Climate Change Essay for Students and Children

500+ words climate change essay.

Climate change refers to the change in the environmental conditions of the earth. This happens due to many internal and external factors. The climatic change has become a global concern over the last few decades. Besides, these climatic changes affect life on the earth in various ways. These climatic changes are having various impacts on the ecosystem and ecology. Due to these changes, a number of species of plants and animals have gone extinct.

comprehensive essay about climate change

When Did it Start?

The climate started changing a long time ago due to human activities but we came to know about it in the last century. During the last century, we started noticing the climatic change and its effect on human life. We started researching on climate change and came to know that the earth temperature is rising due to a phenomenon called the greenhouse effect. The warming up of earth surface causes many ozone depletion, affect our agriculture , water supply, transportation, and several other problems.

Reason Of Climate Change

Although there are hundreds of reason for the climatic change we are only going to discuss the natural and manmade (human) reasons.

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Natural Reasons

These include volcanic eruption , solar radiation, tectonic plate movement, orbital variations. Due to these activities, the geographical condition of an area become quite harmful for life to survive. Also, these activities raise the temperature of the earth to a great extent causing an imbalance in nature.

Human Reasons

Man due to his need and greed has done many activities that not only harm the environment but himself too. Many plant and animal species go extinct due to human activity. Human activities that harm the climate include deforestation, using fossil fuel , industrial waste , a different type of pollution and many more. All these things damage the climate and ecosystem very badly. And many species of animals and birds got extinct or on a verge of extinction due to hunting.

Effects Of Climatic Change

These climatic changes have a negative impact on the environment. The ocean level is rising, glaciers are melting, CO2 in the air is increasing, forest and wildlife are declining, and water life is also getting disturbed due to climatic changes. Apart from that, it is calculated that if this change keeps on going then many species of plants and animals will get extinct. And there will be a heavy loss to the environment.

What will be Future?

If we do not do anything and things continue to go on like right now then a day in future will come when humans will become extinct from the surface of the earth. But instead of neglecting these problems we start acting on then we can save the earth and our future.

comprehensive essay about climate change

Although humans mistake has caused great damage to the climate and ecosystem. But, it is not late to start again and try to undo what we have done until now to damage the environment. And if every human start contributing to the environment then we can be sure of our existence in the future.

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What Are the Effects of Climate Change?

A rapidly warming planet poses an existential threat to all life on earth. Just how bad it gets depends on how quickly we act.

An aerial view of floodwaters overtaking a cluster of buildings

An area flooded by Super Typhoon Noru in the Bulacan Province of the Philippines, September 26, 2022

Rouelle Umali/Xinhua via Getty Images

comprehensive essay about climate change

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Climate change is our planet’s greatest existential threat . If we don’t limit greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, the consequences of rising global temperatures include massive crop and fishery collapse, the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of species, and entire communities becoming uninhabitable. While these outcomes may still be avoidable, climate change is already causing suffering and death. From raging wildfires and supercharged storms, its compounding effects can be felt today, outside our own windows.

Understanding these impacts can help us prepare for what’s here, what’s avoidable, and what’s yet to come, and to better prepare and protect all communities. Even though everyone is or will be affected by climate change, those living in the world’s poorest countries—which have contributed least to the problem—are the most climate-vulnerable. They have the fewest financial resources to respond to crises or adapt, and they’re closely dependent on a healthy, thriving natural world for food and income. Similarly, in the United States, it is most often low-income communities and communities of color that are on the frontlines of climate impacts. And because climate change and rising inequality are interconnected crises, decision makers must take action to combat both—and all of us must fight for climate justice. Here’s what you need to know about what we’re up against.

Effects of Climate Change on Weather

Effects of climate change on the environment, effects of climate change on agriculture, effects of climate change on animals, effects of climate change on humans, future effects of climate change.

As global temperatures climb, widespread shifts in weather systems occur, making events like droughts , hurricanes , and floods more intense and unpredictable. Extreme weather events that may have hit just once in our grandparents’ lifetimes are becoming more common in ours. However, not every place will experience the same effects: Climate change may cause severe drought in one region while making floods more likely in another.

Already, the planet has warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (1.9 degrees Fahrenheit) since the preindustrial era began 250 years ago, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) . And scientists warn it could reach a worst-case scenario of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 if we fail to tackle the causes of climate change —namely, the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) .

comprehensive essay about climate change

Tokyo during a record-breaking heat wave, August 13, 2020

The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

Higher average temperatures

This change in global average temperature—seemingly small but consequential and climbing—means that, each summer, we are likely to experience increasingly sweltering heat waves. Even local news meteorologists are starting to connect strings of record-breaking days to new long-term trends, which are especially problematic in regions where infrastructure and housing have not been built with intensifying heat in mind. And heat waves aren’t just uncomfortable—they’re the leading cause of weather-related fatalities in the United States.

Longer-lasting droughts

Hotter temperatures increase the rate at which water evaporates from the air, leading to more severe and pervasive droughts . Already, climate change has pushed the American West into a severe “megadrought”—the driest 22-year stretch recorded in at least 1,200 years—shrinking drinking water supplies, withering crops , and making forests more susceptible to insect infestations. Drought can also create a positive feedback loop in which drier soil and less plant cover cause even faster evaporation.

More intense wildfires

This drier, hotter climate also creates conditions that fuel more vicious wildfire seasons—with fires that spread faster and burn longer—putting millions of additional lives and homes at risk. The number of large wildfires doubled between 1984 and 2015 in the western United States. And in California alone, the annual area burned by wildfires increased 500 percent between 1972 and 2018.

Multiple rafts and boats travel through floodwaters on a multi-lane roadway, along with people walking in the waist-high water

Evacuation after Hurricane Harvey in Houston, August 28, 2017

David J. Phillip/AP Photo

Stronger storms

Warmer air also holds more moisture, making tropical cyclones wetter, stronger, and more capable of rapidly intensifying. In the latest report from the IPCC , scientists found that daily rainfall during extreme precipitation events would increase by about 7 percent for each degree Celsius of global warming, increasing the dangers of flooding . The frequency of severe Category 4 and 5 hurricanes is also expected to increase. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey, a devastating Category 4 storm, dumped a record 275 trillion pounds of rain and resulted in dozens of deaths in the Houston area.

From the poles to the tropics, climate change is disrupting ecosystems. Even a seemingly slight shift in temperature can cause dramatic changes that ripple through food webs and the environment.

Small chunks of ice melting in a body of water, with low, snowy mountains in the background

The lake at Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon in Iceland, which has grown because of continued glacial melting

Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo

Melting sea ice

The effects of climate change are most apparent in the world’s coldest regions—the poles. The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as anywhere else on earth, leading to the rapid melting of glaciers and polar ice sheets, where a massive amount of water is stored. As sea ice melts, darker ocean waters that absorb more sunlight become exposed, creating a positive feedback loop that speeds up the melting process. In just 15 years, the Arctic could be entirely ice-free in the summer.

Sea level rise

Scientists predict that melting sea ice and glaciers, as well as the fact that warmer water expands in volume, could cause sea levels to rise as much as 3.61 feet by the end of the century, should we fail to curb emissions. The extent (and pace) of this change would devastate low-lying regions, including island nations and densely populated coastal cities like New York City and Mumbai.

But sea level rise at far lower levels is still costly, dangerous, and disruptive. According to the 2022 Sea Level Rise Technical Report from the National Ocean Service, the United States will see a foot of sea level rise by 2050, which will regularly damage infrastructure, like roads, sewage treatment plants, and even power plants . Beaches that families have grown up visiting may be gone by the end of the century. Sea level rise also harms the environment, as encroaching seawater can both erode coastal ecosystems and invade freshwater inland aquifers, which we rely on for agriculture and drinking water. Saltwater incursion is already reshaping life in nations like Bangladesh , where one-quarter of the lands lie less than 7 feet above sea level.

People with umbrellas walk on a street through ankle-deep water

A waterlogged road, caused by rainstorm and upstream flood discharge, in the Shaoguan, Guangdong Province of China, June 21, 2022

Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In addition to coastal flooding caused by sea level rise, climate change influences the factors that result in inland and urban flooding: snowmelt and heavy rain. As global warming continues to both exacerbate sea level rise and extreme weather, our nation’s floodplains are expected to grow by approximately 45 percent by 2100. In 2022, deadly flooding in Pakistan—which inundated as much as a third of the country—resulted from torrential rains mixed with melting glaciers and snow.

Warmer ocean waters and marine heat waves

Oceans are taking the brunt of our climate crisis. Covering more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface, oceans absorb 93 percent of all the heat that’s trapped by greenhouse gases and up to 30 percent of all the carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels.

Temperature-sensitive fish and other marine life are already changing migration patterns toward cooler and deeper waters to survive, sending food webs and important commercial fisheries into disarray. And the frequency of marine heat waves has increased by more than a third . These spikes have led to mass die-offs of plankton and marine mammals.

To make matters worse, the elevated absorption of carbon dioxide by the ocean leads to its gradual acidification , which alters the fundamental chemical makeup of the water and threatens marine life that has evolved to live in a narrow pH band. Animals like corals, oysters, and mussels will likely feel these effects first, as acidification disrupts the calcification process required to build their shells.

Ecosystem stressors

Land-based ecosystems—from old-growth forests to savannahs to tropical rainforests—are faring no better. Climate change is likely to increase outbreaks of pests, invasive species, and pathogen infections in forests. It’s changing the kinds of vegetation that can thrive in a given region and disrupting the life cycles of wildlife, all of which is changing the composition of ecosystems and making them less resilient to stressors. While ecosystems have the capacity to adapt, many are reaching the hard limits of that natural capacity . More repercussions will follow as temperatures rise.

Climate change appears to be triggering a series of cascading ecological changes that we can neither fully predict nor, once they have enough momentum, fully stop. This ecosystem destabilization may be most apparent when it comes to keystone species that have an outsize- role in holding up an ecosystem’s structure.

An aerial view two people standing in a large field covered by a coffee plants

Coffee plants destroyed by frost due to extremely low temperatures near Caconde in the São Paulo state of Brazil, August 25, 2021

Jonne Roriz/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Less predictable growing seasons

In a warming world, farming crops is more unpredictable—and livestock, which are sensitive to extreme weather, become harder to raise. Climate change shifts precipitation patterns, causing unpredictable floods and longer-lasting droughts. More frequent and severe hurricanes can devastate an entire season’s worth of crops. Meanwhile, the dynamics of pests, pathogens, and invasive species—all of which are costly for farmers to manage—are also expected to become harder to predict. This is bad news, given that most of the world’s farms are small and family-run. One bad drought or flood could decimate an entire season’s crop or herd. For example, in June 2022, a triple-digit heat wave in Kansas wiped out thousands of cows. While the regenerative agriculture movement is empowering rural communities to make their lands more resilient to climate change, unfortunately, not all communities can equitably access the support services that can help them embrace these more sustainable farming tactics.

Reduced soil health

Healthy soil has good moisture and mineral content and is teeming with bugs, bacteria, fungi, and microbes that in turn contribute to healthy crops. But climate change, particularly extreme heat and changes in precipitation, can degrade soil quality. These impacts are exacerbated in areas where industrial, chemical-dependent monoculture farming has made soil and crops less able to withstand environmental changes.

Food shortages

Ultimately, impacts to our agricultural systems pose a direct threat to the global food supply. And food shortages and price hikes driven by climate change will not affect everyone equally: Wealthier people will continue to have more options for accessing food, while potentially billions of others will be plummeted into food insecurity—adding to the billions that already have moderate or severe difficulty getting enough to eat.

A small blue frog sits on a browb leaf.

The poison dart frog’s survival is currently threatened by habitat loss and climate change.

Chris Mattison/Minden Pictures

It’s about far more than just the polar bears: Half of all animal species in the world’s most biodiverse places, like the Amazon rainforest and the Galapagos Islands, are at risk of extinction from climate change. And climate change is threatening species that are already suffering from the biodiversity crisis, which is driven primarily by changes in land and ocean use (like converting wild places to farmland) and direct exploitation of species (like overfishing and wildlife trade). With species already in rough shape—more than 500,000 species have insufficient habitat for long-term survival—unchecked climate change is poised to push millions over the edge.

Climate change rapidly and fundamentally alters (or in some cases, destroys) the habitat that wildlife have incrementally adapted to over millennia. This is especially harmful for species’ habitats that are currently under threat from other causes. Ice-dependent mammals like walruses and penguins, for example, won’t fare well as ice sheets shrink. Rapid shifts in ocean temperatures stress the algae that nourishes coral reefs, causing reefs to starve—an increasingly common phenomenon known as coral bleaching . Disappearing wetlands in the Midwest’s Prairie Pothole Region means the loss of watering holes and breeding grounds for millions of migratory birds. (Many species are now struggling to survive, as more than 85 percent of wetlands have been lost since 1700). And sea level rise will inundate or erode away many coastal habitats, where hundreds of species of birds, invertebrates, and other marine species live.

Many species’ behaviors—mating, feeding, migration—are closely tied to subtle seasonal shifts, as in temperature , precipitation level, and foliage. In some cases, changes to the environment are happening quicker than species are able to adapt. When the types and quantity of plant life change across a region, or when certain species bloom or hatch earlier or later than in the past, it impacts food and water supplies and reverberates up food chains.

A thick smog hangs over a mostly-deserted city street.

Wildfire smoke–filled air in Multnomah County, Oregon, September 16, 2020

Motoya Nakamura/Multnomah County Communications, CC BY NC-ND 4.0

Ultimately, the way climate change impacts weather, the environment, animals, and agriculture affects humanity as well. But there’s more. Around the world, our ways of life—from how we get our food to the industries around which our economies are based—have all developed in the context of relatively stable climates. As global warming shakes this foundation, it promises to alter the very fabric of society. At worst, this could lead to widespread famine, disease, war, displacement , injury, and death. For many around the world, this grim forecast is already their reality. In this way, climate change poses an existential threat to all human life.

Human health

Climate change worsens air quality . It increases exposure to hazardous wildfire smoke and ozone smog triggered by warmer conditions, both of which harm our health, particularly for those with pre-existing illnesses like asthma or heart disease.

Insect-borne diseases like malaria and Zika become more prevalent in a warming world as their carriers are able to exist in more regions or thrive for longer seasons. In the past 30 years, the incidence of Lyme disease from ticks has nearly doubled in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Thousands of people face injury, illness , and death every year from more frequent or more intense extreme weather events. At a 2-degree Celsius rise in global average temperature, an estimated one billion people will face heat stress risk. In the summer of 2022 alone, thousands died in record-shattering heat waves across Europe. Weeks later, dozens were killed by record-breaking urban flooding in the United States and South Korea—and more than 1,500 people perished in the flooding in Pakistan , where resulting stagnant water and unsanitary conditions threaten even more.

The effects of climate change—and the looming threat of what’s yet to come—take a significant toll on mental health too. One 2021 study on climate anxiety, published in the journal Nature , surveyed 10,000 young people from 10 different countries. Forty-five percent of respondents said that their feelings about climate change, varying from anxiety to powerlessness to anger, impacted their daily lives.

A girl sits on a hospital bed that is covered in blue netting.

A patient with dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease, in Karachi, Pakistan, where the spread of diseases worsened due to flooding, September 2022

Fareed Khan/AP Photo

Worsening inequity

The climate crisis exacerbates existing inequities. Though wealthy nations, such as the United States, have emitted the lion’s share of historical greenhouse gas emissions, it’s developing countries that may lack the resources to adapt and will now bear the brunt of the climate crisis. In some cases, low-lying island nations—like many in the Pacific —may cease to exist before developed economies make meaningful reductions to their carbon emissions.

Even within wealthier nations, disparities will continue to grow between those rich enough to shield themselves from the realities of climate change and those who cannot. Those with ample resources will not be displaced from their homes by wars over food or water—at least not right away. They will have homes with cool air during heat waves and be able to easily evacuate when a hurricane is headed their way. They will be able to buy increasingly expensive food and access treatment for respiratory illness caused by wildfire smoke. Billions of others can’t—and are paying the highest price for climate pollution they did not produce.

Hurricane Katrina, for example, displaced more than one million people around the Gulf Coast. But in New Orleans , where redlining practices promoted racial and economic segregation, the city’s more affluent areas tended to be located on higher ground—and those residents were able to return and rebuild much faster than others.

Displacement

Climate change will drive displacement due to impacts like food and water scarcities, sea level rise, and economic instability. It’s already happening. The United Nations Global Compact on Refugees recognizes that “climate, environmental degradation and disasters increasingly interact with the drivers of refugee movements.” Again, communities with the fewest resources—including those facing political instability and poverty—will feel the effects first and most devastatingly.

The walls of a small room are pulled down to the studs, with debris and mold visible on the floor.

A flood-damaged home in Queens, New York, December 1, 2021

K.C. Wilsey/FEMA

Economic impacts

According to the 2018 National Climate Assessment, unless action is taken, climate change will cost the U.S. economy as much as $500 billion per year by the end of the century. And that doesn’t even include its enormous impacts on human health . Entire local industries—from commercial fishing to tourism to husbandry—are at risk of collapsing, along with the economic support they provide.

Recovering from the destruction wrought by extreme weather like hurricanes, flash floods, and wildfires is also getting more expensive every year. In 2021, the price tag of weather disasters in the United States totaled $145 billion —the third-costliest year on record, including a number of billion-dollar weather events.

The first wave of impacts can already be felt in our communities and seen on the nightly news. The World Health Organization says that in the near future, between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year from things like malnutrition, insect-borne diseases, and heat stress. And the World Bank estimates that climate change could displace more than 140 million people within their home countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America by 2050.

But the degree to which the climate crisis upends our lives depends on whether global leaders decide to chart a different course. If we fail to curb greenhouse gas emissions, scientists predict a catastrophic 4.3 degrees Celsius , (or around 8 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by the end of the century. What would a world that warm look like? Wars over water. Crowded hospitals to contend with spreading disease. Collapsed fisheries. Dead coral reefs. Even more lethal heat waves. These are just some of the impacts predicted by climate scientists .

Workers move a large solar panel into place in a row on the shore of a lake

Solar panel installation at a floating photovoltaic plant on a lake in Haltern am See, Germany, April 2022

Martin Meissner/AP Photo

Climate mitigation, or our ability to reverse climate change and undo its widespread effects, hinges on the successful enactment of policies that yield deep cuts to carbon pollution, end our dependence on dangerous fossil fuels and the deadly air pollution they generate, and prioritize the people and ecosystems on the frontlines. And these actions must be taken quickly in order to ensure a healthier present day and future. In one of its latest reports, the IPCC presented its most optimistic emissions scenario, in which the world only briefly surpasses 1.5 degrees of warming but sequestration measures cause it to dip back below by 2100. Climate adaptation , a term that refers to coping with climate impacts, is no longer optional ; it’s necessary, particularly for the world’s most vulnerable populations.

By following the urgent warnings of the IPCC and limiting warming, we may be able to avoid passing some of the critical thresholds that, once crossed, can lead to potentially irreversible, catastrophic impacts for the planet, including more warming. These thresholds are known as climate tipping points and refer to when a natural system "tips" into an entirely different state. One example would be Arctic permafrost, which stores carbon like a freezer: As the permafrost melts from warming temperatures, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Importantly, climate action is not a binary pass-fail test. Every fraction of a degree of warming that we prevent will reduce human suffering and death, and keep more of the planet’s natural systems intact. The good news is that a wide range of solutions exist to sharply reduce emissions, slow the pace of warming, and protect communities on the frontlines of climate impacts. Climate leaders the world over—those on major political stages as well as grassroots community activists—are offering up alternative models to systems that prioritize polluters over people. Many of these solutions are rooted in ancestral and Indigenous understandings of the natural world and have existed for millennia. Some solutions require major investments into clean, renewable energy and sustainable technologies. To be successful, climate solutions must also address intersecting crises—like poverty, racism, and gender inequality —that compound and drive the causes and impacts of the climate crisis. A combination of human ingenuity and immense political will can help us get there.

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comprehensive essay about climate change

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What Is Climate Change?

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. Such shifts can be natural, due to changes in the sun’s activity or large volcanic eruptions. But since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change , primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.

Burning fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures.

The main greenhouse gases that are causing climate change include carbon dioxide and methane. These come from using gasoline for driving a car or coal for heating a building, for example. Clearing land and cutting down forests can also release carbon dioxide. Agriculture, oil and gas operations are major sources of methane emissions. Energy, industry, transport, buildings, agriculture and land use are among the main sectors  causing greenhouse gases.

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Humans are responsible for global warming

Climate scientists have showed that humans are responsible for virtually all global heating over the last 200 years. Human activities like the ones mentioned above are causing greenhouse gases that are warming the world faster than at any time in at least the last two thousand years.

The average temperature of the Earth’s surface is now about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s (before the industrial revolution) and warmer than at any time in the last 100,000 years. The last decade (2011-2020) was the warmest on record , and each of the last four decades has been warmer than any previous decade since 1850.

Many people think climate change mainly means warmer temperatures. But temperature rise is only the beginning of the story. Because the Earth is a system, where everything is connected, changes in one area can influence changes in all others.

The consequences of climate change now include, among others, intense droughts, water scarcity, severe fires, rising sea levels, flooding, melting polar ice, catastrophic storms and declining biodiversity.

The Earth is asking for help.

People are experiencing climate change in diverse ways

Climate change can affect our health , ability to grow food, housing, safety and work. Some of us are already more vulnerable to climate impacts, such as people living in small island nations and other developing countries. Conditions like sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion have advanced to the point where whole communities have had to relocate, and protracted droughts are putting people at risk of famine. In the future, the number of people displaced by weather-related events is expected to rise.

