Global warming

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Global Warming portal
global temperatures and atmospheric CO2 for the past 2000 years
Annual-mean global-mean anomalies, 1880-2007
CO2 levels, ~1960-2014


Also known as: climate change

Global warming (GW) refers to the idea that the Earth's average temperature could significantly increase to the point where it will have noticeable (and probably detrimental) effects on how people live ("concept GW").

It also can refer to the following claims, which reflect the various aspects of GW as an issue:

  • imminent GW: there is currently a huge increase in GW underway which threatens to cause serious problems within the foreseeable future (20-100 years)
  • anthro GW (AGW): Human activity (especially industrial) is largely or solely responsible for the current ongoing "spike" (although "cliff face" might be a more accurate term, if higher temperatures are expected to be sustained).
  • fixable GW: There are actions we can take which would reduce the seriousness of the eventual problem.
  • active GW: We should work towards taking those actions.
  • urgent GW: We need to act quickly towards taking those actions in order to prevent irreversible harm.

Within the United States (excluding the scientific establishment) and slowly spreading to Europe, the debate about the existence and nature of this phenomenon has grown increasingly impassioned in recent years, apparently fueled by fossil-fuel industry propaganda. Despite having been refuted, many of the same anti-GW arguments surface repeatedly, and thus are more an attempt to stifle discussion of GW (or muddy the waters) than they are honest skepticism.


These pages need to be merged into the above subpages:

GW activism

GW activists apparently argue the following:

  • The effects of a severe global temperature rise (anthropogenic or otherwise) are likely to have a much greater impact on our high-density, coast-hugging non-foraging society than on previous societies. We've been living in a temperate bubble, and we're not prepared to deal with major climate change. Therefore, we need to do something to prevent such change.
  • To whatever extent GW is anthropogenic, a (relatively) simple solution is to stop doing whatever it is we've been doing to cause it. (Personally, I think this one is a little short-sighted; there may be better ways to counteract the trend which don't depend on knowing how much of it we're responsible for.)
  • Assuming AGW, there is an outside chance, however unlikely, that what we are doing to the climate is severe enough to be beyond the Earth's normal self-regulatory mechanism and send the planet either into a "runaway greenhouse effect", resulting in something like Venus (far hotter than it should be at its distance from the sun), or else start some kind of catastrophic oscillating which ends up in a "Snowball Earth" scenario, with ice down to the equator. There's no geological evidence of past runaway greenhouse effects, but there is evidence for past Snowball Earth events lasting longer than our species has been around. Whether or not the entire earth is covered, even a minor ice age would be pretty disastrous.

Related Articles


Resolved Points

The following points of debate have pretty much been resolved (see #News for details regarding the answers):

  • whether or not the Earth is currently on a general warming trend – yes
  • whether or not this will have significant effects on anyone – yes
  • whether or not those effects will be bad – in the short term, yes; beyond that depends on a lot of unknown factors

There continues to be debate on the following points:

This page is in need of updating. There seems to have been some progress in the general consensus since this list was last updated.
  • whether or not this trend, if it is real, will continue
  • whether or not the warming is being caused by humanity (strong circumstantial evidence that it is)
    • Could be caused by random climatic drift
    • Could be caused by changes in any of countless variables, e.g. the sun's energy output
  • whether it is in humanity's best interest to attempt countermeasures (as opposed to "letting nature take its course")
  • what sorts of countermeasures should be taken (e.g. should we try to counteract the warming trend itself, or just be prepared to deal with the changing climate and rising sea levels as they happen?)

There appears to be some considerable political pressure within the United States to deny that there is a dangerous warming trend, that we are causing it if it exists, and that we should do anything about it if we are causing it.

Difficulty of Resolution

Obstacles to resolving the debate include:

  • The issue has become heavily politicized, largely because direct countermeasures (attempts to counteract the warming trend) tend to be unpopular amongst those who would need to implement them, and those who would need to implement them are generally large businesses with significant amounts of political clout and ability to drive the discussion in directions favorable to them.
  • Determination of whether or not the phenomenon is of genuine concern requires the integration of large amounts of data – over long timespans and a large number of different geographical locations – in order to notice subtle real effects without raising false alarms due to temporary or local effects.
  • Attempted solutions have global effects, which are the sum total of all countermeasures plus any net increase in GW (or in whatever factors we believe may be contributing to GW, e.g. atmospheric CO2); there is no way to determine the effect of a single, isolated experiment. In other words, there is no direct way to be sure "what works"; we have to rely on atmospheric models and simulations of proposed changes.






some of these links are more expository than reference, and should probably be given a separate section

Filed Links


Articles & Blog Entries


Possible Solutions

  • "stabilization wedges": No single solution will be efficient enough fast enough, but in combination they may be enough
  • 2006-09-01 A Road Map to U.S. Decarbonization by Reuel Shinnar and Francesco Citro, Science magazine: "Alternative energy sources could replace 70% of fossil fuels in America within 30 years at a cost of $200 billion per year."

to file


Bad Reporting

  • The 2006-10-27 report that the Atlantic current came to a halt for 10 days in 2004 was a severe misrepresentation of what actually happened, as explained here: a new monitoring array is recording more precise data on the current than has previously available, and one of the things it noted was a "very weak" flow during those 10 days in 2004. However, due to the newness of the data set, scientists don't yet know if this is unusual, part of an accelerating trend, or perfectly normal. As yet, it has no known implications for the climate of Britain or Europe.