that scenario, the storage potential will be 16 petagrams. But if we continue to chop into them in the same way that we do at present, the storage potential will dwindle to just three petagrams. One possible attempt to staunch some of the flow that is being seriously considered in the EU is a due diligence law. France already has a law that places a civil liability on large companies that fail to monitor their supply chains for human rights and environment issues, and support for Europe-wide regulation – although not necessarily in that form – is coming from the oddest quarters such as Nestlé and Mondelez.

30th Oct 2019 Tree-planting – fund-raising for... (Jessica Murray). A group of YouTube stars have raised more than $6m (£4.7m) to plant trees around the world, by raising money from their subscribers. Jimmy Donaldson, known as MrBeast was challenged to plant 20m tress when he reached 20m subscribers... #TeamTrees was launched in October, and crowdfunded $5m in 48 hours. Donations go to the Arbor Day Foundation. Other stunts see Jessica Murray report.


9th July 2019 letters on tree-planting and climate crisis:

Storing carbon in vegetation is OK but it must not be burned, but stored e.g. in products made of wood; also composting is good.

1.7bn hectares of new land would be needed to remove one third of CO2 - = 1.2tn trees and = 11% of all land, and equivalent to the size of US and China combined. But what about the albedo effect? (Reflecting heat from bright surfaces). Wouldn’t forest cover be dark and absorb heat rather than reflect it?

Must not be planted on bogs, which better at absorbing CO2. Is the cost quoted unrealistically cheap? What about local knowledge?

Cost quoted (£240bn) is only marginally more than Trident replacement (£205bn)...

The plan will take 50 – 100 years: we only have 11!

Closed canopy forests will destroy biodiversity. Savannah/steppe also absorb carbon, and are more ‘natural’ (i.e. how the land has been in the past).

Mature forests stop absorbing CO2, as when their leaves fall and rot it is released. Forests need to be grown the cut down and used (for timber) so that new natural tree-cover springs up, and not the ‘serried rows’ favoured by the Forestry Commission. (Dr David Corke, Director, Organic Countryside CIC.

1st July 2019: FoE analysis of how to double tree cover in England: https://policy.friendsoftheearth.uk/insight/finding-land-double-tree-cover? 

14th June 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/13/tree-planting-in-england-falls-72-short-of-government-target

The total tree cover of the UK is unchanged at 10% in England, 15% in Wales, 19% in Scotland and 8% in Northern Ireland. To avoid climate breakdown, we have to act. If the framework is in place, meeting the ambition of 17% tree cover [for the UK] is achievable.” (Abi Bunker, director of conservation at the Woodland Trust).

May 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/19/130000-trees-planted-england-english-cities-global-heating

25th May 2019, from Ecologist:


31st Dec 2018. Willow trees and flood mitigation:


28th Nov. 2018. Network Rail and tree-felling (from Change.org petition).


April 2018. Network Rail is cutting down up to 10million trees alongside railway lines... during the nesting season!


27th April 2018. Forests: Destruction for holiday chalets! (Simon Jenkins):

Forestry Commission has a partnership with a commercial body Forest Holidays, which has been allowed to build chalets in Mortimer Forest outside Ludlow. The agreement allows the company to expand as much as it wishes, and there are clauses which stop publicity. The chalets are very expensive to rent, and part of the profit goes to the Forestry Commission.


Feb 2018. Trees in Sheffield:



Deforestation: booklist: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/nov/17/further-reading-the-best-books-about-deforestation? 


4.2 National and local government, and international agreements: see The environment movement.