Every increase in global warming matters

In a series of UN reports , thousands of scientists and government reviewers agreed that limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C would help us avoid the worst climate impacts and maintain a livable climate. Yet policies currently in place point to a 3°C temperature rise by the end of the century.

The emissions that cause climate change come from every part of the world and affect everyone, but some countries produce much more than others .The seven biggest emitters alone (China, the United States of America, India, the European Union, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, and Brazil) accounted for about half of all global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.

Everyone must take climate action, but people and countries creating more of the problem have a greater responsibility to act first.

Photocomposition: an image of the world globe looking worried to a thermometer with raising temperatures

We face a huge challenge but already know many solutions

Many climate change solutions can deliver economic benefits while improving our lives and protecting the environment. We also have global frameworks and agreements to guide progress, such as the Sustainable Development Goals , the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement . Three broad categories of action are: cutting emissions, adapting to climate impacts and financing required adjustments.

Switching energy systems from fossil fuels to renewables like solar or wind will reduce the emissions driving climate change. But we have to act now. While a growing number of countries is committing to net zero emissions by 2050, emissions must be cut in half by 2030 to keep warming below 1.5°C. Achieving this means huge declines in the use of coal, oil and gas: over two-thirds of today’s proven reserves of fossil fuels need to be kept in the ground by 2050 in order to prevent catastrophic levels of climate change.

Growing coalition

Adapting to climate consequences protects people, homes, businesses, livelihoods, infrastructure and natural ecosystems. It covers current impacts and those likely in the future. Adaptation will be required everywhere, but must be prioritized now for the most vulnerable people with the fewest resources to cope with climate hazards. The rate of return can be high. Early warning systems for disasters, for instance, save lives and property, and can deliver benefits up to 10 times the initial cost.

We can pay the bill now, or pay dearly in the future

Climate action requires significant financial investments by governments and businesses. But climate inaction is vastly more expensive. One critical step is for industrialized countries to fulfil their commitment to provide $100 billion a year to developing countries so they can adapt and move towards greener economies.

Climate finance

To get familiar with some of the more technical terms used in connection with climate change, consult the Climate Dictionary .

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Fossil fuels are by far the largest contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, which poses many risks to all forms of life on Earth. Learn more .

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Home / For Educators: Grades 6-12 / Climate Explained: Introductory Essays About Climate Change Topics

Climate Explained: Introductory Essays About Climate Change Topics

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Climate Explained, a part of Yale Climate Connections, is an essay collection that addresses an array of climate change questions and topics, including why it’s cold outside if global warming is real, how we know that humans are responsible for global warming, and the relationship between climate change and national security.

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Climate Change Basics: Five Facts, Ten Words

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To simplify the scientific complexity of climate change, we focus on communicating five key facts about climate change that everyone should know. 

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Why should we care about climate change?

Having different perspectives about global warming is natural, but the most important thing that anyone should know about climate change is why it matters.  

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Climate Change, Health and Existential Risks to Civilization: A Comprehensive Review (1989–2013)

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Background: Anthropogenic global warming, interacting with social and other environmental determinants, constitutes a profound health risk. This paper reports a comprehensive literature review for 1989–2013 (inclusive), the first 25 years in which this topic appeared in scientific journals. It explores the extent to which articles have identified potentially catastrophic, civilization-endangering health risks associated with climate change. Methods: PubMed and Google Scholar were primarily used to identify articles which were then ranked on a three-point scale. Each score reflected the extent to which papers discussed global systemic risk. Citations were also analyzed. Results : Of 2143 analyzed papers 1546 (72%) were scored as one. Their citations (165,133) were 82% of the total. The proportion of annual papers scored as three was initially high, as were their citations but declined to almost zero by 1996, before rising slightly from 2006. Conclusions : The enormous expansion of the literature appropriately reflects increased understanding of the importance of climate change to global health. However, recognition of the most severe, existential, health risks from climate change was generally low. Most papers instead focused on infectious diseases, direct heat effects and other disciplinary-bounded phenomena and consequences, even though scientific advances have long called for more inter-disciplinary collaboration.

1. Introduction

In 1988 the leading climate scientist James Hansen, of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, with three other senior researchers, testified to a U.S. Congressional committee that it was 99 percent certain that the warming trend in Earth’s temperature that was then observed was not natural variation but was caused by the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse” gases. This testimony was reported prominently in the New York Times [ 1 , 2 ]. Hansen was criticized then, and many times since, for his “adventurous” interpretation of climate data, however the publicity which followed his testimony, itself reflecting a decade of growing agitation about the geo-political impacts of climate change [ 2 ] may have influenced health workers to think more deeply about the issues. In any case, within a year, a Lancet editorial discussed health and the “greenhouse effect” [ 3 ], possibly the first such publication in a health journal, eight years after a chapter concerning climate change and parasitic disease appeared [ 4 ]. At least six other chapters on this topic were published in the 1980s, as well as at least two reports. For details, see [ 5 ]. Two other journal articles concerning climate change and health were also published in 1989 [ 6 , 7 ].

The 1989 editorial stated “global warming, increased ultraviolet flux, and higher levels of tropospheric ozone will reduce crop production, with potentially devastating effects on world food supplies. Malnutrition (sic) might then become commonplace, even among developed nations, and armed conflicts would be more likely as countries compete for a dwindling supply of natural resources” [ 3 ]. In the New England Journal of Medicine, Leaf warned, also in 1989, of sea level rise, especially in the south-eastern U.S. state of Florida, higher precipitation, millions of environmental refugees, an increased risk of drought and the possibility that warming at higher latitudes would not fully compensate any climate change related loss of agricultural productivity towards the equator [ 6 ]. The third paper published that year [ 7 ] was even more direct, warning of “catastrophic” consequences to human health and well-being.

In the early 1990s, warnings of potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change continued to dominate. Yet, by the turn of the millennium, the author had formed the impression that the scientific publishing milieu was becoming less receptive to the message that climate change and other forms of “planetary overload” [ 8 ] pose existential, civilization-wide risks. This was disturbing, as my own confirmation bias seemed to support the case that the evidence of existential risk was continuing to rise [ 9 , 10 ].

That the health risks from climate change are indeed extraordinarily high was stressed in the 2009 publication of the lengthy (41 page) article by the Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission, which described climate change as the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century” [ 11 ]. Yet, although this paper attracted considerable attention at the time, the long-term outlook for climate change and health has since continued to deteriorate.

By existential, I mean related to the word “existence”. But it is not the continued existence of Earth that is in doubt, but instead the existence of a high level of function of civilization, one in which prospects of “health for many” (though no longer “health for all”) are realistic and even improving [ 12 ]. Existential risk does not necessarily mean that global civilization will collapse. Nor does it exclude pockets of order and even prosperity enduring for generations, from which global or quasi-global civilization may one day emerge, provided worst case scenarios are avoided, such as runaway climate change and nuclear war leading to nuclear winter [ 13 ]. Compared to today, such prospects should be recognized as catastrophic. Unchecked climate change could generate similar, or bleaker, global futures. Seeking to minimize such possibilities should be seen as a major responsibility for all workers concerned with sustaining and improving global public health.

There is reticence [ 14 , 15 ], shared by many authors, reviewers, journals, funders and media outlets to discuss the possibility of such existential risks. Nonetheless, the consequences for health are so vast that discussion is warranted. This paper seeks to do that, in the process conducting the largest review on the topic of climate change and health yet to be published.

1.1. Climate Change Science, Risk and the 2015 Paris Agreement

The scientific knowledge that gases, accumulating mainly from the burning of fossil fuels and the clearing of forests, add to the natural “greenhouse effect” has been known since the 19th century [ 16 ]. In 1957 scientists observed “human beings are now carrying out a largescale geophysical experiment of a kind which could not have happened in the past nor be reproduced in the future. Within a few hundred years we are returning to the air and oceans the concentrated organic carbon stored over hundreds of millions of years” [ 17 ].

In 2015 the Paris climate change agreement, negotiated by representatives of 196 parties (195 nations and the European Union) committed countries (thus, effectively, civilization), upon ratification, to actions that would seek to restrict average global warming to “well below” 2 °C above “pre-industrial” levels and to “pursue efforts” to limit the rise to 1.5 °C. The text of the Paris Agreement defines neither the pre-industrial temperature nor the time for this baseline, but most experts agree that it means the temperature in the late 18th or 19th century, soon after the start of the industrial revolution, when coal burning increased. This time is after the end of the Little Ice Age, which itself was accompanied by a rebound in average temperatures, independent of the slow rise in greenhouse gases (chiefly methane and nitrous oxide as well as carbon dioxide) that occurred throughout the 19th century. Estimates of global warming for the period 1861–1880 until 2015 range from 0.93 °C [ 18 ] to 1.12 °C [ 19 ].

Although the goal of 1.5 °C is widely known, there is less understanding that meeting this challenge would not guarantee safety from a climate change perspective [ 20 ]. Indeed, if it were to be more widely accepted that climate change has already contributed to the Syrian war [ 21 , 22 ], to the rise in global food prices which accompanied the 2010 drought and heatwave in Russia [ 23 , 24 ], and the 2018 wildfire season in the Northern Hemisphere, then the threshold of danger might already be widely seen as having long been exceeded.

In recent years the science concerning the physical impacts of climate has continued to expand and to disturb. Average global temperatures continue to rise [ 25 ], apparently in a process more “stepped” than as a trend [ 26 ] with record average global heat in both El Niño and La Niña years. Loss of ice from both Antarctica and Greenland is increasing and the rate of sea level rise is consequently accelerating [ 27 ]. Property values in parts of the U.S. East Coast may soon fall, due to sea level rise [ 28 ]. There is growing concern about more intense rainfall [ 29 , 30 ], fires worsened by heat and drought [ 31 ], a weakening Gulf Stream [ 32 ] and increased sinuosity of the jet stream, which can cause unusual cold at lower latitudes, even if the average global temperature is rising [ 33 , 34 ]. The projected trend toward a weaker and poleward-shifted jet stream is also consistent with projections of a significantly increased risk of worsening extreme heat and dryness in the Northern Hemisphere [ 35 ].

There is also growing evidence of greenhouse effect-intensifying feedbacks in the Earth system [ 36 ] that might release enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and methane, independent of fossil fuel combustion, agriculture or deforestation, from sources including warming tundra and increased fires, both of peat and forests [ 37 , 38 ]. Such releases could dwarf the climate saving made possible by the putative implementation of the Paris climate agreement. The strength of the oceanic carbon sink is also weakening [ 39 ]. If this intensifies it is likely to accelerate warming of the atmosphere, ocean and land.

1.2. Interaction, Attribution, and Causation

All, or virtually all, environmental health effects interact with social and technological factors as well as other “purely” environmental determinants. For example, the effects of heat upon individual health are influenced by temperature, humidity, exercise, hydration, age, pre-existing health status, and also by occupation, clothing, behavior, autonomy, vulnerability, and sense of obligation. Does the person affected by heat, perhaps a brick maker in India, have the capacity to regulate her heat exposure; or might they be an elite athlete or emergency worker voluntarily pushing their limits? Other factors influencing the heath impact of heat include housing quality, the presence of absence of affordable air conditioning and energy subsidies, if any. In turn, these factors are influenced by governance and socio-economic status. Thus, the health-harming effects of heat can be seen to have many contributing causes, of which climate change is only one. As McMichael (and before him David Hume, among others) pointed out, causal attribution is to an extent philosophical; it is influenced by the “focal depth” of the examiner’s “causal lens” [ 40 ]. Consider a mass shooting in a school: Some will see underlying social and legal factors as contributing; others may see only the shooter. Yet, a major role and goal of public health is to seek to identify and reduce “deep” or “underlying” causes [ 41 ]. A world in which only the most “proximal” causes are identified will not function well.

Attributing the fraction of human-caused (anthropogenic) climate change to physical events such as storms, floods and heatwaves is similarly contested and assumption-dependent. The contribution of climate change to more indirect, strongly socially mediated effects such as migration, famine or conflict is even more difficult and contentious [ 22 , 42 , 43 ]. Perhaps in part because of these causal complications, issues such as famine, genocide, large-scale population dislocation and conflict have, with rare exceptions [ 44 ], been peripheral to public health. This is despite the obvious large-scale adverse health effects of these phenomena.

Rigorous methods have been developed to detect and attribute the health effects of phenomena that are more directly or obviously related to climate change, such as heat and infectious diseases [ 45 ]. However, excessive caution risks a type II error, the overlooking of genuine effects [ 46 , 47 ]. To reduce this risk, the authors of a recent study on attribution acknowledged the role for “well-informed judgments, based on understanding of underlying processes and matching of patterns of health, climate, and other determinants of human well-being” [ 45 ]. This paper makes many such judgments.

1.3. Integrative Risk and the Sustainability of Civilization

Publications in health journals about nuclear war and health date at least to 1962 [ 48 ]. In 1992 the Union of Concerned Scientists coordinated the “World Scientist’s warning to humanity”, signed by over 1700 leading scientists (but no public health workers) [ 49 ]. This warning was repeated in 2017, with far more signatories (including many health workers) [ 50 ].

Many authors outside health have warned of the fragility of modern civilization [ 51 , 52 ]. However, comparatively few writers with a health background have contributed [ 9 , 10 , 53 , 54 ]. Tony McMichael, who led the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chapter on health [ 55 ] frequently wrote and spoke of eroding “life support mechanisms” [ 56 , 57 ], a term probably introduced into the health literature in 1972 by Sargent [ 58 ]. Certainly, McMichael wanted to convey, when using this term, a profound risk to human well-being and health.

If civilization is to collapse then effects such as conflict, population displacement and famine are likely to be involved. A heatwave, on its own, is unlikely to cause the collapse of civilization, nor even ruin an economy for a decade. It needs social co-factors to do this. For example, a series of heatwaves damaging crop yields and contributing to internal migration has been postulated as contributing to the Syrian civil war that started in 2011 [ 21 , 22 , 59 , 60 , 61 , 62 ]. Prolonged heat, especially if in a humid setting, could cause some regions to be completely abandoned [ 63 , 64 , 65 ].

A severely damaged health system, allied with worsening undernutrition and poverty, could provide a milieu for a devastating epidemic, including a resurgence of HIV/AIDS [ 66 ]. An increase in infectious diseases, if of sufficient scale, could contribute to integrative cascades of failure generating regional or even global civilization collapse. Infectious diseases, as well as unfavorable eco-climatic change, contributed to the collapse of the Roman Empire [ 67 ].

While such consequences may seem far-fetched to some, the prospect of sea level rise of one meter or more by 2100 (perhaps sooner), proliferating nuclear weapons, millions of refugees, xenophobia and tribalism which limits integration, and growing cases of state failure is disquieting. Few, if any, formal scenarios, as exercises by senior scientists, are as bleak, but funding and other pressures constrain the realism of such exercises [ 15 ]. Already, the number of forcibly displaced people exceeds 68 million [ 68 ], a rise that has been linked with tightening limits to growth, including climate change [ 69 ].

It is stressed, again, that the idea that any single climate related event, such as heat, drought, sea level rise, conflict or migration will cause the collapse of civilization is simplistic. It is far more plausible to conceive that collapse (or quasi-collapse) could arise via a “milieu” of multi-factorial risk, enhancing, inflaming and interacting with climate change and other factors [ 43 , 70 ].

1.4. Hypothesis

This article seeks to test the hypothesis that the early literature relevant to climate change and health was more willing to describe catastrophic, potentially civilization disrupting health effects including famine, mass migration and conflict than it was to become, at least until 2014.

To explore this hypothesis, a database of articles relevant to climate change and health was assembled, relying mainly on PubMed and Google Scholar. This had six steps (see Appendix for details). Due to limited resources, the main search was restricted to the period 1980–2013, and the terms “climate change” and health or “global warming” and health. After eliminating duplicates, remaining papers were checked to see if they met eligibility criteria (see Box 1 ).

inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Included: Articles, editorials, commentaries, journalistic pieces with bylines.

Excluded: Reports, books, book sections including e-chapters, letters, factsheets, monographs, un-credited journalistic entries, non-English publications, papers concerning stratospheric ozone depletion, podcast transcripts, journalistic pieces that could not easily be recovered.

The search was not restricted to health or to multidisciplinary journals. However, papers outside health journals had to meet more exacting requirements to be included. They had to include health (or a synonym such as nutrition) in their title, abstract, keywords or text, even if they focused on an effect with health implications, such as population displacement, conflict or food insecurity.

The title of each identified paper was read, followed by the abstract of each paper, assessed as possibly eligible. If a score was still unclear, the full text was obtained and searched for words and phrases that suggested a broader interpretation of the indirect effects of climate change, such as “population displacement”, “migration”, “conflict”, “war”, “famine”, and “food insecurity”.

Eligible papers were scored as one if they exclusively concerned an effect other than conflict, migration, population displacement or large-scale undernutrition or famine. They also needed to exclude statements (even if introductory) such as “climate change has been recognized as the greatest risk to health in the 21st century”.

Papers were scored as two if they either mentioned such an effect and/or contained statements recognizing the potentially enormous scale of the health impacts from climate change. A synonym for this understanding was the phrase eroding “life support mechanisms”.

Papers were scored as three if they included a more detailed explanation or assertion of the future (or current) existence and importance of conflict, migration or famine, perhaps suggesting an interaction among them. A score of three was more likely if they also warned of the general severity of climate change. The score was also influenced by the tone of the language, and the space devoted to these issues (see Appendix for further details).

In addition, PubMed was searched for papers published from 2014–2017 matching the criteria “climate change” and “health”. A sample of 156 of these articles was randomly selected, approximately 5% in each year, after the elimination of a proportion of ineligible articles. Each was then scored, using the method described above for papers published from 1989 to 2013 (inclusive). Bootstrapping was then used to estimate the average score and 95% confidence interval of these articles, by taking ten thousand resamples, each of 156 papers, with replacement from this set (so that in each iteration some papers will appear more than once, while others will not appear at all).

A total of 2143 unique articles and journalistic essays satisfied the inclusion criteria, for the period 1989–2013 inclusive. The full database is available in the supplementary material . This shows the year, lead author (at least), journal, title and primary search method. It also lists the number of Google Scholar citations and the date these were identified. Table A1 ( Appendix ) tabulates the primary search method of papers, by each year.

No paper published before 1989 was eligible for retention in the final database. One potential publication [ 71 ] was cited by Kalkstein and Smoyer [ 5 ] as published in 1988, but it could not be located. About half the total papers (1142 or 53%) were published since 2009 (see Figure 1 ). Most papers (1546 papers, 72%) were scored as one, while only 189 (3.3%) were scored as three. The difference in these scores is statistically significant ( p < 0.01 ANOVA). The average score of these 2143 papers was 1.37 (see Table A2 in Appendix ).

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Number of papers in each category. Since 1989 the number of papers concerning climate change and health has expanded considerably, particularly since 2008. As this article did not review the entire literature, the actual number of papers published, even in English, is more than shown. The average score of these papers declined from 1.9 in the first quintile to 1.34 in the final five years.

The increase in the size of literature reflects growing awareness of the risks to health from climate change. Over 50% of the papers published in the first quintile (1989–1993) were scored as two or three, although the total number in that time (27) was small (see Figure 1 ). Since 1993 the majority of papers have focused on effects such as heat, infectious diseases, allergies or asthma. The number of papers scored as two or three increased slightly after its trough (23%) in the third quintile (1999–2004) but was only 26% for 2009–2013 inclusive.

Papers scored as three were particularly uncommon in the third quintile (1999–2003), representing only 2.6% of the total published papers in that period. Even in the first quintile (1989–1993) most citations were for papers scored as one (see Figure 2 ).

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Number of citations per annum for each score of paper. Most citations were for papers scored as one. Note that in 2005–2007 three extensively cited papers were scored as two (these are discussed in the Appendix A ).

3.1. Citations

Citation data were available for 2105 papers (98%). Over 201,000 citations were identified by Google Scholar (see Table A3 in Appendix ). Thirty two percent of these citations were for papers published since 2009 (see Figure 2 ). Of these citations, the great majority (82%) were for papers scored as one, each of which was cited an average of 107 times. Papers scored 2 were cited an average of 73 times, representing 15% of the total. Papers scored as three were cited 35 times each on average and accounted for 3% of the total. The difference in these citation scores is also statistically significant ( p < 0.01 ANOVA). Citations for papers scored as three from 1995 to 2008 inclusive were even lower, accounting for less than 1% of the total citations in each year of this period (see Figure 3 ). The fraction of the literature discussing existential risk remained lower in the last 5 years of this database than in the first five years (see Figure 1 ). The shift in the ratio of annual citations from the early period to the more recent years is evident in Figure 3 . Until 1991, the majority of citations were for papers scored as three. From 1994 the fraction of citations for papers scored as three was almost zero (3% or less) in every year until 2009. In 2013 it again fell to 3%.

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The proportion of citations each year for papers scored as one and three. Since 1991 most citations have been for papers scored as 1. The Lancet UCL paper published in 2009 [ 11 ] led to a resurgence of citations for papers scored as 3, but this effect declined. Three individual papers, each scored as two (published in 2005, 2006 and 2007), were disproportionately cited. In each year at least some papers scored two or three, but their proportion of citations fell steeply after the first quintile. In 2003 no paper was scored as three, and for almost a decade (1997–2005 inclusive) virtually no papers scored as three were cited.

3.2. Coverage of Topics

All papers published in 1989 discussed multiple potential health effects of climate change. However, from 1990, journal articles focusing exclusively on infectious diseases and climate change appeared [ 72 , 73 , 74 ]. Early papers also focused on heat [ 75 ] and allergies [ 76 ]. From 2000, the foci of concerns expanded greatly. Additional topics included reduced micronutrient concentrations in food [ 77 ], asthma [ 78 ], thunderstorm asthma [ 79 ], chronic diseases and obesity [ 80 ], toxin exposure (such as from increased concentrations in Arctic mammals [ 81 ] and increased algal blooms [ 82 ]), forest fires [ 83 ], mental health [ 84 ] and respiratory [ 85 ], cardio-vascular [ 86 ], renal [ 87 ], fetal [ 88 ], genito-urinal [ 89 ] and skin conditions [ 90 ]. By 2000, papers were also appearing arguing that the impact of climate change for malaria was overstated [ 91 , 92 ].

Articles also appeared on the impact of climate change on groups such as indigenous people [ 93 ], children [ 94 ], the elderly [ 95 ] and regions and locations, including cities [ 96 ], the Arctic [ 97 ] and small island states [ 98 ] as well as many individual nations. Other themes appeared, including on how the health sector might reduce its carbon footprint [ 99 ], on “co-benefits” [ 100 ], on climate change as a great opportunity to improve public health [ 101 ], on medical education [ 102 ], pharmaceuticals [ 103 ] and on the health risks of adaptation and geoengineering, including of carbon capture and storage [ 104 ].

3.3. The Leadership Role of Some Journals

Many journals played prominent, even campaigning roles, especially the Lancet, BMJ and Environmental Health Perspectives. Several journals had special issues, including Global Health Action, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health and Health Promotion International. Seven journals published at least 28 articles each, including editorials and news items (see Table A4 in Appendix ). At least 34 journals published editorials, which, with an average score of 2.2, were more likely to be scored as two or three than journal articles (average score 1.3). News items and other journalistic pieces had an average score of 1.6. At least 21 articles were published in nursing journals, with an average score of 1.67.

3.4. Papers for the Period 2014–2017

A total of 3377 papers were identified by PubMed as published from 2014–2017. Of these, 346 were found to be ineligible, although the true number would be higher, if all candidates were examined. Of the potentially eligible remainder, 113 papers were published in 2018, but recorded by PubMed as e-published in 2017. Slightly over five percent of the articles for each year was randomly selected, resulting in 156 articles (see Table A5 in Appendix ). Their average score and 95% confidence interval, estimated by bootstrapping, was 1.29 (95% CI 1.21–1.39) (see Figure A2 in Appendix ). Details of these 156 papers are in the supplementary material . Note that their citations were not checked.

4. Discussion

This paper describes the first published analysis of the extent to which the literature on climate change and health has described or in other ways engaged with “existential” risk. By including 2000 articles, 60 editorials and 83 news items (2143 “papers” in total) on climate change and health, it is by far the largest review of the climate change and health literature to have so far been published. Lack of resources currently prevents an extension of the fuller analysis to more recent years. However, a randomly selected sample of 156 articles for papers identified by PubMed as published in the period 2014–2017 found that these papers had an average score lower than the average score for any quintile from 1989–2013, other than for 1999–2003 (see Table A2 and Table A5 in Appendix ).

Several systematic and other reviews of topics related to climate change and health have been published, but on a much smaller scale, and with different research questions. Ford and Pearce systematically reviewed 420 papers, published between 1990 and 2009, exploring the topic of climate change vulnerability in the Canadian western Arctic [ 105 ]. Two systematic reviews concerned heat. Huang et al. [ 106 ] searched for papers published between 1980 and July 2010, projecting the heat related mortality under climate change scenarios. Only 14 papers were included in their final analysis. Xu et al. [ 107 ] explored the relationship between heat waves and children’s health, but selected twelve, an even small number. A systematic review into dengue fever and climate change (for the period 1991–2012) included 16 studies [ 108 ].

Nichols et al. (2009) [ 109 ] undertook a systematic review on health, climate change and energy vulnerability, searching for papers published in English between 1998 and 2008. They retrieved 114 papers but included only 36 in their final analysis. Bouzid et al. (2013) undertook a “systematic review of systematic reviews” to explore the effectiveness of public health interventions to reduce the health impact of climate change [ 110 ]. This identified over 3100 unique records, but of these, only 85 full papers were assessed, with 33 included in the final review.

This may also be the first review paper concerning climate change and health to use a citation analysis [ 111 ] as an indicator of influence. Citations in Google Scholar were used for convenience and cost. Although such citations are prone to error, and include essays in the gray literature, they still reflect influence. Some reports in the gray literature may be more widely read and more influential than more scholarly work.

4.1. Selection and Other Forms of Bias

A systematic review was not undertaken. However, all papers identified by searching using PubMed and at least 100 papers for each year identified by Google Scholar were considered for inclusion. The search term relevant to health was restricted to a single word, rather than synonyms such as “disease”, “morbidity”, “illness”, or “mortality”. Undoubtedly, a search using additional terms will identify more papers, as would a systematic review.

To examine the possibility that a more extensive search strategy would alter the conclusions, PubMed was also searched for the terms “climate change” and “morbidity” for papers published in 2013. This strategy identified 261 papers, compared to 496 when searching for “climate change” and “health”. Of these 261 papers, 30 had not previously been identified by the other search methods used, and met the other inclusion criteria. However, all of these additional papers were scored as one. Their inclusion in the final analysis was considered likely to bias the paper away from the null hypothesis, by accentuating the fraction of papers not scored as two or three. This bias towards papers scored one (i.e., identified by searching for “morbidity”) seems plausible because the term morbidity may be more likely to be associated with specific diseases than the term “health”. These papers therefore were not added to the analysis.

The search was supplemented by the addition of 17 papers first identified from the author’s own database, but not later found by the search strategy using Google Scholar or PubMed (steps 2–3) as described in Figure A1 . Eight of these 17 papers, five of which the author wrote or co-wrote, were scored as three. Their average score was 2.17, far higher than for the balance (1.23). This group also includes two editorials, one published in the Lancet, one in the BMJ. The inclusion of one of these editorials (scored as three, published in 1989) has biased the findings in favor of the hypothesis that highly scored papers were more common in the early period of this literature. Note, however, that no citations were recorded for this editorial.

The inclusion of these higher scoring papers later in the period of analysis has biased the result to the null, that is, away from the hypothesis that fewer such papers were published from about 2000. The most influential of these 17 papers, judged by Google Scholar citations, was cited 272 times. It was the first to report that rising levels of carbon dioxide depress micronutrient concentrations in food [ 77 ]. The other 16 papers were cited 405 times between them, an average of 25, which is low compared to the average citation number (94). Twenty eight other papers were included, mostly identified from special issues. Their average score was 1.9. One paper was identified post-review, by chance. It was scored as two (perhaps generously) and was included because it was judged that to exclude it would bias the result away from the null hypothesis.

Bias is also likely to have been introduced in the scoring process, but not to the extent that it could challenge the main conclusions. The rigor of this paper would be improved if the scores could be checked by a third party, blind to the first score. Unfortunately, no resources were available for this purpose. Some classification errors are likely, especially for papers for which the author had no previous familiarity, and if published after 2009, when, due to time pressure, many papers were scored rapidly. On the other hand, in the process of ranking over 2000 papers the author became skilled at making rapid decisions, especially for most papers scored as one. The difference between papers scored one and two was generally more apparent than for papers scored between two and three. In cases of doubt a higher score was always selected.

The likelihood of bias and error is unlikely to explain the difference in the character of the papers in the early period and those which later dominated. Although the widely cited paper by Costello et al. [ 11 ] (1583 citations as of June 2018) may have refreshed appreciation of the potentially catastrophic nature of climate change, the majority of papers and their citations published between 2010 and 2013 continued to focus on specific issues. This trend appears to have persisted in the years since, judged by the analysis of a randomly selected sample, identified by PubMed as published between 2014 and 2018.

4.2. Reasons for the Apparent Conservatism of the Literature

There are several plausible, overlapping and interacting explanations for the decline in the proportion of papers scored as two or three (and for their comparatively fewer citations) following 1996, and also in the failure for papers published since 2009 to fully amplify the most severe warnings. One likely contributing explanation is self-censorship. The topic of climate change and health is unfamiliar territory for many health editors and writers. Climate change has become politicized in many English-speaking countries, especially in the U.S. and Australia. Although comparatively few health workers have expertise concerning climate change and health, the readership of some health journals seems judged, by their editor, to be skeptical of, or even to reject climate science. For example, one editor, defending the decision to publish a paper (scored, possibly generously, as two) [ 112 ] seemed almost apologetic, writing “On its face, the paper by Hess and colleagues is largely a political commentary and a departure from the types of articles found in Academic Emergency Medicine” [ 113 ].

Thus, for some health workers and editors, even broaching the topic of climate change and health may be a courageous act. The publication of papers in health journals that describe potential pathways that could threaten civilization would appear even bolder. It is unsurprising that such papers are still fairly uncommon, at least until 2014, and particularly in journals which do not yet have a long tradition of publishing papers or editorials on this topic.

In the early period of the climate and health literature (1989–1993) some of the most outspoken articles were editorials. Perhaps at that time, there was a certain sense of shock concerning climate change, which has since waned. It was also a time when concerns about overpopulation were slightly less taboo [ 114 , 115 , 116 ]. However, editorials in more years also tend to have a higher index of concern than other articles.

Another likely contributor to the comparative degree of restraint is the view, backed by some research, that an excess of fear is counter-productive [ 117 ]. However, the smell of smoke in a theater requires the sounding of a vigorous alarm. Compounding the difficulty of communicating the risk over climate change is the lag between the whiff of smoke and the onset of visible fire. Hansen warned of great danger over thirty years ago, and he, with others, have issued many warnings since [ 118 ]. Sceptics are still waiting to see the metaphorical “flames” of climate change, even disputing the link between literal flames (fires) and climate change.

On the other hand, science, though not infallible, has delivered countless miracles such as antisepsis, anesthesia, penicillin and the jet engine. It has long warned of the physical changes of climate change. We who work in health should not be amazed if the predictions of climate and Earth scientists prove broadly accurate. Social science is less precise than climatology [ 43 ], however the links between food insecurity, drought, sea level rise, migration and, in some places, conflict are, also, surely not far-fetched. Papers that fail to express appreciation of the extraordinary risks we face as civilization may be judged by people of the future as having failed in their duty of care to protect health.

Another likely reason for the general restraint in the literature is the fragmentation of science and limited funding for multidisciplinary work. Comparatively few authors, other than if collaborating in large, multidisciplinary teams (rare for most authors primarily concerned with health), are rewarded or funded for thinking systemically. This problem is possibly worsening. Related to this, many recent papers are by sub-disciplines of health that have not previously published on the topic of climate change. Such papers are probably less likely to discuss existential risk.

As the effects of climate change have become increasingly clear the need for adaptation has become overwhelming. A stress on adaptation does not necessarily reflect any underestimation of the eventual severity of climate change. However, a stress on adaptation at the expense of mitigation may do so. In many countries, political leadership favors adaptation.

5. Conclusions

In 1989, thirty two years after the International Geophysical Year, the first papers on global warming and health appeared in the world’s leading medical journals [ 3 , 6 , 7 ]. All three of these early papers warned of severe, even existential risk and were each scored as three.

In 1990 McCally and Cassel warned that “progression of these environmental changes could lead to unprecedented human suffering” [ 119 ]. Also, in 1990, Fiona Godlee, then deputy editor of the BMJ, wrote “Countries in the developing world would suffer both the direct effects of drought and flood and the knock-on effect of agricultural and economic decline in the West. The already present problems of feeding the world’s growing population would be compounded by the increasing numbers of displaced people unable to grow their own food” [ 120 ]. In 1992 Powles observed “It is possible that adverse lagged effects of current industrial (and military) activities will disrupt the habitat of future generations of our species through processes such as stratospheric ozone depletion, global warming and others as yet unpredicted” [ 121 ]. However, in the following years, this sense of urgency largely dissipated, until the long paper by Costello et al. in 2009 [ 11 ].

Conditioned by growing up during the Cold War, the author has long been apprehensive about civilization’s survival. However, my timeline for global health disaster has always been multi-decadal. Civilizational collapse, if it is to occur, will not necessarily be in my own lifetime [ 54 ]. My concerns are not based solely on climate change. Climate change, by itself, is most unlikely to cripple civilization. A well-functioning global society, motivated to do so, could easily eliminate hunger and poverty, not only today, but under all but worst-case climate change. Refugees from inundated islands, war-torn Syria or the drought-stricken Chad basin [ 122 ] could easily be accommodated in more fertile and more elevated parts of the world. Unfortunately, humans currently do not co-operate on such a scale, and this behavior may, in part, be driven by inborn, “hard-wired”, evolutionary-shaped traits [ 123 ]. If civilization is to endure we may need to collectively overcome our seemingly deep wiring for tribalism and separation.

Acknowledgments

My thanks to John Potter for his help with locating obscure references, and to Andy Morse and Kristie Ebi for their very helpful comments, and Joseph Guillaume for his statistical advice. I especially thank Ivan Hanigan for the bootstrap analysis. I also thank three anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary Materials

The following are available online at http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/15/10/2266/s1 .

Appendix A.1. Detailed Methods and Results

The search method had six steps (see Figure A1 ). Initial exploration used the author’s Endnote database, of over 35,000 references, to find relevant articles. The second step was to search, using Google Scholar, for up to the first 100 results for each year in the search period (1980–2013), using the terms “climate change” and health or “global warming” and “health”. For the first decade in which relevant articles were found (1989–1998) both pairs of terms were used, but from 1999 to 2013 inclusive, only the former terms were used (“climate change” and “health”). In the third step, the search was expanded by seeking the same terms, using PubMed, for the same period; 1980–2013 (inclusive). After eliminating duplicates, all remaining papers were checked to ensure that they met the eligibility criteria listed in Box 1 . In stage 4, several papers were included if they appeared in special issues of journals, together with articles identified by PubMed, or suggested by colleagues. In stage 5, the BMJ database for news items about climate change and health was searched explored, because although PubMed found a few the proportion it identified was low. Finally, in stage 6, several other papers were found by chance, such as in reviews, in the references of cited papers, or by searching for other papers.

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Object name is ijerph-15-02266-g0A1.jpg

Outline of the six stage search strategy for papers published from 1989–2013.

Appendix A.2. Further Scoring Details

The following details are provided in order to provide additional information about the scoring process. It discusses the scoring process for three highly cited papers (from 2005–2007), each of which was scored as two. The first (cited 2059 times) had no mention of population displacement or conflict, but included the sentence “Projections of the effect of climate change on food crop yield production globally appear to be broadly neutral, but climate change will probably exacerbate regional food supply inequalities” [ 124 ]. This statement was assessed as accepting the possibility of a degree of food scarcity judged to be more severe than that described by many papers (particularly concerning the Arctic) which discuss a likely impairment in regional nutrition, but do not forecast insufficient calories or nutrients, let alone famine. Although the conclusion regarding overall global food security in this paper was reassuring, there are already four acknowledged famines in African nations and one in Yemen [ 125 ]. Any exacerbation of regional food supply inequalities is therefore likely to result in aggravated famines, unless future famines are eliminated; an unlikely prospect. Because this paper was cited so frequently a lower score would impact the overall result. If there is a bias from scoring this paper as two it is towards the null hypothesis.

In 2006 a widely cited paper [ 126 ] stated “Other important climatic risks to health, from changes in regional food yields, disruption of fisheries, loss of livelihoods, and population displacement (because of sea-level rise, water shortages, etc.) are less easy to study than these factors and their causal processes and effects are less easily quantified”. This is a more comprehensive list of civilization-endangering effects than the paper discussed above, but the language is restrained and brief. It was scored as a two.

In 2007 another widely cited paper included the sentences “Climate change will, itself, affect food yields around the world unevenly. Although some regions, mostly at mid-to-high latitude, could experience gains, many (e.g., in sub-Saharan Africa) are likely to be adversely affected, with impairment of both nutrition and incomes. Population displacement and conflict are also likely, because of various factors including food insecurity, desertification, sea-level rise, and increased extreme weather events” [ 127 ]. Of the three papers discussed here this provided the most comprehensive list of such effects and also explores their interaction. However, it did not speculate about civilization collapse, nor describe climate change as the biggest threat to global public health.

A gradient exists between papers scored two or three, rather than a clear threshold. Papers were not scored as three simply by including a more detailed explanation or assertion of the existence and importance of conflict, migration or famine, even if an interaction among them was suggested. They needed something extra. For example, one paper [ 128 ] stated (referring to Costello et al. [ 11 ]) “a watershed paper … suggests that climate change represents the biggest potential threat to human health in the twenty-first century … a recent report … also estimates that four billion people are vulnerable and 500 million people are at extreme risk”. This paper was scored as three even though the paper focused on medical education. Although the phrase “the biggest potential threat to human health in the twenty-first century” can, with repetition, lose its capacity to shock, its meaning, if taken literally, is surely sufficiently dire to be scored as three.

Another paper (scored as three) stated “global health, population growth, economic development, environmental degradation, and climate change are the main challenges we face in the 21st century” [ 129 ]. It also stated that “significant mass migration is likely to occur in response to climate change”.

The interpretation of papers was not excessively generous. For example, a paper that noted: “Changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather and climate events have had profound effects on both human society and the natural environment” was scored as one because there was no discussion of this aspect in the abstract or further in the text. It was also considered that the words “have had profound” was insufficiently clear. Nor did the paper discuss conflict, migration or famine.

In contrast, two papers about climate change and health in Nepal were scored as two, as they included the statements “Climate change is becoming huge threat to health especially for those from developing countries” (sic) [ 130 ] and “Climate change is a global issue in this century which has challenged the survival of living creatures affecting the life supporting systems of the earth: atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere” [ 131 ].

Appendix A.3. Sources (Detailed)

Seventeen articles were identified from the author’s database, but not found via PubMed or Google Scholar. Other sources are shown in Table A4 .

This shows the primary source of the 2146 included articles. 18 articles were from special issues, 5 were found accidentally, 1 was from a review and 1 was from a colleague. Many articles were found using multiple methods. The papers listed here in the GS column were not found by PM but may also have been identified by CB. Abbreviations: PM = PubMed, GS = Google Scholar, CB = Colin Butler.

Appendix A.4. Score, Citation and Journal Details

This shows the number of articles and their average score for each quintile from 1989–1993.

This shows the number of papers and citations in each category divided into five quintiles for the 25 years of analysis. Note that in the third quintile (1999–2003) only 5 articles were ranked as three. Ironically, the paper scored as three in 2002 was a news item which quoted Andrew Sims, policy director of the New Economics Foundation as lamenting “Health is not even being talked about here [Delhi], although the potential health impact is a devastating one, almost unimaginable” [ 132 ].

Ten journals published at least 22 articles on climate change and health in the period 1989–2013.

Appendix A.5. Additional Papers 2014–2018

PubMed was searched for the terms “climate change” and “health” for the period 2014–2017 inclusive. This found 3377 papers, which were grouped by year of publication and listed alphabetically, by surname of the first author. Every 20th paper (in each year) was then examined. If a paper was found to be ineligible, successive consecutive (alphabetical) candidates were examined until at least 5% of the total maximum number for each year had been found eligible and analyzed. In total, 156 papers were scored. This sample represented 5.1% of the 3036 papers which remained after 341 of the original pool had been eliminated. More would be excluded, given a more thorough inspection. The average score of these 156 articles and their 95% confidence interval, determined by bootstrapping, was 1.29 (1.21–1.39). The average score of these papers is lower than for the papers published from 2009–2013 (1.37). Although the 95% confidence interval for the period 2014–2018 overlaps with this, there is no evidence to suggest that the more recent literature better recognizes existential risk. See Table A5 and Figure A2 .

This shows the number, number analyzed and scores for the 156 papers that were analyzed for the period 2014–2018, tabulated by year. Note that some of the candidate papers would be culled after further examination.

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Object name is ijerph-15-02266-g0A2.jpg

This shows the density of means and distributions for each year (2014–2017), based on 10,000 bootstrapped resamples (with replacement from the set for each year) and also for papers from 2013–2018 inclusive.

This research received no external funding.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

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Our Future Is Now - A Climate Change Essay by Francesca Minicozzi, '21

Francesca Minicozzi (class of 2021) is a Writing/Biology major who plans to study medicine after graduation. She wrote this essay on climate change for WR 355/Travel Writing, which she took while studying abroad in Newcastle in spring 2020. Although the coronavirus pandemic curtailed Francesca’s time abroad, her months in Newcastle prompted her to learn more about climate change. Terre Ryan Associate Professor, Writing Department

Our Future Is Now

By Francesca Minicozzi, '21 Writing and Biology Major

 “If you don’t mind me asking, how is the United States preparing for climate change?” my flat mate, Zac, asked me back in March, when we were both still in Newcastle. He and I were accustomed to asking each other about the differences between our home countries; he came from Cambridge, while I originated in Long Island, New York. This was one of our numerous conversations about issues that impact our generation, which we usually discussed while cooking dinner in our communal kitchen. In the moment of our conversation, I did not have as strong an answer for him as I would have liked. Instead, I informed him of the few changes I had witnessed within my home state of New York.

Francesca Minicozzi, '21

Zac’s response was consistent with his normal, diplomatic self. “I have been following the BBC news in terms of the climate crisis for the past few years. The U.K. has been working hard to transition to renewable energy sources. Similar to the United States, here in the United Kingdom we have converted over to solar panels too. My home does not have solar panels, but a lot of our neighbors have switched to solar energy in the past few years.”

“Our two countries are similar, yet so different,” I thought. Our conversation continued as we prepared our meals, with topics ranging from climate change to the upcoming presidential election to Britain’s exit from the European Union. However, I could not shake the fact that I knew so little about a topic so crucial to my generation.

After I abruptly returned home from the United Kingdom because of the global pandemic, my conversation with my flat mate lingered in my mind. Before the coronavirus surpassed climate change headlines, I had seen the number of internet postings regarding protests to protect the planet dramatically increase. Yet the idea of our planet becoming barren and unlivable in a not-so-distant future had previously upset me to the point where a part of me refused to deal with it. After I returned from studying abroad, I decided to educate myself on the climate crisis.

My quest for climate change knowledge required a thorough understanding of the difference between “climate change” and “global warming.” Climate change is defined as “a pattern of change affecting global or regional climate,” based on “average temperature and rainfall measurements” as well as the frequency of extreme weather events. 1   These varied temperature and weather events link back to both natural incidents and human activity. 2   Likewise, the term global warming was coined “to describe climate change caused by humans.” 3   Not only that, but global warming is most recently attributed to an increase in “global average temperature,” mainly due to greenhouse gas emissions produced by humans. 4

I next questioned why the term “climate change” seemed to take over the term “global warming” in the United States. According to Frank Luntz, a leading Republican consultant, the term “global warming” functions as a rather intimidating phrase. During George W. Bush’s first presidential term, Luntz argued in favor of using the less daunting phrase “climate change” in an attempt to overcome the environmental battle amongst Democrats and Republicans. 5   Since President Bush’s term, Luntz remains just one political consultant out of many politicians who has recognized the need to address climate change. In an article from 2019, Luntz proclaimed that political parties aside, the climate crisis affects everyone. Luntz argued that politicians should steer clear of trying to communicate “the complicated science of climate change,” and instead engage voters by explaining how climate change personally impacts citizens with natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and forest fires. 6   He even suggested that a shift away from words like “sustainability” would gear Americans towards what they really want: a “cleaner, safer, healthier” environment. 7

The idea of a cleaner and heathier environment remains easier said than done. The Paris Climate Agreement, introduced in 2015, began the United Nations’ “effort to combat global climate change.” 8   This agreement marked a global initiative to “limit global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels,” while simultaneously “pursuing means to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.” 9    Every country on earth has joined together in this agreement for the common purpose of saving our planet. 10   So, what could go wrong here? As much as this sounds like a compelling step in the right direction for climate change, President Donald Trump thought otherwise. In June 2017, President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement with his proclamation of climate change as a “’hoax’ perpetrated by China.” 11   President Trump continued to question the scientific facts behind climate change, remaining an advocate for the expansion of domestic fossil fuel production. 12   He reversed environmental policies implemented by former President Barack Obama to reduce fossil fuel use. 13

Trump’s actions against the Paris Agreement, however, fail to represent the beliefs of Americans as a whole. The majority of American citizens feel passionate about the fight against climate change. To demonstrate their support, some have gone as far as creating initiatives including America’s Pledge and We Are Still In. 14   Although the United States officially exited the Paris Agreement on November 4, 2020, this withdrawal may not survive permanently. 15   According to experts, our new president “could rejoin in as short as a month’s time.” 16   This offers a glimmer of hope.

The Paris Agreement declares that the United States will reduce greenhouse gas emission levels by 26 to 28 percent by the year 2025. 17   As a leader in greenhouse gas emissions, the United States needs to accept the climate crisis for the serious challenge that it presents and work together with other nations. The concept of working coherently with all nations remains rather tricky; however, I remain optimistic. I think we can learn from how other countries have adapted to the increased heating of our planet. During my recent study abroad experience in the United Kingdom, I was struck by Great Britain’s commitment to combating climate change.

Since the United Kingdom joined the Paris Agreement, the country targets a “net-zero” greenhouse gas emission for 2050. 18   This substantial alteration would mark an 80% reduction of greenhouse gases from 1990, if “clear, stable, and well-designed policies are implemented without interruption.” 19   In order to stay on top of reducing emissions, the United Kingdom tracks electricity and car emissions, “size of onshore and offshore wind farms,” amount of homes and “walls insulated, and boilers upgraded,” as well as the development of government policies, including grants for electric vehicles. 20   A strong grip on this data allows the United Kingdom to target necessary modifications that keep the country on track for 2050. In my brief semester in Newcastle, I took note of these significant changes. The city of Newcastle is small enough that many students and faculty are able to walk or bike to campus and nearby essential shops. However, when driving is unavoidable, the majority of the vehicles used are electric, and many British citizens place a strong emphasis on carpooling to further reduce emissions. The United Kingdom’s determination to severely reduce greenhouse emissions is ambitious and particularly admirable, especially as the United States struggles to shy away from its dependence on fossil fuels.

So how can we, as Americans, stand together to combat global climate change? Here are five adjustments Americans can make to their homes and daily routines that can dramatically make a difference:

  • Stay cautious of food waste. Studies demonstrate that “Americans throw away up to 40 percent of the food they buy.” 21   By being more mindful of the foods we purchase, opting for leftovers, composting wastes, and donating surplus food to those in need, we can make an individual difference that impacts the greater good. 22   
  • Insulate your home. Insulation functions as a “cost-effective and accessible” method to combat climate change. 23   Homes with modern insulation reduce energy required to heat them, leading to a reduction of emissions and an overall savings; in comparison, older homes can “lose up to 35 percent of heat through their walls.” 24   
  • Switch to LED Lighting. LED stands for “light-emitting diodes,” which use “90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and half as much as compact fluorescents.” 25   LED lights create light without producing heat, and therefore do not waste energy. Additionally, these lights have a longer duration than other bulbs, which means they offer a continuing savings. 26  
  • Choose transportation wisely. Choose to walk or bike whenever the option presents itself. If walking or biking is not an option, use an electric or hybrid vehicle which emits less harmful gases. Furthermore, reduce the number of car trips taken, and carpool with others when applicable. 
  • Finally, make your voice heard. The future of our planet remains in our hands, so we might as well use our voices to our advantage. Social media serves as a great platform for this. Moreover, using social media to share helpful hints to combat climate change within your community or to promote an upcoming protest proves beneficial in the long run. If we collectively put our voices to good use, together we can advocate for change.

As many of us are stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these suggestions are slightly easier to put into place. With numerous “stay-at-home” orders in effect, Americans have the opportunity to make significant achievements for climate change. Personally, I have taken more precautions towards the amount of food consumed within my household during this pandemic. I have been more aware of food waste, opting for leftovers when too much food remains. Additionally, I have realized how powerful my voice is as a young college student. Now is the opportunity for Americans to share how they feel about climate change. During this unprecedented time, our voice is needed now more than ever in order to make a difference.

However, on a much larger scale, the coronavirus outbreak has shed light on reducing global energy consumption. Reductions in travel, both on the roads and in the air, have triggered a drop in emission rates. In fact, the International Energy Agency predicts a 6 percent decrease in energy consumption around the globe for this year alone. 27   This drop is “equivalent to losing the entire energy demand of India.” 28   Complete lockdowns have lowered the global demand for electricity and slashed CO2 emissions. However, in New York City, the shutdown has only decreased carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent. 29   This proves that a shift in personal behavior is simply not enough to “fix the carbon emission problem.” 30   Climate policies aimed to reduce fossil fuel production and promote clean technology will be crucial steppingstones to ameliorating climate change effects. Our current reduction of greenhouse gas emissions serves as “the sort of reduction we need every year until net-zero emissions are reached around 2050.” 31   From the start of the coronavirus pandemic, politicians came together for the common good of protecting humanity; this demonstrates that when necessary, global leaders are capable of putting humankind above the economy. 32

After researching statistics comparing the coronavirus to climate change, I thought back to the moment the virus reached pandemic status. I knew that a greater reason underlay all of this global turmoil. Our globe is in dire need of help, and the coronavirus reminds the world of what it means to work together. This pandemic marks a turning point in global efforts to slow down climate change. The methods we enact towards not only stopping the spread of the virus, but slowing down climate change, will ultimately depict how humanity will arise once this pandemic is suppressed. The future of our home planet lies in how we treat it right now. 

  • “Climate Change: What Do All the Terms Mean?,” BBC News (BBC, May 1, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-48057733 )
  • Ibid. 
  • Kate Yoder, “Frank Luntz, the GOP's Message Master, Calls for Climate Action,” Grist (Grist, July 26, 2019), https://grist.org/article/the-gops-most-famous-messaging-strategist-calls-for-climate-action
  • Melissa Denchak, “Paris Climate Agreement: Everything You Need to Know,” NRDC, April 29, 2020, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/paris-climate-agreement-everything-you-need-know)
  • “Donald J. Trump's Foreign Policy Positions,” Council on Foreign Relations (Council on Foreign Relations), accessed May 7, 2020, https://www.cfr.org/election2020/candidate-tracker/donald-j.-trump?gclid=CjwKCAjw4871BRAjEiwAbxXi21cneTRft_doA5if60euC6QCL7sr-Jwwv76IkgWaUTuyJNx9EzZzRBoCdjsQAvD_BwE#climate and energy )
  • David Doniger, “Paris Climate Agreement Explained: Does Congress Need to Sign Off?,” NRDC, December 15, 2016, https://www.nrdc.org/experts/david-doniger/paris-climate-agreement-explained-does-congress-need-sign )
  • “How the UK Is Progressing,” Committee on Climate Change, March 9, 2020, https://www.theccc.org.uk/what-is-climate-change/reducing-carbon-emissions/how-the-uk-is-progressing/)
  • Ibid.  
  • “Top 10 Ways You Can Fight Climate Change,” Green America, accessed May 7, 2020, https://www.greenamerica.org/your-green-life/10-ways-you-can-fight-climate-change )
  • Matt McGrath, “Climate Change and Coronavirus: Five Charts about the Biggest Carbon Crash,” BBC News (BBC, May 5, 2020), https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/science-environment-52485712 )
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comprehensive essay about climate change

Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Century of Science: Theme

Our climate change crisis

The climate change emergency.

Even in a world increasingly battered by weather extremes, the summer 2021 heat wave in the Pacific Northwest stood out. For several days in late June, cities such as Vancouver, Portland and Seattle baked in record temperatures that killed hundreds of people. On June 29 Lytton, a village in British Columbia, set an all-time heat record for Canada, at 121° Fahrenheit (49.6° Celsius); the next day, the village was incinerated by a wildfire.

Within a week, an international group of scientists had analyzed this extreme heat and concluded it would have been virtually impossible without climate change caused by humans. The planet’s average surface temperature has risen by at least 1.1 degree Celsius since preindustrial levels of 1850–1900 — because people are loading the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases produced during the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and gas, and from cutting down forests.

A little over 1 degree of warming may not sound like a lot. But it has already been enough to fundamentally transform how energy flows around the planet. The pace of change is accelerating, and the consequences are everywhere. Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting, raising sea levels and flooding low-lying island nations and coastal cities. Drought is parching farmlands and the rivers that feed them. Wildfires are raging. Rains are becoming more intense, and weather patterns are shifting .

Australian Wildfires. Research links the fires to human-caused climate change.

The roots of understanding this climate emergency trace back more than a century and a half. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that scientists began the detailed measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide that would prove how much carbon is pouring from human activities. Beginning in the 1960s, researchers began developing comprehensive computer models that now illuminate the severity of the changes ahead.

Global average temperature change, 1850–2021

comprehensive essay about climate change

Long-term climate datasets show that Earth’s average surface temperature (combined land and ocean) has increased by more than 1 degree Celsius since preindustrial times. Temperature change is the difference from the 1850–1900 average.

Today we know that climate change and its consequences are real, and we are responsible. The emissions that people have been putting into the air for centuries — the emissions that made long-distance travel, economic growth and our material lives possible — have put us squarely on a warming trajectory . Only drastic cuts in carbon emissions, backed by collective global will, can make a significant difference.

“What’s happening to the planet is not routine,” says Ralph Keeling, a geochemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. “We’re in a planetary crisis.” — Alexandra Witze

Tracking a Greenland glacier

The calving front of Greenland’s Helheim Glacier, which flows toward the sea where it crumbles into icebergs, held roughly the same position from the 1970s until 2001 (left, the calving front is to the far right of the image). But by 2005 (right), it had retreated 7.5 kilometers toward its source. 

Helheim Glacier side by side

The first climate scientists

One day in the 1850s, Eunice Newton Foote, an amateur scientist and women’s rights activist living in upstate New York, put two glass jars in sunlight. One contained regular air — a mix of nitrogen, oxygen and other gases including carbon dioxide — while the other contained just CO 2 . Both had thermometers in them. As the sun’s rays beat down, Foote observed that the jar of CO 2 alone heated more quickly, and was slower to cool, than the one containing plain air.

Illustration of Eunice Newton Foote. Hers were some of the first studies of climate change.

The results prompted Foote to muse on the relationship between CO 2 , the planet and heat. “An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature,” she wrote in an 1856 paper summarizing her findings .

Three years later, working independently and apparently unaware of Foote’s discovery, Irish physicist John Tyndall showed the same basic idea in more detail. With a set of pipes and devices to study the transmission of heat, he found that CO 2 gas, as well as water vapor, absorbed more heat than air alone. He argued that such gases would trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, much as panes of glass trap heat in a greenhouse, and thus modulate climate. “As a dam built across a river causes a local deepening of the stream, so our atmosphere, thrown as a barrier across the terrestrial rays, produces a local heightening of the temperature at the Earth’s surface,” he wrote in 1862.

Tyndall contraption

Today Tyndall is widely credited with the discovery of how what are now called greenhouse gases heat the planet, earning him a prominent place in the history of climate science. Foote faded into relative obscurity — partly because of her gender, partly because her measurements were less sensitive. Yet their findings helped kick off broader scientific exploration of how the composition of gases in Earth’s atmosphere affects global temperatures.

Carbon floods in

Humans began substantially affecting the atmosphere around the turn of the 19th century, when the Industrial Revolution took off in Britain. Factories burned tons of coal; fueled by fossil fuels, the steam engine revolutionized transportation and other industries. In the decades since, fossil fuels including oil and natural gas have been harnessed to drive a global economy. All these activities belch gases into the air.

Yet Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish physical chemist, wasn’t worried about the Industrial Revolution when he began thinking in the late 1800s about changes in atmospheric CO 2 levels. He was instead curious about ice ages — including whether a decrease in volcanic eruptions, which can put CO 2 into the atmosphere, would lead to a future ice age. Bored and lonely in the wake of a divorce, Arrhenius set himself to months of laborious calculations involving moisture and heat transport in the atmosphere at different zones of latitude. In 1896 he reported that halving the amount of CO 2 in the atmosphere could indeed bring about an ice age — and that doubling CO 2 would raise global temperatures by around 5 to 6 degrees C.

It was a remarkably prescient finding for work that, out of necessity, had simplified Earth’s complex climate system down to just a few variables. Today, estimates for how much the planet will warm through a doubling of CO 2 — a measure known as climate sensitivity — range between 1.5 degrees and 4.5 degrees Celsius. (The range remains broad in part because scientists now incorporate their understanding of many more planetary feedbacks than were recognized in Arrhenius’ day.)  

But Arrhenius’ findings didn’t gain much traction with other scientists at the time. The climate system seemed too large, complex and inert to change in any meaningful way on a timescale that would be relevant to human society. Geologic evidence showed, for instance, that ice ages took thousands of years to start and end. What was there to worry about? And other laboratory experiments — later shown to be flawed — appeared to indicate that changing levels of CO 2 would have little impact on heat absorption in the atmosphere. Most scientists aware of the work came to believe that Arrhenius had been proved wrong.

Guy Callendar chart

One researcher, though, thought the idea was worth pursuing. Guy Stewart Callendar, a British engineer and amateur meteorologist, had tallied weather records over time, obsessively enough to determine that average temperatures were increasing at 147 weather stations around the globe. In 1938, in a paper in a Royal Meteorological Society journal , he linked this temperature rise to the burning of fossil fuels. Callendar estimated that fossil fuel burning had put around 150 billion metric tons of CO 2 into the atmosphere since the late 19th century.

Antarctic traverse

Like many of his day, Callendar didn’t see global warming as a problem. Extra CO 2 would surely stimulate plants to grow and allow crops to be farmed in new regions. “In any case the return of the deadly glaciers should be delayed indefinitely,” he wrote. But his work revived discussions tracing back to Tyndall and Arrhenius about how the planetary system responds to changing levels of gases in the atmosphere. And it began steering the conversation toward how human activities might drive those changes.

When World War II broke out the following year, the global conflict redrew the landscape for scientific research. Hugely important wartime technologies, such as radar and the atomic bomb, set the stage for “big science” studies that brought nations together to tackle high-stakes questions of global reach. And that allowed modern climate science to emerge.

The Keeling curve and climate change

One major postwar effort was the International Geophysical Year, an 18-month push in 1957–1958 that involved a wide array of scientific field campaigns including exploration in the Arctic and Antarctica. Climate change wasn’t a high research priority during the IGY, but some scientists in California, led by Roger Revelle of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, used the funding influx to begin a project they’d long wanted to do. The goal was to measure CO 2 levels at different locations around the world, accurately and consistently.

Keeling portrait

The job fell to geochemist Charles David Keeling, who put ultraprecise CO 2 monitors in Antarctica and on the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa. Funds soon ran out to maintain the Antarctic record, but the Mauna Loa measurements continued. Thus was born one of the most iconic datasets in all of science — the “Keeling curve,” which tracks the rise of atmospheric CO 2 . When Keeling began his measurements in 1958, CO 2 made up 315 parts per million of the global atmosphere. Within just a few years it became clear that the number was increasing year by year. Because plants take up CO 2 as they grow in spring and summer and release it as they decompose in fall and winter, CO 2 concentrations rose and fell each year in a sawtooth pattern — but superimposed on that pattern was a steady march upward.  

Monthly average CO 2 concentrations at Mauna Loa Observatory

Keeling and his curve side by side

Atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements collected continuously since 1958 at Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii show the rise due to human activities. The visible sawtooth pattern is due to seasonal plant growth: Plants take up CO 2 in the growing seasons, then release it as they decompose in fall and winter.

“The graph got flashed all over the place — it was just such a striking image,” says Ralph Keeling, who is Charles David Keeling’s son. Over the years, as the curve marched higher, “it had a really important role historically in waking people up to the problem of climate change.” The Keeling curve has been featured in countless earth science textbooks, congressional hearings and in Al Gore’s 2006 documentary on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth . Each year the curve keeps going up: In 2016 it passed 400 ppm of CO 2 in the atmosphere, as measured during its typical annual minimum in September. In 2021, the annual minimum was 413 ppm. (Before the Industrial Revolution, CO 2 levels in the atmosphere had been stable for centuries at around 280 ppm.)

Around the time that Keeling’s measurements were kicking off, Revelle also helped develop an important argument that the CO 2 from human activities was building up in Earth’s atmosphere. In 1957 he and Hans Suess, also at Scripps at the time, published a paper that traced the flow of radioactive carbon through the oceans and the atmosphere. They showed that the oceans were not capable of taking up as much CO 2 as previously thought; the implication was that much of the gas must be going into the atmosphere instead. “Human beings are now carrying out a large-scale geophysical experiment of a kind that could not have happened in the past nor be reproduced in the future,” Revelle and Suess wrote in the paper. It’s one of the most famous sentences in earth science history.

Suess

“Human beings are now carrying out a large-scale geophysical experiment of a kind that could not have happened in the past nor be reproduced in the future.”

Here was the insight underlying modern climate science: Atmosheric CO 2 is increasing, and humans are causing the buildup. Revelle and Suess became the final piece in a puzzle dating back to Svante Arrhenius and John Tyndall.

“I tell my students that to understand the basics of climate change, you need to have the cutting-edge science of the 1860s, the cutting-edge math of the 1890s and the cutting-edge chemistry of the 1950s,” says Joshua Howe, an environmental historian at Reed College in Portland, Ore.

Environmental awareness grows

As this scientific picture began to emerge in the late 1950s, Science News was on the story. A March 1, 1958 article in Science News Letter , “Weather May Be Warming,” described a warm winter month in the Northern Hemisphere. It posits three theories, including that “carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere by a booming industrial civilization could have caused the increase. By burning up about 100 billion tons of coal and oil since 1900, man himself may be changing the climate.” By 1972, the magazine was reporting on efforts to expand global atmospheric greenhouse gas monitoring beyond Keeling’s work; two years later, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched its own CO 2 monitoring network, now the biggest in the world.

Science News coverage

Environmental awareness on other issues grew in the 1960s and 1970s. Rachel Carson catalyzed the modern U.S. environmental movement in 1962 when she published a magazine series and then a book, Silent Spring , condemning the pesticide DDT for its ecological impacts. 1970 saw the celebration of the first Earth Day , in the United States and elsewhere, and in India in 1973 a group of women led a series of widely publicized protests against deforestation. This Chipko movement explicitly linked environmental protection with protecting human communities, and helped seed other environmental movements.

The fragility of global energy supplies was also becoming more obvious through the 1970s. The United States, heavily dependent on other countries for oil imports, entered a gas shortage in 1973–74 when Arab members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cut off oil supplies because of U.S. government support for Israel. The shortage prompted more people to think about the finiteness of natural resources and the possibility of overtaxing the planet. — Alexandra Witze

Welland, Ontario environmental movement pic

Climate change evidence piles up

Observational data collected throughout the second half of the 20th century helped researchers gradually build their understanding of how human activities were transforming the planet. “It was a sort of slow accretion of evidence and concern,” says historian Joshua Howe of Reed College.

Environmental records from the past, such as tree rings and ice cores, established that the current changes in climate are unusual compared with the recent past. Yet such paleoclimatology data also showed that climate has changed quickly in the deep past — driven by triggers other than human activity, but with lessons for how abrupt planetary transformations can be.

Ice cores pulled from ice sheets, such as that atop Greenland, offer some of the most telling insights for understanding past climate change. Each year snow falls atop the ice and compresses into a fresh layer of ice representing climate conditions at the time it formed. The abundance of certain forms, or isotopes, of oxygen and hydrogen in the ice allows scientists to calculate the temperature at which it formed, and air bubbles trapped within the ice reveal how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were in the atmosphere at that time. So drilling down into an ice sheet is like reading the pages of a history book that go back in time the deeper you go.

Scientist with GRIP project

Scientists began reading these pages in the early 1960s, using ice cores drilled at a U.S. military base in northwest Greenland . Contrary to expectations that past climates were stable, the cores hinted that abrupt climate shifts had happened over the last 100,000 years. By 1979, an international group of researchers was pulling another deep ice core from a second location in Greenland — and it, too, showed that abrupt climate change had occurred in the past. In the late 1980s and early 1990s a pair of European- and U.S.-led drilling projects retrieved even deeper cores from near the top of the ice sheet, pushing the record of past temperatures back a quarter of a million years.

Antarctic drilling

Together with other sources of information, such as sediment cores drilled from the seafloor and molecules preserved in ancient rocks, the ice cores allowed scientists to reconstruct past temperature changes in extraordinary detail. Many of those changes happened alarmingly fast. For instance, the climate in Greenland warmed abruptly more than 20 times in the last 80,000 years, with the changes occurring in a matter of decades. More recently, a cold spell that set in around 13,000 years ago suddenly came to an end around 11,500 years ago — and temperatures in Greenland rose 10 degrees Celsius in a decade.

Evidence for such dramatic climate shifts laid to rest any lingering ideas that global climate change would be slow and unlikely to occur on a timescale that humans should worry about. “It’s an important reminder of how ‘tippy’ things can be,” says Jessica Tierney, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

More evidence of global change came from Earth-observing satellites, which brought a new planet-wide perspective on global warming beginning in the 1960s. From their viewpoint in the sky, satellites have measured the steady rise in global sea level — currently 3.4 millimeters per year and accelerating, as warming water expands and as ice sheets melt — as well as the rapid decline in ice left floating on the Arctic Ocean each summer at the end of the melt season. Gravity-sensing satellites have ‘weighed’ the Antarctic and Greenlandic ice sheets from above since 2002, reporting that more than 400 billion metric tons of ice are lost each year.

Temperature observations taken at weather stations around the world also confirm that we are living in the hottest years on record. The 10 warmest years since record keeping began in 1880 have all occurred since 2005. And nine of those 10 have come since 2010.

What’s more, extreme weather is hammering the planet more and more frequently. That 2021 heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, for instance, is just a harbinger of what’s to come. — Alexandra Witze

Worrisome predictions from climate models

By the 1960s, there was no denying that the planet was warming. But understanding the consequences of those changes — including the threat to human health and well-being — would require more than observational data. Looking to the future depended on computer simulations: complex calculations of how energy flows through the planetary system. Such models of the climate system have been crucial to developing projections for what we can expect from greenhouse warming.

Hurricane Laura

A first step in building climate models was to connect everyday observations of weather to the concept of forecasting future climate. During World War I, the British mathematician Lewis Fry Richardson imagined tens of thousands of meteorologists working to forecast the weather, each calculating conditions for a small part of the atmosphere but collectively piecing together a global forecast. Richardson published his work in 1922, to reviews that called the idea “of almost quixotic boldness.”

Charney paper (first weather predictions with ENIAC)

But it wasn’t until after World War II that computational power turned Richardson’s dream into reality. In the wake of the Allied victory, which relied on accurate weather forecasts for everything from planning D-Day to figuring out when and where to drop the atomic bombs, leading U.S. mathematicians acquired funding from the federal government to improve predictions. In 1950 a team led by Jule Charney, a meteorologist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., used the ENIAC, the first general-purpose, programmable electronic computer, to produce the first computer-driven regional weather forecast . The forecasting was slow and rudimentary, but it built on Richardson’s ideas of dividing the atmosphere into squares, or cells, and computing the weather for each of those. With the obscure title “Numerical integration of the barotropic vorticity equation,” the paper reporting the results set the stage for decades of climate modeling to follow.

By 1956 Norman Phillips, a member of Charney’s team, had produced the world’s first general circulation model, which captured how energy flows between the oceans, atmosphere and land. Phillips ran the calculations on a computer with just 5 kilobytes of memory, yet it was able to reproduce monthly and seasonal patterns in the lower atmosphere. That meant scientists could begin developing more realistic models of how the planet responds to factors such as increasing levels of greenhouse gases. The field of climate modeling was born.

The work was basic at first, because early computers simply didn’t have much computational power to simulate all aspects of the planetary system. “People thought that it was stupid to try to study this greenhouse-warming issue by three-dimensional model[s], because it cost so much computer time,” meteorologist Syukuro Manabe told physics historian Spencer Weart in a 1989 oral history .

Climate models have predicted how much ice the Ilulissat region of the Greenland ice sheet might lose by 2300 based on different scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions. The models are compared to 2008 (first image). In a best-case scenario, in which emissions peak by mid-century, the speed at which the glacier is sending ice out into the ocean is much lower (second image) than with a worst-case scenario, in which emissions rise at a high rate (third image).

comprehensive essay about climate change

An important breakthrough came in 1967, when Manabe and Richard Wetherald — both at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, a lab born from Charney’s group — published a paper in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences that modeled connections between Earth’s surface and atmosphere and calculated how changes in carbon dioxide would affect the planet’s temperature. Manabe and Wetherald were the first to build a computer model that captured the relevant processes that drive climate , and to accurately simulate how the Earth responds to those processes. (Manabe shared the 2021 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on climate modeling; Wetherald died in 2011.)

The rise of climate modeling allowed scientists to more accurately envision the impacts of global warming. In 1979, Charney and other experts met in Woods Hole, Mass., to try to put together a scientific consensus on what increasing levels of CO 2 would mean for the planet. They analyzed climate models from Manabe and from James Hansen of NASA. The resulting “Charney report” concluded that rising CO 2 in the atmosphere would lead to additional and significant climate change. The ocean might take up much of that heat, the scientists wrote — but “it appears that the warming will eventually occur, and the associated regional climatic changes so important to the assessment of socioeconomic consequence may well be significant.”

In the decades since, climate modeling has gotten increasingly sophisticated . Scientists have drawn up a variety of scenarios for how carbon emissions might change in the future, depending on the stringency of emissions cuts. Modelers use those scenarios to project how climate and weather will change around the globe, from hotter croplands in China to melting glaciers in the Himalayas. Climate simulations have also allowed researchers to identify the fingerprints of human impacts on extreme weather that is already happening, by comparing scenarios that include the influence of human activities with those that do not.

And as climate science firmed up and the most dramatic consequences became clear, the political battles raged. — Alexandra Witze

Climate science meets politics

With the development of climate science tracing back to the early Cold War, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the science of global warming became enmeshed in broader societal and political battles. A complex stew of political, national and business interests mired society in debates about the reality of climate change, and what to do about it, decades after the science became clear that humans are fundamentally altering the planet’s atmosphere.

Climate activists

Society has pulled itself together before to deal with global environmental problems, such as the Antarctic ozone hole. In 1974 chemists Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland, both of the University of California, Irvine, reported that chlorofluorocarbon chemicals, used in products such as spray cans and refrigerants, caused a chain of reactions that gnawed away at the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer . The resulting ozone hole, which forms over Antarctica every spring, allows more ultraviolet radiation from the sun to make it through Earth’s atmosphere and reach the surface, where it can cause skin cancer and eye damage.

Governments ultimately worked under the auspices of the United Nations to craft the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which strictly limited the manufacture of chlorofluorocarbons . In the years following, the ozone hole began to heal. But fighting climate change would prove to be far more challenging. Chlorofluorocarbons were a suite of chemicals with relatively limited use and for which replacements could be found without too much trouble. But the greenhouse gases that cause global warming stem from a wide variety of human activities, from energy development to deforestation. And transforming entire energy sectors to reduce or eliminate carbon emissions is much more difficult than replacing a set of industrial chemicals.

Rio Earth Summit

In 1980, though, researchers took an important step toward banding together to synthesize the scientific understanding of climate change and bring it to the attention of international policy makers. It started at a small scientific conference in Villach, Austria. There, experts met under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization, the International Council of Scientific Unions and the United Nations Environment Program to discuss the seriousness of climate change. On the train ride home from the meeting, Swedish meteorologist Bert Bolin talked with other participants about how a broader, deeper and more international analysis was needed. In 1985, a second conference was held at Villach to highlight the urgency, and in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, was born. Bolin was its first chairperson.

The IPCC became a highly influential and unique body. It performs no original scientific research; instead, it synthesizes and summarizes the vast literature of climate science for policy makers to consider — primarily through massive reports issued every couple of years. The first IPCC report , in 1990, predicted that the planet’s global mean temperature would rise more quickly in the following century than at any point in the last 10,000 years, due to increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Successive IPCC reports showed more and more confidence in the link between greenhouse emissions and rising global temperatures — and explored how society might mitigate and adapt to coming changes.

IPCC reports have played a key role in providing scientific information for nations discussing how to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations. This process started with the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 , which resulted in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Annual U.N. meetings to tackle climate change led to the first international commitments to reduce emissions, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Under it, developed countries committed to reduce emissions of CO 2 and other greenhouse gases. By 2007 the IPCC declared that the reality of climate warming is “unequivocal ”; the group received the Nobel Peace Prize that year along with Al Gore for their work on climate change.

Tuvalu press conference

The IPCC process ensured that policy makers had the best science at hand when they came to the table to discuss cutting emissions. “If you go back and look at the original U.N. framework on climate change, already you see the core of the science represented there,” says Rachel Cleetus, a climate policy expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Mass. Of course, nations did not have to abide by that science — and they often didn’t.

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, international climate meetings discussed less hard-core science and more issues of equity. Countries such as China and India pointed out that they needed energy to develop their economies, and that nations responsible for the bulk of emissions through history, such as the United States, needed to lead the way in cutting greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, residents of some of the most vulnerable nations, such as low-lying islands that are threatened by sea level rise, gained visibility and clout at international negotiating forums. “The issues around equity have always been very uniquely challenging in this collective action problem,” says Cleetus.

By 2015, the world’s nations had made some progress on the emissions cuts laid out in the Kyoto Protocol, but it was still not enough to achieve substantial global reductions. That year, a key U.N. climate conference in Paris produced an international agreement to try to limit global warming to 2 degrees C , and preferably 1.5 degrees C, above preindustrial levels.

Somalia drought and famine

Every country has its own approach to the challenge of addressing climate change. In the United States, which gets approximately 80 percent of its energy from fossil fuels, sophisticated efforts to downplay and critique the science led to major delays in climate action. For decades U.S. fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil worked to influence politicians to take as little action on emissions reductions as possible. Working with a small group of influential scientists, this well-funded, well-orchestrated campaign took many of its tactics from earlier tobacco-industry efforts to cast doubt on the links between smoking and cancer, as historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway documented in their book Merchants of Doubt.

Perhaps the peak of U.S. climate denialism came in the late 1980s and into the 1990s — roughly a century after Swedish physical chemist Svante Arrhenius laid out the consequences of putting too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In 1988 NASA scientist James Hansen testified to lawmakers about the consequences of global warming. “It is already happening now,” Hansen said, summarizing what scientists had long known.

The high-profile nature of Hansen’s testimony, combined with his NASA expertise, vaulted global warming into the public eye in the United States like never before. “It really hit home with a public who could understand that there are reasons that Venus is hot and Mars is cold,” says Joshua Howe, a historian at Reed College. “And that if you use that same reasoning, we have some concerns about what is happening here on Earth.” But Hansen also kicked off a series of bitter public battles about the reality of human-caused climate change that raged for years.        

One common approach of climate skeptics was to attack the environmental data and models that underlie climate science. In 1998, scientist Michael Mann, then at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, and colleagues published a detailed temperature record that formed the basis of what came to be known as the “hockey stick” graph, so named because the chart showed a sharp rise in temperatures (the hockey blade) at the end of a long, much flatter period (the hockey stick). Skeptics soon demanded the data and software processing tools Mann used to create the graph. Bloggers and self-proclaimed citizen scientists created a cottage industry of questioning new climate science papers under the guise of “audits.” In 2009 hackers broke into a server at the University of East Anglia, a leading climate-research hub in Norwich, England, and released more than 1,000 e-mails between climate scientists. This “Climategate” scandal purported to reveal misconduct on the part of the researchers, but several reviews largely exonerated the scientists.  

The graph that launched climate skeptic attacks

This famous graph, produced by scientist Michael Mann and colleagues, and then reproduced in a 2001 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, dramatically captures temperature change over time. Climate change skeptics made it the center of an all-out attack on climate science.

image of the "hockey stick" graph showing the increase in temperature from 1961 to 1990

Such tactics undoubtedly succeeded in feeding politicians’ delay on climate action in the United States, most of it from Republicans. President George W. Bush withdrew the country from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 ; Donald Trump similarly rejected the Paris accord in 2017 . As late as 2015, the chair of the Senate’s environment committee, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, brought a snowball into Congress on a cold winter’s day in order to continue his argument that human-caused global warming is a “hoax.” In Australia, a similar mix of right-wing denialism and fossil fuel interests has kept climate change commitments in flux, as prime ministers are voted in and out over fierce debates about how the nation should act on climate.

Yet other nations have moved forward. Some European countries such as Germany aggressively pursued renewable energies, such as wind and solar, while activists such as the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg — the vanguard of a youth-action movement — pressured their governments for more.

In recent years the developing economies of China and India have taken center stage in discussions about climate action. Both nations argue that they must be allowed extra time to wean themselves off fossil fuels in order to continue economic growth. They note that historically speaking, the United States is the largest total emitter of carbon by far.

Total carbon dioxide emissions by country, 1850–2021

comprehensive essay about climate change

These 20 nations have emitted the largest cumulative amounts of carbon dioxide since 1850. Emissions are shown in in billions of metric tons and are broken down into subtotals from fossil fuel use and cement manufacturing (blue) as well as from land use and forestry (green).

China, whose annual CO 2 emissions surpassed those of the United States in 2006, declared several moderate steps in 2021 to reduce emissions, including that it would stop building coal-burning power plants overseas. India announced it would aim for net-zero emissions by 2070, the first time it has set a date for this goal.

Yet such pledges continue to be criticized. At the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, India was globally criticized for not committing to a complete phaseout of coal — although the two top emitters, China and the United States, have not themselves committed to phasing out coal. “There is no equity in this,” says Aayushi Awasthy, an energy economist at the University of East Anglia. — Alexandra Witze

Facing a warmer future

Climate change creeps up gradually on society, except when it doesn’t. The slow increase in sea level, for instance, causes waters to lap incrementally higher at shorelines year after year. But when a big storm comes along — which may be happening more frequently due to climate change — the consequences become much more obvious. Storm surge rapidly swamps communities and wreaks disproportionate havoc. That’s why New York City installed floodgates in its subway and tunnel system in the wake of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy , and why the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu has asked Australia and New Zealand to be prepared to take in refugees fleeing from rising sea levels.

NYC floodgates

The list of climate impacts goes on and on — and in many cases, changes are coming faster than scientists had envisioned a few decades ago. The oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide, harming tiny marine organisms that build protective calcium carbonate shells and are the base of the marine food web. Warmer waters are bleaching coral reefs. Higher temperatures are driving animal and plant species into areas in which they previously did not live, increasing the risk of extinction for many. “It’s no longer about impacts in the future,” says Rachel Cleetus, a climate policy expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s about what’s happening in the U.S. here and now, and around the world.”

No place on the planet is unaffected. In many areas, higher temperatures have led to major droughts, which dry out vegetation and provide additional fuel for wildfires such as those that have devastated Australia , the Mediterranean and western North America in recent years. The Colorado River , the source of water for tens of millions of people in the western United States , came under a water-shortage alert in 2021 for the first time in history.

Then there’s the Arctic, where temperatures are rising at more than twice the global average and communities are at the forefront of change. Permafrost is thawing, destabilizing buildings, pipelines and roads. Caribou and reindeer herders worry about the increased risk of parasites to the health of their animals. With less sea ice available to buffer the coast from storm erosion, the Inupiat village of Shishmaref, Alaska, risks crumbling into the sea. It will need to move from its sand-barrier island to the mainland .

“We know these changes are happening and that the Titanic is sinking,” says Louise Farquharson, a geomorphologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks who monitors permafrost and coastal change around Alaska. Like many Arctic scientists, she is working with Indigenous communities to understand the shifts they’re experiencing and what can be done when buildings start to slump and water supplies start to drain away. “A big part is just listening to community members and understanding what they’re seeing change,” she says.

Alaska home destroyed

All around the planet, those who depend on intact ecosystems for their survival face the greatest threat from climate change. And those with the least resources to adapt to climate change are the ones who feel it first .

“We are going to warm,” says Claudia Tebaldi, a climate scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. “There is no question about it. The only thing that we can hope to do is to warm a little more slowly.”

That’s one reason why the IPCC report released in 2021 focuses on anticipated levels of global warming. There is a big difference between the planet warming 1.5 degrees versus 2 degrees or 2.5 degrees. Consider that we are now at least 1.1 degrees above preindustrial levels of CO 2 and are already seeing dramatic shifts in climate. Given that, keeping further global temperature increases as low as possible will make a big difference in the climate impacts the planet faces. “With every fraction of a degree of warming, everything gets a little more intense,” says paleoclimatologist Jessica Tierney. “There’s no more time to beat around the bush.”

Historical and projected global temperature change

comprehensive essay about climate change

Various scenarios for how greenhouse gas emissions might change going forward help scientists predict future climate change. This graph shows the simulated historical temperature trend along with future projections of global surface temperature based on five scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Temperature change is the difference from the 1850–1900 average.

The future rests on how much nations are willing to commit to cutting emissions and whether they will stick to those commitments. It’s a geopolitical balancing act the likes of which the world has never seen.

Science can and must play a role going forward. Improved climate models will illuminate what changes are expected at the regional scale, helping officials prepare. Governments and industry have crucial parts to play as well. They can invest in technologies, such as carbon sequestration, to help decarbonize the economy and shift society toward more renewable sources of energy. “We can solve these problems — most of the tools are already there,” says Cascade Tuholske, a geographer at Columbia University. “We just have to do it.”

Huge questions remain. Do voters have the will to demand significant energy transitions from their governments? How can business and military leaders play a bigger role in driving climate action? What should be the role of low-carbon energy sources that come with downsides, such as nuclear energy ? How can developing nations achieve a better standard of living for their people while not becoming big greenhouse gas emitters? How can we keep the most vulnerable from being disproportionately harmed during extreme events, and incorporate environmental and social justice into our future?

These questions become more pressing each year, as CO 2 accumulates in our atmosphere. The planet is now at higher levels of CO 2 than at any time in the last 3 million years. Yet Ralph Keeling, keeper of the iconic Mauna Loa record tracking the rise in atmospheric CO 2 , is already optimistically thinking about how scientists would be able to detect a slowdown, should the world actually start cutting emissions by a few percent per year. “That’s what the policy makers want to see — that there’s been some large-scale impact of what they did,” he says.

West Bengal floods

At the 2021 U.N. climate meeting in Glasgow diplomats from around the world agreed to work more urgently to shift away from using fossil fuels. They did not, however, adopt targets strict enough to keep the world below a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. It’s been well over a century since Svante Arrhenius recognized the consequences of putting extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and yet world leaders have yet to pull together to avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change.

Time is running out. — Alexandra Witze

Climate change facts

We know that climate change and its consequences are real, and we are responsible. Here’s what the science tells us.

How much has the planet warmed over the past century?

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen by at least 1.1 degree Celsius since preindustrial levels of 1850–1900.

What is causing climate change?

People are loading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases produced during the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and gas, and cutting down forests.

What are some of the effects of climate change?

Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting, raising sea levels and flooding low-lying island nations and coastal cities. Drought is parching farmlands and the rivers that feed them. Wildfires are raging. Rains are becoming more intense, and weather patterns are shifting.

What is the greenhouse effect?

In the 19th century, Irish physicist John Tyndall found that carbon dioxide gas, as well as water vapor, absorbed more heat than air alone. He argued that such gases would trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, much as panes of glass trap heat in a greenhouse, and thus modulate climate.

What is the Keeling curve?

line graph showing increasing monthly average CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa Observatory from 1958 to 2022

One of the most iconic datasets in all of science, the Keeling curve tracks the rise of atmospheric CO 2 . When geochemist Charles David Keeling began his measurements in 1958 on the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa, CO 2 made up 315 parts per million of the global atmosphere. Each year the curve keeps going up: In 2016 it passed 400 ppm of CO 2 in the atmosphere, as measured during its typical annual minimum in September. In 2021, the annual minimum was 413 ppm.

Does it get hotter every year?

Average global temperatures fluctuate from year to year, but temperature observations taken at weather stations around the world confirm that we are living in the hottest years on record. The 10 warmest years since record keeping began in 1880 have all occurred since 2005. And nine of those 10 have come since 2010.

What countries emit the most carbon dioxide?

The United States has been the largest total emitter of carbon dioxide by far, followed by China and Russia. China’s annual CO 2 emissions surpassed those of the United States in 2006.

What places are impacted by climate change?

No place on the planet is unaffected. Higher temperatures have led to major droughts, providing fuel for wildfires such as those that have devastated Australia , the Mediterranean and western North America in recent years. The Colorado River came under a water-shortage alert in 2021 for the first time in history. In the Arctic, where temperatures are rising at more than twice the global average, permafrost is thawing, destabilizing buildings, pipelines and roads. With less sea ice available to buffer the coast from storm erosion, the Inupiat village of Shishmaref, Alaska, risks crumbling into the sea. All around the planet, those who depend on intact ecosystems for their survival face the greatest threat from climate change. And those with the least resources to adapt to climate change are the ones who feel it first .

Editor’s note: This story was published March 10, 2022.

Richardson in a classroom

British mathematician Lewis Fry Richardson (shown at center) proposes forecasting the weather by piecing together the calculations of tens of thousands of meteorologists working on small parts of the atmosphere.

Keeling portrait

Geochemist Charles David Keeling (shown in 1988) begins tracking the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. The record, which continues through today, has become one of the most iconic datasets in all of science.

Carson

Rachel Carson (shown) publishes the book Silent Spring , raising alarm over the ecological impacts of the pesticide DDT. The book helps catalyze the modern U.S. environmental movement.

Earth Day sign

The first Earth Day, organized by U.S. senator Gaylord Nelson and graduate student Denis Hayes, is celebrated.

Image of rocket on the base set to launch Landsat

The first Landsat satellite launched (shown), opening the door to continuous monitoring of Earth and its features from above.

Mount Pinatubo erupting

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List: 15 essential reads for the climate crisis

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comprehensive essay about climate change

We — Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson — are climate experts who focus on solutions, leadership and building community.

We are a natural and a social scientist, a Northerner and a Southerner. We’re also both lifelong interdisciplinarians in love with words and the cofounders of The All We Can Save Project , in support of women climate leaders.

Our collaboration has led us to read widely and deeply about the climate crisis that’s facing humanity. Here are 15 of our favorite writings on climate — this eclectic list contains books, essays, a newsletter, a scientific paper, even legislation and they’re all ones we wholeheartedly recommend.

All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis coedited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson

We had the honor of editing this collection of 41 essays, 17 poems, quotes and original illustrations — so naturally we love it! But you don’t have to take our word for it. As Rolling Stone said : “Taken together, the breadth of their voices forms a mosaic that honors the complexity of the climate crisis like few, if any, books on the topic have done yet. … The book is a feast of ideas and perspectives, setting a big table for the climate movement, declaring all are welcome.” All We Can Save nourished, educated and transformed us as we shaped its pages, and we can’t wait for it to do the same for you.

Ghost Fishing: An Eco-justice Poetry Anthology edited by Melissa Tuckey

We count ourselves among those who can’t make sense of the climate crisis without the aid of poets, who help us to see more clearly, feel our feelings, catch our breath, and know we’re not alone. This anthology is a magnificent quilt of poems that are made for this moment and all its intersections.

“We Don’t Have to Halt Climate Action to Fight Racism” by Mary Annaïse Heglar

“Climate People,” as she likes to call us, should be grateful that Mary Annaïse Heglar decided a few years back to pick up her pen once more as a writer. All of her essays are necessary reading, but this one is especially so, crafted from Mary’s perspective as a “Black Climate Person.” It’s a powerful articulation of the inextricability of a society that values Black lives and a livable planet for all.

Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change by Sherri Mitchell — Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset

Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset means “she who brings the light,” and Sherri Mitchell does exactly that in this incredible tapestry of a book, which begins with Penawahpskek Nation creation stories and concludes with guidance on what it means to live in a time of prophecy. It is rare that a book so generously shares wisdom, much less wisdom about how we got to where we are, what needs mending, and what a path forward that’s grounded in ancestral ways of knowing and being might look like.

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown

How lucky are we to be contemporaries of adrienne maree brown? Very. This is a book that we come back to time and time again to ground and enliven our work. We love this line from her about oak trees: “Under the earth, always, they reach for each other, they grow such that their roots are intertwined and create a system of strength that is as resilient on a sunny day as it is in a hurricane.” That’s the kind of community we’re trying to nurture.

“Circumstances Affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays” by Eunice Newton Foote

Eunice Newton Foote rarely gets the credit she’s due — and she deserves a lot of credit. In fact, we like to think of her as the first climate feminist. In 1856, she connected the dots between carbon dioxide and planetary warming, but science and history forgot (dismissed?) her until recently. This is her original paper, which was published in The American Journal of Science and Arts . Foote was also a signatory to the women’s rights manifesto created at Seneca Falls in 1848, alongside visionaries like Frederick Douglass.

The Drawdown Review by Project Drawdown

Full disclosure: Katharine is The Drawdown Review’ s editor-in-chief and principal writer. But Ayana fully endorses this recommendation — it’s a valuable resource as we charge ahead toward climate solutions. We all need to know what tools are in the toolbox, and The Drawdown Review is the latest compendium of climate solutions that already exist. This publication is beautifully designed, grounded in research, and you can access it for free.

The Green New Deal Resolution by the 116th US Congress

It seems that almost everyone has an opinion about the Green New Deal, but few people have read the actual piece of legislation: House Resolution 109: Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal, which was introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey. The big secret is that it’s only 14 pages! It makes a clear, compelling and concise case for what comprehensive climate policy should look like in the US. We’d love for everyone to read it so we can all have a more grounded discussion about what we might agree and disagree with and chart a course forward.

“Think This Pandemic Is Bad? We Have Another Crisis Coming” by Rhiana Gunn-Wright

Speaking of policy … this op-ed , penned by Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who is one of the policy leads for the Green New Deal, makes the connections between climate, justice, COVID-19 and our recession as clear as day. She lays out an ironclad case for the the need to address these issues together, and why. As she writes, “We need to design the stimulus not only to help the US economy recover but to also become more resilient to the climate crisis, the next multitrillion-dollar crisis headed our way.”

“How Can We Plan for a Future in California?” by Leah Stokes

In the midst of raging fires and continuing pandemic, UC Santa Barbara Professor Leah Stokes, who’s based in Santa Barbara, lays it plain in her piece : “I don’t want to live in a world where we have to decide which mask to wear for which disaster, but this is the world we are making. And we’ve only started to alter the climate. Imagine what it will be like when we’ve doubled or tripled the warming, as we are on track to do.” As she and others have been pointing out, journalists have been failing to make the critical connection: “What’s happening in California has a name: climate change.”

HEATED by Emily Atkin

This is the reading rec that keeps on giving, literally — it’s a daily newsletter that brings climate accountability journalism right to your inbox. It’s chock full of smarts, spunk, truth-telling and super timely writing that isn’t hemmed in by media overlords. If you’re pissed off about the climate crisis, Emily Atkin made HEATED just for you.

The July 20 2020 Issue of TIME Magazine

This entire issue, titled “One Last Chance”, is dedicated to coverage of climate, and it includes wise words from so many luminaries from politician Stacey Abrams to soil scientist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe , with a lead piece by Time ’s climate journalist Justin Worland. Ayana also has a piece in this issue called “ We Can’t Solve the Climate Crisis Unless Black Lives Matter .” To see all of this collected in one place — insights on topics from oceans to agriculture to politics to activism — was heartening. We hope there’s much more of this to come, from many magazines.

“Wakanda Doesn’t Have Suburbs” by Kendra Pierre Louis

A pop-culture connoisseur and expert storyteller, Kendra Pierre Louis takes up the topic of climate stories in her essay — the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good, she explains, are all too rare, and that’s a big problem because stories are powerful. Black Panther may be our best story of living thoughtfully and well on this planet, not least thanks to an absence of carbon-spewing suburbs. It’s going to take much better narratives, and many more of them, if humans are to, as she puts it, “repair our relationship with the Earth and re-envision our societies in ways that are not just in keeping with our ecosystems but also make our lives better.” !

“We Need Courage, Not Hope, to Face Climate Change” by Kate Marvel PhD

This piece by NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel is, as the kids say, a whole mood. Hope is not enough, hope is often passive, and that won’t get us where we need to go. Pretty much everyone who works on climate is constantly being asked what gives us hope — how presumptuous to assume we have it! But what we do have is courage. In spades. As Marvel writes in this poetic piece: “We need courage, not hope. Grief, after all, is the cost of being alive. We are all fated to live lives shot through with sadness, and are not worth less for it. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.”

Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis

Admittedly, this last recommendation isn’t something to read, but to watch and listen to. This playlist of TED Talks by women climate leaders (who were all contributors to our anthology All We Can Save — read about it above) will inspire you, deepen your understanding, connect the dots and help you find where you might fit into the heaps of climate work that needs doing. It includes poignant talks by Colette Pichon Battle and Christine Nieves Rodriguez , which are respectively about communities in Louisiana and Puerto Rico recovering from hurricanes and rebuilding resilience and which broke our hearts open. We were so moved we invited them to adapt their talks into essays for All We Can Save . Christine’s piece — “Community is Our Best Chance” — is the final essay in the book and the note we want to end on here. It’s not about what each of us can do as individuals to address the climate crisis; it’s about what we can do together . Building community around solutions is the most important thing.

Watch Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s TED Talk here: 

Watch Katharine Wilkinson’s TED Talk here: 

comprehensive essay about climate change

About the authors

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson PhD is a marine biologist, policy expert and Brooklyn native. She is founder of the nonprofit think tank Urban Ocean Lab, founder and CEO of the consultancy Ocean Collectiv and cocreator and cohost of the Spotify/Gimlet podcast How to Save a Planet. She coedited the anthology All We Can Save and cofounded The All We Can Save Project in support of women climate leaders. Her mission is to build community around climate solutions. Find her @ayanaeliza.

Katharine Wilkinson PhD is an author, strategist, teacher and one of 15 “women who will save the world,” according to Time magazine. Her writings on climate include The Drawdown Review, the New York Times bestseller Drawdown and Between God & Green. She is coeditor of All We Can Save and co founder of The All We Can Save Project, in support of women climate leaders. Wilkinson is a former Rhodes Scholar. Find her @DrKWilkinson.

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Introduction

1. root causes of climate change and climate injustices, 2. climate justice: distributional, procedural, and recognitional dimensions, 3. injustices of climate responses, 4. the pursuit of climate justice, questions for classroom discussions, acknowledgments, competing interests, climate justice in the global north : an introduction.

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Prakash Kashwan; Climate Justice in the Global North : An Introduction . Case Studies in the Environment 5 February 2021; 5 (1): 1125003. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/cse.2021.1125003

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This essay provides a broad-based and jargon-free introduction to climate justice to foster critical thinking, engaged discussions, and profound reflections. It introduces the reader to three dimensions of justice—distributional, procedural, and recognitional justice—and shows how each relates to climate justice. A unique contribution of this essay is to identify and discuss the following three blind spots in the debates on climate justice: (1) the tendency to focus heavily on post hoc effects of climate change while ignoring the root causes of climate change that also contribute to injustices; (2) assuming incorrectly that all climate action contributes to climate justice, even though some types of climate responses can produce new climate injustices; and (3) although scholars have studied the causes of climate injustices extensively, the specific pathways to climate justice remain underdeveloped. This essay concludes by showcasing a few examples of the ongoing pursuits of climate justice, led by social justice groups, local governments, and some government agencies.

Climate change is an existential threat to human civilization. The increased frequency of climate-related disasters has been responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in different parts of the world. 1 Yet climate change does not affect everyone equally; its consequences are distributed unequally between world regions, countries, and social groups within countries.

Countries that make up the Global North, or the “developed countries” (For a useful discussion of the vocabulary of developing versus developed countries, see https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/01/04/372684438/if-you-shouldnt-call-it-the-third-world-what-should-you-call-it .), have benefited significantly from the energy-intensive industrial development responsible for warming the earth’s atmosphere. However, the poorest countries pay a steep price, especially highly vulnerable small island nations (e.g., Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, Papa New Guinea, Haiti, and Guinea-Bissau) contributing the least to the climate crisis. Therefore, global policy experts often describe climate justice as an international issue.

The rapidly increasing emissions from China, India, and other middle-income countries cause concern, especially for the poor, who must bear the worst consequences of deteriorating land, water, and air quality. However, the climate crisis unfolding now is a result of the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the earth’s atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, to which middle-income countries have contributed very little. According to one estimate, the United States alone has contributed nearly 35% of the total cumulative global CO 2 emissions since 1750. 2 Irrespective of where one stands on this debate, nationality and international borders are only two of several factors contributing to various types of climate injustices. Differences in income and wealth, race, gender, ethnicity, age, and sexual identities within countries also contribute significantly to climate injustices.

This essay’s primary goal is to introduce readers to climate justice questions within the Global North. Debating these questions in our backyard is vital because a focus on the poor people in the Global South detracts from a deeper understanding of inequalities and injustice at home. Equally important, a focus on the Global North allows for a better understanding of the root causes and the here-and-now nature of the currently unfolding climate crisis. The socially discriminatory effects of climate change are evident from the reportage of climate-related disasters in the United States and elsewhere, especially beginning with Hurricane Katrina [ 1 ]. Therefore, it is useful to think of climate justice as a framework to recognize and redress the unequal distribution of costs and burdens of climate change and climate responses of various types. Moreover, climate justice also requires ensuring that those affected most severely by climate change participate in brainstorming, developing, and implementing climate responses.

Attaining a substantive and deep understanding first requires recognizing three blind spots in climate justice discussions. One, even though the leading cause of climate change is related to energy-intensive lifestyles, most climate change discussions, including those on climate justice, often focus on the effects of climate change. A comprehensive explanation of climate justice requires avoiding such post hoc tendencies and centering our discussions on climate change’s root causes. Two, very often “radical” climate response is equated with climate justice, which does not hold in all circumstances. As the discussions below show, some radical climate responses may contribute to new kinds of injustices. Three, even though understanding the sources and the effects of climate injustices is necessary, such understanding does not translate easily into the specific actions needed to realize climate justice in practice. Accordingly, this essay concludes with a brief discussion of several ongoing pursuits of climate justice.

An in-depth inquiry into the historical trajectory of climate change and climate denialism of the past half century shows that the concentration of political and economic power has been a significant cause of the current climate crisis. The distribution of power influences how environmental amenities (e.g., clean air) and problems (e.g., pollution) are valued and distributed within national boundaries. The current economic system and the patterns of consumption it promotes are responsible for environmental degradation and environmental injustices [ 2 ]. For example, a select few multinational corporations control nearly all the global food business and consume 75% of the entire food sector’s energy requirements—but feed a much smaller proportion of the world’s population[ 3 ]. More broadly, the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population produces almost as much GHG emissions as the bottom 90% combined [ 4 ]. The extent of income inequalities within the United States and the UK shows that these inequalities are not merely due to the differences in national economic growth, which advocates of the free market often present as a solution to poverty and underdevelopment. For instance, income growth over the last few decades has lowered the well-being of large parts of the U.S. population while supporting profligate consumption among the wealthiest [ 5 ]. Such a lopsided distribution of economic growth benefits is responsible for increased precariousness among large sections of the Global North population, the climate crisis, and the myriad climate injustices.

One manifestation of the imbalances in political and economic power is corporate climate denialism, which powerful corporations engineered to protect the status quo’s benefits. Fossil fuel multinational corporations based in the United States have known since the early 1970s that the burning of fossil fuels caused global warming and climate change. The documents made public during the ongoing lawsuits against Exxon Mobil show that instead of acting on their knowledge of global warming, major fossil fuel corporations orchestrated a campaign of climate denialism [ 6 ]. These campaigns sowed seeds of doubt among the public and allowed the federal and state governments to continue supporting the fossil fuel industry’s expansion.

Data from the Washington-based Environmental and Energy Study Institute suggest that as of the year 2019, the U.S. government awarded approximately US$20 billion per year in direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Eighty percent of these subsidies went to the natural gas and crude oil industries, while the coal industry received the remaining 20%. 3 Similarly, the European Union subsidizes the fossil fuel industry by an estimated 55 billion euros (or approximately US$65 billion) annually. These subsidies give fossil fuel corporations enormous power over governments in economically underdeveloped countries, such as Nigeria and Angola, where fossil fuel extraction occurs. Therefore, fossil fuel subsidies exacerbate international inequalities that date back to European colonization and continue to shape developmental disparities today [ 7 ].

The adverse environmental and public health impacts of fossil fuel subsidies cost the global community an estimated US$5.3 trillion in 2015 alone [ 8 ]. The costs of environmental toxicity burdens fall disproportionately on the poor and marginalized community groups who lack the political and economic power to hold the business and political actors to account. The situation is especially problematic in some of the poorest oil exporting countries, such as Angola and Nigeria. However, as the vast scholarship on environmental justice shows, the poor and racial minorities in the United States also suffer the worst consequences of environmental pollution from landfills, toxic waste dumps, and petrochemical facilities [ 9 ]. One particularly hard-hit area is a stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which hosts many highly polluting petrochemical facilities. Because of the pollution caused by the petrochemical industries, residents there have such high rates of cancer that the areas is known as the “Cancer Alley” [ 10 ]. Cancer Alley has been a focal point of the U.S. environmental justice movement for over three decades [ 11 ]. However, there has been no perceptible change in the extent of environmental injustices in the Cancer Alley and other Petrochemical hubs. These toxic hot spots create dangerous new hazards in the face of the calamities linked to the climate crisis.

Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana in August 2020 with a wind speed of 150 mph, which made it the strongest Category 4 hurricane on record since 1856. A Yale University report suggested that climate change may explain the rapid intensification of Atlantic hurricanes, such as Laura, which caught the forecasters and the public off guard. 4 That results in even more severe impacts on the poor because they are least well prepared to confront these crises. These calamities are especially dangerous for communities living in areas such as Cancer Alley. Well into the second day after the deadly winds from Laura had died down, the residents of Mossville were grappling with the effects of toxic gases released from a fire that erupted during the storm in a chlorine plant owned by BioLab in Westlake, Louisiana. 5 Mossville constitutes an archetypical case of the confluence of environmental and climate injustices. Still, it is also a testimony to the deeply entrenched and ongoing effects of the history of slavery in the United States.

Mossville was founded in 1790 by formerly enslaved and free people of color, who sought refuge in a swamp to escape the oppression of segregation. They made it into a community that practiced agriculture, fishing, and hunting for generations. However, successive rounds of zoning decisions by White elected officials transformed Mossville into the “ground zero of the chemical industry boom.” 6 Industry owners forced most residents to sell off their properties. At the same time, those who stayed had no choice but to suffer the consequences of prolonged exposure to industrial pollution and toxic contamination. 7 Mossville’s struggles are not just a domestic issue either. The Lake Charles Chemical Complex responsible for devastating effects on the local environment and the health and well-being of Mossville residents is under the management of the South African Synthetic Oil Limited (SASOL). The apartheid-era South African government, hamstrung by international sanctions, established SASOL in 1950 to transform coal into fuel and chemicals using a technology developed by engineers in the Nazi-era Germany. 8 This environmentally degrading technology is no longer in use, but SASOL’s record of social and environmental impacts remains appalling.

The fossil fuel industry is also tightly coupled with the defense industry, which aids the U.S. foreign policy goal of controlling the supply of oil, rare minerals, other extractive industries, and strategic shipping lanes crucial for transportation. 9 It is common knowledge that the Bush administration’s desire to control oil supply was one of the primary motivations for the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. The Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of energy in the United States and the world’s single largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels [ 12 ]. The so-called military-industrial complex 10 exists to influence political decisions to support state subsidies for the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries. In other words, political and administrative decisions, not some random mistakes or unavoidable trade-offs, are responsible for endangering the health of the planet and the lives of poor racial minorities in areas like Cancer Alley and communities like Mossville.

Tragically, the Black communities who suffer the most from these environmental injustices are also subject to myriad other injustices, such as the police brutalities that have catalyzed a global Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Social scientists Lindsey Dillon and Julie Sze argue that the phrase “I can’t breathe,” which became a rallying cry for the BLM, points to the environmental and social conditions through which “breath is constricted or denied” [ 13 ]. The military-industrial complex is responsible, in more than one ways, for producing the “embodied insecurity of Black lives” [ 13 ]. For example, a Department of Defense program called “1033” enables local police departments to purchase “surplus” war zone equipment, including the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles. 11 The Ferguson Police Department deployed some of this military-grade equipment on the streets of Ferguson to suppress public protests against the police shooting and killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. 12 Investigations by the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit corporate and government accountability research institute, show that police foundations that support local police departments are partially funded by fossil fuel corporations such as Chevron, Shell and Wells Fargo. Their report concluded: “Many powerful companies that drive environmental injustice are also backers of the same police departments that tyrannize the very communities these corporate actors pollute” [ 14 , 15 ].

These complex links between social, environmental, and climate injustices are reminders that it may not always be useful to consider social, environmental, and climate injustices in isolation from one another. 13

“Climate justice” is commonly thought of as the unfair distribution of costs and burdens of climate change. However, two other dimensions of justice spelled out by justice theorists are equally important: procedural and recognitional justice. This section explains each of these three dimensions and their relation to pursuits of climate justice.

2.1. Distributional Effects of Climate Change

Distributional justice focuses on a fair distribution of costs and burdens of climate change and the societal responses to climate change. Vulnerability to climate change is a result of a lack of protection against risks linked to natural events. If everyone in society were equally protected, the costs and burdens related to a disaster would not fall disproportionately on some social groups. However, individuals and groups, such as racial minorities, homeless people, people with disabilities, single moms, and poor people, are more vulnerable to the effects of disasters. These vulnerabilities are a result of policies and programs that push racial minorities and other socially marginalized groups into poverty and destitution. Exclusionary zoning laws and redlining policies during the New Deal era illustrate this point well. The term “redlining” referred to the practice of drawing red lines on urban planning maps to identify African American neighborhoods as being “too risky to insure mortgages.” 14 These maps informed the actions of the Federal Housing Administration, the Veterans Administration, and Home Owners Loan Corp., thereby depriving African American towns and neighborhoods of public investments. The members of minority communities could not buy properties in some areas because the administration “reserved” these neighborhoods for affluent White families [ 16 ].

This history of urban segregation and racially prejudiced urban and suburban developments is why inner-city neighborhoods lack basic civic amenities and infrastructure that middle-class neighborhoods take for granted. These historical legacies translate into increased vulnerabilities in the context of the climate crisis. For example, an estimated 400,000 New Yorkers who live in the New York City Housing Authority’s public housing developments bore the worst effects of Hurricane Sandy in October–November 2012. The floods that occurred because of Hurricane Sandy greatly exacerbated rampant mold problems in these projects, with far-reaching health impacts for residents with respiratory illnesses [ 14 ]. The quality and affordability of housing for minorities are also among the causes of “energy poverty” or high energy burden, which is the percentage of income a person or household spends on energy [ 17 , 18 ]. Energy poverty makes it difficult to cope with the impacts of storms and floods while also leaving the energy-poor families vulnerable to the shocks related to increased energy prices that could result from a transition to renewable energy.

The problem is equally or even more severe in the predominantly African American rural areas. For instance, a 2017 report in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene found that among 55 adults surveyed in Lowndes County, Alabama, 34.5% tested positive for hookworms. The presence of this intestinal parasite is a sign of extreme poverty. Specifically, it results from an inadequate sewage system with cracked pipes of untreated waste that contaminate drinking water. In some places, this results in open pools of raw sewage, which flush human feces back into kitchen sinks and bathtubs during the rainy season [ 19 ]. Environmental and climate justice activist Catherine Flowers argues that the intensification of heavy rains and floods because of the ongoing climate crisis is overwhelming the broken sewer systems and undermining poor African Americans’ lives and livelihoods [ 20 ].

The distributive injustices of the economic system have become even more pronounced in the presence of large and increasing wealth and income inequalities. These distributional inequalities affect entire regions and local juridisctions, undermining their ability to provide civil amenities in the aftermath of a natural disaster and ensure human security. A stark reflection of these distributional consequences is that the poor and the marginalized experience the most devastating impacts of a climate disaster, that is, the loss of human lives.

2.2. Procedural Rights

Another important dimension of climate justice is procedural justice, which refers to whether and how the groups most affected by climate change have meaningful opportunities to participate in brainstorming, designing, and implementing climate responses. Historically, African Americans and other racial minorities have been under-represented in environmental and climate movements. The U.S. environmental justice movement has been calling attention to this issue for a quarter of a century, yet the problem of a lack of diversity persists. Research on 191 conservation and preservation organizations, 74 government environmental agencies, and 28 environmental grant-making foundations shows that racial minorities constitute 16% of staff and board members. Once recruited, members of minority communities tend to concentrate in lower ranks, trapped beneath a glass ceiling [ 21 ]. Although environmental institutions have made significant progress on gender diversity, such gains have mostly accrued to White women [ 21 ]. Such an under-representation in environmental movements leads to the exclusion of minorities from policy-making processes, which also creates the mistaken assumption that racial minorities are too poor to care about the environment or climate change. However, nationally representative surveys show that people of color, including Hispanics/Latinos, African Americans, and other non-White racial/ethnic groups, are more concerned than Whites about climate change [ 22 ]. Even so, higher levels of awareness are not sufficient to foster meaningful participation, which requires carefully designed processes that facilitate respectful engagement between members of marginalized groups and decision makers, such as city leaders [ 23 ].

The involvement of those affected most by climate change is essential for two key reasons. First, there are legal, statutory, political reasons for ensuring broad-based participation. Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development sets out three fundamental access rights: access to information, access to public participation, and access to justice as key pillars of sound environmental governance [ 24 ]. Agenda 21 has subsequently been integrated into various national, provincial, and local statutes and continues to be a source of learning for the ongoing debates about just transition [ 25 ]. The access rights are also in conformity with recognizing political and civil rights as the essence of universal rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A second reason for ensuring local participation has to do with the substantive effects of an inclusive process. Those most affected by the climate crisis are also likely to contribute the most insightful ideas about how best to address the vulnerabilities that produce climate injustices in the first place. For example, the Office of Sustainability in the city of Providence, RI, partnered with the city’s Racial and Environmental Justice Committee to make sure that the city’s climate action plan adhered to the Just Providence Framework developed previously by the city residents and leaders. 15 This process turned out to be so successful that the city’s Climate Action Plan metamorphosed into a Climate Justice Plan. Additionally, the city’s Office of Sustainability adopted a system of governance that is based on collaborating actively and routinely with community-based organizations. 16

2.3. “Recognitional” Justice

The promises of procedural justice remain unfulfilled in many cases because people from all social groups are not always recognized as legitimate actors, whose understanding of a problem and whose interests and priorities should inform the design and implementation of policies and programs [ 26 ]. On the other hand, marginalized groups are subject to mis recognition, which Nancy Fraser refers to as an institutionalized pattern of cultural values that “constitutes some social actors as less than full members of society and prevents them from participating as peers” [ 27 ]. Thus, the twin concepts of recognition and misrecognition are related to patterns of “privilege and oppression,” which manifest in the form of “cultural domination, being rendered invisible, and routine stereotyping or maligning in public representations” [ 26 ]. In a very profound way, recognition and misrecognition are the foundational questions of climate justice with wide-ranging consequences. As David Schlosberg has argued, a lack of respect and recognition often leads to a decline in a person’s or a group’s “membership and participation in the greater community, including the political and institutional order” [ 28 ]. Therefore, a lack of recognition presents a formidable barrier against addressing procedural and distributional concerns.

The following example illustrates how questions of recognition manifest in climate policy contexts. Harvey, a category 4 hurricane, struck Houston in August 2017. Maria, a category 5 hurricane, struck Puerto Rico in September. A review of public records from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and interviews with more than 50 people involved with disaster response revealed that the Trump administration’s response was far more swift in Houston than Puerto Rico, which experienced far greater destruction [ 29 ]. Many Puerto Ricans believed that this was more evidence that the president viewed them as “second-class American citizens” [ 30 ]. On numerous occasions, President Trump criticized Puerto Rico for being a “mess” and its leaders as “crazed and incompetent,” which constitutes an instance of misrecognition [ 31 ]. The Governor of Puerto Rico Tweeted, “Mr. President, once again, we are not your adversaries, we are your citizens” [ 31 ]. The Governor of Puerto Rico felt that the Trump administration did not recognize their rights as U.S. citizens, which influenced how the federal government responded to the most devastating climate-related disaster to date in the United States. Such lack of recognition or misrecognition is not new; it did not start with the Trump administration. Even though Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, the national political process treats them as subordinates. They do not have voting representation in the U.S. Congress or the Presidential elections. Unfortunately, a more detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this essay. Still, other scholars show how the environmental and climate injustices experienced by the people of Puerto Rico result from a long history of colonialism, occupation of large parts of the island’s territory by the U.S. Navy, and the neoliberal policies imposed on the island [ 32 , 33 ].

African American citizens in the United States have had very similar experiences, even though the political process does not disadvantage them formally. The dominant narratives used in media and political discourse, which often describe African American men as aggressive, angry, and prone to criminal violence, reinforce longstanding prejudices against racial minorities. Such negative constructions of social identities lead some to perceive the presence of African American men in the wilderness, or even in parks, as suspicious or threatening. A May 2020 incident involving an African American birder in New York’s Central Park illustrates the point. The birder asked a White woman jogger to leash her dog, as the law required. However, instead of following the park rules, the woman called the cops on the birder. A video recorded by the birder and circulated widely on social media showed the woman repeatedly telling the cops on the phone that “there’s an African American man threatening my life” [ 34 ]. Afterward, several other African American birders and hikers shared similar racial profiling experiences on social media with hashtags like #BirdingWhileBlack and #HikingWhileBlack. A common theme evident in each of these experiences is that many White people in the United States do not perceive or recognize Black people as birders, nature photographers, or hikers [ 35 , 36 ].

Other social groups, such as indigenous people and Latinx, are also often subject to prejudices and profiling, which contribute to the negative construction of their identities and instances of misrecognition in society and politics [ 37 ]. As Nancy Fraser argues, misrecognition and negative stereotyping can contribute to the institutionalization of prejudiced norms within public policies and programs, for example, via the zoning and redlining practices that sacrifice the interests of negatively portrayed groups. Notwithstanding the racialized histories of urban development in the United States and elsewhere, some commentators argue that the considerations of social justice will muddle the efforts to decarbonize the economy “quickly and efficiently.” 17 This argument draws on the perspective that there are significant trade-offs between climate action and climate justice.

One relevant example is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which many see as a boon for providing abundant natural gas supplies crucial to the “transition” away from the dirty fuel of coal. They argue that the relatively more climate-friendly energy available from natural gas, coupled with economic benefits that local communities gain in the short term, must be weighed against the risks of adverse public health and environmental consequences. 18 Yet, laws that protect the privacy of proprietary data hinder public access to information about the health and ecological consequences of the chemical cocktails used in fracking, even though such information is vital to the goals of public health and environmental protections. Overall, a broader systems approach suggests a significantly more extensive set of adverse consequences, including the “impacts from the decline in water quality on soil, land, and ecosystem productivity (crops/animal health); effects of fracking-related air pollution on pollinators; effects on the development of local, alternative food systems; and, fracking-related boom-bust dynamics” [ 38 ]. The range of these negative consequences raise questions about the narratives of trade-offs in fracking .

Some proponents of a speedy transition to renewable energy also cite the supposed tradeoff between efficiency and equity to argue for allowing competent energy companies to develop, install, and own industrial-scale renewable energy grids. However, this view ignores the many benefits of wide-ranging consultations and collaborations with local communities that could enhance the public acceptance and efficacy of renewable energy infrastructure [ 39 ]. Somewhat ironically, some of the most challenging trade-offs may be witnessed in communities most vulnerable to climate change, for example, indigenous communities that seek to secure their “sovereignty by the barrel” because the compulsions borne out of marginality constrain their choices for economic development. 19 Such a “take it or leave it” scenario of limited choices reflects longstanding disadvantages, which the ongoing climate crisis is likely to exacerbate. Overall, it is crucial to investigate the arguments about potential trade-offs in a nuanced way so that some parties do not weaponize these arguments [ 40 ].

Climate response has three components: mitigation, which refers to actions that help reduce emissions of GHGs; adaptation, which refers to measures that reduce vulnerability to the consequences of climate change; and resilience, which refers to the properties that enable a socioecological system to withstand the shocks of climate change. Although adaptation and resilience are closely intertwined, adaptation actions are generally thought of as responses to climate change impacts, while resilience actions are anticipatory. Each of these three types of “climate responses” has important implications for justice. Additionally, we briefly consider the importance of taking an intersectional approach to understanding climate action’s justice effects.

A central component of the efforts to mitigate climate change is to curtail carbon emissions linked to energy-intensive consumption. However, in democratic societies, one cannot merely ban or arbitrarily restrict energy-intensive activities, not least because many of these activities are a source of employment and other means of economic wellbeing for many lower-income families. The next best option is to put a price on carbon emissions, commonly referred to as “carbon tax,” which many scholars and practitioners see as one of the most effective means of climate mitigation. If we lived in a world of economic and wealth equality, a carbon tax would simply realign economic incentives without imposing excessive burdens on specific social groups. However, in the presence of massive economic and wealth inequalities, a carbon tax would affect poor and/or racial minority households very differently compared to others. Unless subsistence items, such as food, water, and energy were protected from the inflationary effects of carbon taxes, even a moderate level of the carbon tax could make these items too expensive for the poor in the United States.

In Paris, the Yellow Vest protestors cited economic inequalities and the unfairness of the gas tax that President Emmanuel Macron announced in 2019 as one of the main reasons for the protests. The protestors felt that it was unfair to ask low- and middle-income folks to “make sacrifices while rich people aren’t paying taxes anymore.” This feeling of unfairness contributed to “a sense of despair, as well as a sense of social injustice” [ 41 ]. The adverse effects of climate mitigation are not always contained within the national borders, though.

Carbon offsets projects, including some that may be funded by environmentally conscious consumers paying an airline a little extra to offset the emissions linked to their air travel, have been implicated in the dispossession and displacements of indigenous groups in different parts of the world. 20 Such projects may be less problematic when implemented within the Global North, characterized by the security of property rights and a robust rule of law. These conditions do not apply to most terrestrial carbon offset projects in Africa or Asia. Over 95% of forestlands are legally defined as public lands, even though most of these lands have been used customarily by indigenous peoples and other rural populations. Under those conditions, the financial returns linked to carbon offset projects incentivize powerful government agencies and private actors to set aside these lands for carbon offset projects, including in countries where customary land tenures are protected under the statute. The international community has developed social safeguards and other codes of conduct to regulate offset projects. However, research by the Center for International Forestry Research, the Oakland Institute, and the Rights & Resources Initiative shows that international offset projects contribute to widespread human rights violations [ 42 , 43 ].

Similarly, a large-scale switch to renewables, including electric or hybrid batteries, windmills, and solar panels, could lead to a sudden spike in demand for rare minerals, such as copper and cobalt. The mining of these minerals also often contributes to gross human rights abuses, including child labor and the degradation and depletion of natural resources, such as water, forests, and pastures crucial for local livelihoods in the Global South [ 44 ]. For these reasons, some scholars argue that industrial-scale renewable energy infrastructure can be as exploitative as the fossil fuel industry practices have been. Noticeably, this argument applies to industrial-scale renewable infrastructure. Renewable energy resources can also exist in the form of “energy commons,” which give local communities real stakes in making decisions about siting, pricing, and profit-sharing [ 45 ]. Such democratization of energy infrastructure is crucial for implementing a transition plan that suits the site-specific requirements.

Some consider climate adaptation, that is, the measures designed to deal with the climate crisis, to be synonymous with climate justice. The argument is that if the worst consequences of climate change fall on the poor and the marginalized, any interventions meant to adapt to climate change would necessarily help the poor. Yet not all climate adaptation measures are created equal. For example, coastal adaptation measures in response to sea-level rise should help sustain rather than disrupt subsistence and artisanal fishing, which are the mainstay of livelihood strategies for many coastal frontline communities. More broadly, as Dean Hardy and colleagues argue, “the land facing inundation is racialized land…that has been appropriated, settled, cultivated, and distributed through a long history of deeply racialized projects” [ 46 ]. They argue that sea-level rise adaptation planning must recognize the reality of such “racial coastal formations” and must commit to “resist the reproduction of and reinvestments in racial inequality in responses to climate change” [ 46 ].

The failure to address racial inequalities means that many urban climate adaptation interventions, such as public transit systems, public parks, and improved civic amenities, may increase property prices or rentals, which makes some areas unaffordable to their current residents. These changes lead to urban gentrification, which refers to the changes in a neighborhood’s composition because of changes in property values. It is called climate gentrification when such changes are related to climate change [ 47 ]. The framework of climate gentrification helps illuminate the social determinants of vulnerability. For example, as the rising sea levels and frequent flooding threaten expensive properties on Miami’s famed beaches, wealthy people invest in properties inland. The flux of new investments and new wealthy residents makes the previously low-income neighborhoods too costly to afford for low-income groups [ 48 ]. As human geographer Jesse Ribot has argued, “vulnerability does not fall from the sky” [ 49 ]. Considering that socioeconomic deprivations contribute to climate change-related vulnerabilities, any efforts to address climate injustice must address such disadvantages.

The discussions above demonstrate that climate injustices are not just about the “climate system” or “global warming” but are rooted firmly in the unequal patterns of vulnerabilities shaped by the distribution of social and political power and economic inequalities. Climate change’s social consequences manifest in outcomes related to urban development patterns, energy prices, urban transportation, food production, and food markets. By implication, the pursuit of climate justice also requires addressing these various sectors of the economy and society. The following are some examples of how local governments, civic groups, academic institutions, and social movements seek to pursue climate justice.

The fossil-fuel divestment movement popularized by 350.org has grown to secure commitments to divest more than US$14 trillion worth of investments made by more than 1,230 institutions, including religious institutions, pension funds, university endowments, and large charitable foundations. College students from several universities in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere have made significant contributions to the global fossil fuel divestment movement’s ongoing success [ 50 ]. The decline of the fossil fuel industry, including the state-owned oil corporations in some of the largest oil producing countries, will undoubtedly lower environmental pollution and contribute to environmental and climate justice. Another example from the energy sector is the 2019 Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Tour, which focused on building a collective grassroots vision for an egalitarian energy future in the communities impacted by the New Deal era projects of the Tennessee Valley Authority. 21 This tour served as a good reminder of why we need to pay attention to the historical legacies of unequal development and socioeconomic marginalization. Transformative reforms in state-level energy policies and programs are other crucial elements necessary for fostering an inclusive clean energy action. The Washington-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance scores and ranks states on their energy policies, specifically their devolution and inclusiveness [ 51 ]. Such rankings create useful resources for grassroots actors and could help foster healthy competition among states.

Climate justice interventions related to urban areas include the Miami City Commission’s resolution directing the city managers to research urban gentrification and ways of stabilizing property tax rates in lower income areas located further inland [ 52 ]. City governments can act to institutionalize other means of fostering a healthy urban ecosystem. In 2019, the Boston City Council voted unanimously to enact a Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP) for a more equitable food purchasing system at public institutions. Seven other cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Cincinnati, have also adopted GFPP policies [ 53 ]. These initiatives help urban populations cut down on their reliance on imported food items that leave a significant carbon footprint. In doing so, they also undercut the stronghold of industrial agriculture, which is a large consumer of fossil fuels and one of the major causes of global climate change [ 54 ]. Equally important, food ordinances can help improve the profitability of urban and peri-urban agro-ecological farming, which is associated with multiple social, economic, environmental, and climate-related benefits [ 55 ]. More broadly, instead of privatizing urban infrastructure or having monopolistic state control, reimagining the city as a “commons” gives urban residents a collective stake in a city’s resources [ 56 ]. Democratizing urban governance—that is, allowing urban residents a meaningful say in the conduct of the ongoing affairs in a city—is an important prerequisite for incorporating concerns of ecology and environment into our urban imaginations.

La Via Campesina , a transnational social movement, promotes agroecology and food sovereignty by engaging with all relevant actors, including the United Nations at the global level and peasant federations at the subnational level. They have been instrumental in the successful enactment of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. La Via Campesina engages with 182 organizations representing an estimated 200 million farmers from 81 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Another example of a grassroots network that has made a global impact is the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), founded in 1990 in Bemidji, MN, to address environmental and economic justice issues. IEN has also been one of the key actors in the global climate justice movement, mainly via its participation in the annual United Nations Climate Change meetings. The IEN has recently launched a People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy: Protect, Repair, Invest and Transform to put indigenous sovereignty and values at the front and center of collective efforts toward a sustainable future [ 57 ].

These are some examples of interventions from various actors and agencies invested in the pursuits of climate justice. Each of the examples cited above addresses a specific policy and programmatic area relevant to the daily lives of the people at the frontlines of climate change. However, the energy-intensive luxury consumption in the Global North and in some sections of the Global South that contribute significantly to the climate crisis does not receive adequate attention from policy makers. Our collective efforts to address climate change are unlikely to succeed if we fail to reduce consumption, especially the consumption of goods and services linked to “luxury emissions,” such as privately owned planes. The average carbon footprint of the wealthiest 1% of people globally could be 175 times that of the poorest 10% [ 58 ]. On the other hand, large sections of populations in the global South are still grappling with the provision of necessities such as nutritious food, safe drinking water, and a reliable supply of clean energy. Hundreds of millions also lack access to amenities such as sanitation systems, schools, and hospitals, as reflected in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The emissions related to these activities are called “survival emissions” [ 59 ]. Some climate policy discussions tend to obfuscate these distinctions using the language of “human footprint” and “population problem” [ 60 ]. Such framings create a false equivalence between luxury consumption and survival emissions, while accounting for these distinctions provides policy guidance for climate policies that can be both just and efficient.

As the discussion on fossil fuel subsidies demonstrates, the patterns of consumption and deprivation are products of political and economic structures. National policies and the actions of powerful state and non-state corporate actors have severe consequences for what happens at the local level. Any high-level reforms would not necessarily translate into a realization of climate justice without social and political mobilization at the grassroots level. For over three decades, environmental and social justice movements have struggled to bring these issues to the public agenda both in the United States and globally. Advocates of climate justice would benefit from building on the insights and lessons from these movements [ 61 ]. Additionally, transformative reforms in the economy and society, executed via the federal or state-level agencies, are also equally important. We must seek to address the limits of liberal state, which are responsible for the entrenchment of racial capitalism and the climate crisis [ 62 ]. Climate justice calls for wide-ranging reforms and concerted actions in the cultural, social, economic, and political spheres.

What separates climate action advocacy from climate justice advocacy?

Is it too much to expect climate justice advocates to also address questions of social injustices of race, gender, and sexual identity, among others?

In your assessment, are links between the military-industrial complex, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the outcomes of environmental and climate justice that this essay suggest a bit “over the top”? Why or why not?

Do the simultaneous pursuits of climate response and climate justice necessarily entail trade-offs? What factors must be considered in assessing the extent of a trade-off in any given situation?

How does the consideration of a plurality of values to define human well-being affect our assessment of trade-offs in climate action/climate justice debates?

How could we reorient our food systems to promote socially just climate responses?

What role can municipal governments play in promoting climate justice?

Are the arguments about “city as a commons” or “energy commons” part of utopian thinking that cannot be translated into pragmatic policy reforms?

What roles do consumers and citizens play in advancing the goals of climate justice?

Could you think of examples of policies and programs not discussed above that might also contribute to climate justice? For each example, please explain the specific contribution to climate justice.

The author acknowledges the generous and insightful comments by Sikina Jinnah on the first two drafts and comments by Betty Hanson on the penultimate draft. The original impetus for this pedagogical note came from a new course I developed at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. I am thankful to the students who took the class in spring 2019, who engaged vigorously with the note and contributed to its expansion to its present form.

The author has declared that no competing interests exist.

The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

An additional 250,000 deaths a year are attributed to climate change, though that number continues to be contested by others who argue that the global death toll related to the ongoing climate crisis is likely to be much higher. https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/16/health/climate-change-health-emergency-study/index.html .

https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/4/24/18512804/climate-change-united-states-china-emissions .

https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-fossil-fuel-subsidies-a-closer-look-at-tax-breaks-and-societal-costs .

https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/08/climate-change-is-causing-more-rapid-intensification-of-atlantic-hurricanes/ .

https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/08/28/hurricane-laura-chemicals-pollution/ .

https://www.sierraclub.org/change/2016/09/climate-justice-and-climate-apartheid .

The author owes the knowledge of these international connections to the screening of the documentary Mossville: When Great Trees Fall as part of Scalawag’s “Breathing While Black” virtual event on June 25, 2020. See https://www.scalawagmagazine.org/about/ ; and http://www.mossvilleproject.com/ .

https://slate.com/business/2006/10/the-nazi-germany-apartheid-south-africa-invention-that-could-make-oil-obsolete.html .

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/09/26/10-ways-climate-crisis-and-militarism-are-intertwined .

https://www.britannica.com/topic/military-industrial-complex .

https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/08/13/ferguson-police-michael-brown-militarization-column/14006383/ .

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/08/the-pentagon-gave-the-ferguson-police-department-military-grade-weapons/376033/ .

https://mn350.org/2020/06/black-lives-matter-there-is-no-climate-justice-without-racial-justice/ .

https://www.npr.org/2017/05/03/526655831/a-forgotten-history-of-how-the-u-s-government-segregated-america .

https://grist.org/article/providence-shows-other-cities-how-environmental-justice-is-done/ .

Anon. 2019. The City of Providence’s Climate Justice Plan.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/want-a-green-new-deal-heres-a-better-one/2019/02/24/2d7e491c-36d2-11e9-af5b-b51b7ff322e9_story.html .

https://www.aeaweb.org/research/fracking-shale-local-impact-net .

https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/sovereignty-by-the-barrel-tribe-takes-control-of-oil-production-4F796kUAo0S2GrEx3TfGbw .

https://redd-monitor.org/2016/10/19/five-responses-to-the-aviation-industrys-carbon-offsetting-scam/ .

The tour was co-organized by Appalachian Voices, Science for the People, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), Working Films, and a group of community members and organizers in the greater Knoxville area. http://appvoices.org/2019/11/26/re-envisioning-public-power-in-the-tennessee-valley/ .

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What You Need to Know About Oceans and Climate Change

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#ShowYourStripes graphic by Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading) https://showyourstripes.info/

How does climate change affect oceans?

Climate change is a major threat to ocean health globally, and one that adds to other ongoing anthropogenic threats – in other words, environmental changes caused by human activity. We are starting to understand these impacts better and learning more about the extent and scope of the problem. First, climate change is causing some serious changes in oceans, including temperature increase, sea level rise, and acidification. Significant changes in ocean current patterns are also occurring. All these factors impact ocean health and marine species. For instance, coral reefs, which are critical marine ecosystems, are threatened by a trifecta of acidification, increasing sea temperatures and sea level rise. But acidification is also a much broader issue since it disrupts carbon sequestration by other species including mollusks and crustaceans. Changing ocean current patterns threaten recruitment of fish stocks – the number of fish born in a given time frame that reach the juvenile stage – with very real and direct impacts on coastal communities that depend on these resources. The impacts of climate change on oceans are therefore myriad, complex, and interrelated.

What role do oceans play in mitigating climate change?

Oceans are the largest heat sink on the planet. They absorb 90% of the excess heat caused by climate change. Oceans are also a very efficient carbon sink, absorbing 23% of human-caused CO2 emissions. Ecosystems such as mangroves, which grow in coastal areas but with roots in sea water, as well as tidal marshes and seagrass meadows, all sequester and store more carbon per unit area than forests. We also know that some carbon particles have been sequestered in seabed sediment over millennia, though that phenomenon is not as well understood or even measured.

But the role of oceans as a carbon sink is directly affected by the impacts of climate change on ocean health, creating a vicious cycle. As it is, we are only just beginning to understand the importance of the ecological functions of oceans, yet climate change is already impacting them.

What role do oceans play in climate change adaptation?

 Coastal zones are very high energy areas -- think about tides or wave action – and to protect coastal communities, these incessant forces must be managed. You can manage them by building gray infrastructure such as jetties or seawalls, or you can use green infrastructure such as mangroves, or a combination of green and gray infrastructure.  New research in  Bangladesh  estimates that, in a powerful cyclone, mangroves would reduce the rise in seawater levels between 4 and 16.5 centimeters and bring down water inflow speed to between 29% - 92%. So, communities can really benefit from the protection of mangroves.  

What is the World Bank doing to support ocean health?

The World Bank has developed the  Blue Economy approach,  which focuses on the sustainable and integrated management of coastal and marine areas in healthy oceans. Our multi-donor trust fund,  PROBLUE , supports governments in their efforts to improve fisheries, address marine pollution, manage coastal resources, and limit the impacts of key sectors such as tourism, maritime transport and offshore renewable energy on ocean health. This is a critical agenda for the Bank. ,  and this number is expected to double to $3 trillion by 2030 . . For instance, we are helping our client countries develop new, more sustainable approaches to coastal tourism linked to marine protected areas.  We also support more than 105 million hectares of marine protected areas  where human activities are managed in a significant way, including core areas where all activities are restricted.

We are also focused on the decarbonization of shipping. Many ships run on bunker fuel – the dirtiest form of fossil fuel used today.  And as oceans recover, we work to develop alternative livelihoods for the impacted communities as they adapt to current and future changes driven by climate.

And last but not least, we focus much of our efforts on reducing and managing marine plastic pollution. Plastics are yet another threat to ocean health and one of the most visible. Plastic pollution is caused in part by poor solid waste management, but we are tackling the problem throughout the plastic value chain, from production to switching to a circular economy and, if all else fails, beach clean-ups. Because the task is daunting, many parts of the World Bank Group need to be involved and we have much more to do, but if marine plastics are not tackled in earnest, oceans will simply not be able to play their vital role in mitigating climate change.

What will it take to ensure oceans are healthy and can help us fight climate change in the future?

 The Bank is not alone in this endeavor and we can see a growing global commitment around the effort. A few countries have set ocean health targets as part of their nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement – and many more should do so. Some countries are adopting integrated ocean planning that looks at the development of various oceanic sectors in an integrated and sustainable way. This is the break from business as usual that needs to take place: we simply cannot continue on the path that has brought us to this point. At COP26 in Glasgow, negotiators approved new rules for carbon markets that could help better value ocean-based carbon sinks such as mangroves and coral reefs and create incentives for their preservation. There is no silver bullet, but we can and must continue working together to restore ocean health.

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Feature | June 6, 2018

The scientific method and climate change: how scientists know.

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Starting in 1958, Charles Keeling used the scientific method to take meticulous measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) at Mauna Loa Observatory in Waimea, Hawaii. This graph, known as the Keeling Curve, shows how atmospheric CO 2 has continued rising since then.

By Holly Shaftel, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The scientific method is the gold standard for exploring our natural world. You might have learned about it in grade school, but here’s a quick reminder: It’s the process that scientists use to understand everything from animal behavior to the forces that shape our planet—including climate change.

“The way science works is that I go out and study something, and maybe I collect data or write equations, or I run a big computer program,” said Josh Willis, principal investigator of NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) mission and oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “And I use it to learn something about how the world works.”

Using the scientific method, scientists have shown that humans are extremely likely the dominant cause of today’s climate change. The story goes back to the late 1800s, but in 1958, for example, Charles Keeling of the Mauna Loa Observatory in Waimea, Hawaii, started taking meticulous measurements of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) in the atmosphere, showing the first significant evidence of rapidly rising CO 2 levels and producing the Keeling Curve climate scientists know today.

“The way science works is that I go out and study something, and maybe I collect data or write equations, or I run a big computer program, and I use it to learn something about how the world works.” - Josh Willis, NASA oceanographer and Oceans Melting Greenland principal investigator

Since then, thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers have come to the same conclusion about climate change, telling us that human activities emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, raising Earth’s average temperature and bringing a range of consequences to our ecosystems.

“The weight of all of this information taken together points to the single consistent fact that humans and our activity are warming the planet,” Willis said.

The scientific method’s steps

The exact steps of the scientific method can vary by discipline, but since we have only one Earth (and no “test” Earth), climate scientists follow a few general guidelines to better understand carbon dioxide levels, sea level rise, global temperature and more.

scientific method

  • Form a hypothesis (a statement that an experiment can test)
  • Make observations (conduct experiments and gather data)
  • Analyze and interpret the data
  • Draw conclusions
  • Publish results that can be validated with further experiments (rinse and repeat)

As you can see, the scientific method is iterative (repetitive), meaning that climate scientists are constantly making new discoveries about the world based on the building blocks of scientific knowledge.

“The weight of all of this information taken together points to the single consistent fact that humans and our activity are warming the planet." - Josh Willis, NASA oceanographer and Oceans Melting Greenland principal investigator

The scientific method at work

How does the scientific method work in the real world of climate science? Let’s take NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) campaign, a multi-year survey of Greenland’s ice melt that’s paving the way for improved sea level rise estimates, as an example.

  • Form a hypothesis OMG hypothesizes that the oceans are playing a major role in Greenland ice loss.
  • Make observations Over a five-year period, OMG will survey Greenland by air and ship to collect ocean temperature and salinity (saltiness) data and take ice thinning measurements to help climate scientists better understand how the ice and warming ocean interact with each other. OMG will also collect data on the sea floor’s shape and depth, which determines how much warm water can reach any given glacier.
  • Analyze and interpret data As the OMG crew and scientists collect data around 27,000 miles (over 43,000 kilometers) of Greenland coastline over that five-year period, each year scientists will analyze the data to see how much the oceans warmed or cooled and how the ice changed in response.
  • Draw conclusions In one OMG study , scientists discovered that many Greenland glaciers extend deeper (some around 1,000 feet, or about 300 meters) beneath the ocean’s surface than once thought, making them quite vulnerable to the warming ocean. They also discovered that Greenland’s west coast is generally more vulnerable than its east coast.
  • Publish results Scientists like Willis write up the results, send in the paper for peer review (a process in which other experts in the field anonymously critique the submission), and then those peers determine whether the information is correct and valuable enough to be published in an academic journal, such as Nature or Earth and Planetary Science Letters . Then it becomes another contribution to the well-substantiated body of climate change knowledge, which evolves and grows stronger as scientists gather and confirm more evidence. Other scientists can take that information further by conducting their own studies to better understand sea level rise.

All in all, the scientific method is “a way of going from observations to answers,” NASA terrestrial ecosystem scientist Erika Podest, based at JPL, said. It adds clarity to our way of thinking and shows that scientific knowledge is always evolving.

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Argumentative Essay Writing

Argumentative Essay About Climate Change

Cathy A.

Make Your Case: A Guide to Writing an Argumentative Essay on Climate Change

Published on: Mar 2, 2023

Last updated on: Jan 31, 2024

Argumentative essay about climate change

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Crafting a Powerful Argumentative Essay about Global Warming: A Step-by-Step Guide

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With the issue of climate change making headlines, it’s no surprise that this has become one of the most debated topics in recent years. 

But what does it really take to craft an effective argumentative essay about climate change? 

Writing an argumentative essay requires a student to thoroughly research and articulate their own opinion on a specific topic. 

To write such an essay, you will need to be well-informed regarding global warming. By doing so, your arguments may stand firm backed by both evidence and logic. 

In this blog, we will discuss some tips for crafting a factually reliable argumentative essay about climate change!

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What is an Argumentative Essay about Climate Change?

The main focus will be on trying to prove that global warming is caused by human activities. Your goal should be to convince your readers that human activity is causing climate change.

To achieve this, you will need to use a variety of research methods to collect data on the topic. You need to make an argument as to why climate change needs to be taken more seriously. 

Argumentative Essay Outline about Climate Change

An argumentative essay about climate change requires a student to take an opinionated stance on the subject. 

The outline of your paper should include the following sections: 

Argumentative Essay About Climate Change Introduction

The first step is to introduce the topic and provide an overview of the main points you will cover in the essay. 

This should include a brief description of what climate change is. Furthermore, it should include current research on how humans are contributing to global warming.

An example is:

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Thesis Statement For Climate Change Argumentative Essay

The thesis statement should be a clear and concise description of your opinion on the topic. It should be established early in the essay and reiterated throughout.

For example, an argumentative essay about climate change could have a thesis statement such as:

Climate Change Argumentative Essay Conclusion

The conclusion should restate your thesis statement and summarize the main points of the essay. 

It should also provide a call to action, encouraging readers to take steps toward addressing climate change. 

For example, 

How To Write An Argumentative Essay On Climate Change 

Writing an argumentative essay about climate change requires a student to take an opinionated stance on the subject. 

Following are the steps to follow for writing an argumentative essay about climate change

Do Your  Research

The first step is researching the topic and collecting evidence to back up your argument. 

You should look at scientific research, articles, and data on climate change as well as current policy solutions. 

Pick A Catchy Title

Once you have gathered your evidence, it is time to pick a title for your essay. It should be specific and concise. 

Outline Your Essay

After selecting a title, create an outline of the main points you will include in the essay. 

This should include an introduction, body paragraphs that provide evidence for your argument, and a conclusion. 

Compose Your Essay

Finally, begin writing your essay. Start with an introduction that provides a brief overview of the main points you will cover and includes your thesis statement. 

Then move on to the body paragraphs, providing evidence to back up your argument. 

Finally, conclude the essay by restating your thesis statement and summarizing the main points. 

Proofread and Revise

Once you have finished writing the essay, it is important to proofread and revise your work. 

Check for any spelling or grammatical errors, and make sure the argument is clear and logical. 

Finally, consider having someone else read over the essay for a fresh perspective. 

By following these steps, you can create an effective argumentative essay on climate change. Good luck! 

Examples Of Argumentative Essays About Climate Change 

Climate Change is real and happening right now. It is one of the most urgent environmental issues that we face today. 

Argumentative essays about this topic can help raise awareness that we need to protect our planet. 

Below you will find some examples of argumentative essays on climate change written by CollegeEssay.org’s expert essay writers.

Argumentative Essay About Climate Change And Global Warming

Persuasive Essay About Climate Change

Argumentative Essay About Climate Change In The Philippines

Argumentative Essay About Climate Change Caused By Humans

Geography Argumentative Essay About Climate Change

Check our extensive blog on argumentative essay examples to ace your next essay!

Good Argumentative Essay Topics About Climate Change 

Choosing a great topic is essential to help your readers understand and engage with the issue.

Here are some suggestions: 

  • Should governments fund projects that will reduce the effects of climate change? 
  • Is it too late to stop global warming and climate change? 
  • Are international treaties effective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions? 
  • What are the economic implications of climate change? 
  • Should renewable energy be mandated as a priority over traditional fossil fuels? 
  • How can individuals help reduce their carbon footprint and fight climate change? 
  • Are regulations on industry enough to reduce global warming and climate change? 
  • Could geoengineering be used to mitigate climate change? 
  • What are the social and political effects of global warming and climate change? 
  • Should companies be held accountable for their contribution to climate change? 

Check our comprehensive blog on argumentative essay topics to get more topic ideas!

We hope these topics and resources help you write a great argumentative essay about climate change. 

Now that you know how to write an argumentative essay about climate change, it’s time to put your skills to the test.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a good introduction to climate change.

An introduction to a climate change essay can include a short description of why the topic is important and/or relevant. 

It can also provide an overview of what will be discussed in the body of the essay. 

The introduction should conclude with a clear, focused thesis statement that outlines the main argument in your essay. 

What is a good thesis statement for climate change?

A good thesis statement for a climate change essay should state the main point or argument you will make in your essay. 

You could argue that “The science behind climate change is irrefutable and must be addressed by governments, businesses, and individuals.”

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Steps To Follow While Writing An Essay On Climate Change

Jessica Nita

Table of Contents

comprehensive essay about climate change

Climate change is the most essential issue of our generation; we are the first to witness its early signs and the last who have a chance of stopping them from happening.

Living in a bubble of denial can only get us this far; the planet which is our home is already a scene for melting glaciers, raising floods, extinction of species… the list goes on and on. Spreading awareness on matters of climate change through any means available, including as seemingly trivial form as writing a school essay, cannot be underestimated.

Follow the guidelines suggested in the paragraphs below to learn how to create a perfect essay that will get you an appraisal of your teacher.

Essay on climate changes: how to write?

If you really want to make your teacher gasp while they are reading your work, there are three vital things to pay attention to .

First of all, read the topic carefully and understand it’s specific, i.e., what is expected from you.

For instance, if it is the role of individuals in helping prevent climate change, you should not focus so much on the global problems, but speak about how small changes all of us can introduce in our routines will eventually have a positive environmental effect.

Secondly, determine your personal take on the problem . Search for materials on your subject using keywords, and pile up the evidence that supports your point of view.

Finally, write a conclusion. Make sure that the conclusion you make reflects the viewpoints you have been expressing all throughout your essay.

Below you will find a more detailed breakdown of tasks you will have to accomplish to complete writing an essay on climate changes that is worthy of a top mark.

Check if it is an argumentative essay on climate change or more of a speculative one? Arrange your writing accordingly.

  • Craft the outline and don’t go off-topic.
  • Search for keywords .
  • Make a plan .
  • Avoid the most common mistakes from the start.
  • Write an introduction thinking about what you will write later.
  • Develop your ideas according to the outline .
  • Make a conclusion which is consistent with what you’ve written in the main paragraphs.
  • Proofread the draft , correct mistakes and print out the hard copy. All set!

One of the most focal of your writing will be factual evidence. When writing on climate change, resort to providing data shared by international organizations like IPCC , WWF , or World Bank .

It is undeniable that among the main causes of climate change, unfortunately, there are oil and fossil fuels that are the basis of the whole economy and still invaluable sources of energy.

Although everyone knows that oil resources are polluting and that it would be much more useful and environmentally sustainable to rely on renewable energies such as wind and solar energies and electricity, the power of the world seem not to notice or pretend not to see for don’t go against your own interests.

The time has come to react and raise awareness of the use of renewable energy sources.

In addition to the causes already mentioned, we must consider the increase in the carbon dioxide air that traps heat in our atmosphere, thus increasing the temperatures with the consequent of the Arctic glaciers melting.

WWF reported that in 2016, the recorded data was quite worrying with a constant increase in temperatures and a 40% decrease in Arctic marine glaciers.

Topics for essay on global warming and climate change

If you do not have any specific topic to write on, consider yourself lucky. You can pick one that you are passionate about – and in fact, this is what you should do! If we think back to the very definition of essay, it is nothing more than a few paragraphs of expressing one’s personal attitude and viewpoints on a certain subject. Surely, you need to pick a subject that you are opinionated about to deliver a readable piece of writing!

Another point to consider is quaintness and topicality factors. You don’t want to end up writing on a subject that the rest of your class will, and in all honesty, that has zero novelty to it.

Even if it is something as trivial as the greenhouse effect, add an unexpected perspective to it: the greenhouse effect from the standpoint of the feline population of Montenegro. Sounds lunatic, but you get the drift.

Do not worry, below you will find the list of legitimately coverable topics to choose from:

  • The last generation able to fight the global crisis.
  • Climate change: top 10 unexpected causes.
  • Climate changes. Things anyone can do.
  • Climate changes concern everyone. Is it true?
  • The Mauna Loa volcano: climate change is here.
  • Water pollution and coastal cities: what needs to be done?
  • Is there global warming if it’s still cold?
  • The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.
  • Celebrity activists and climate changes.
  • Individual responsibility for the environment.
  • How the loss of biodiversity is the biggest loss for humanity.
  • Ways to fight global warming at home.
  • Sustainable living as a way of fighting climate change.
  • Climate change fighting countries to look up to.
  • Industrial responsibility and climate change.
  • What future will be like if we fail to make an environmental stand?
  • Discovering water on Mars: a new planet to live on?
  • Climate change effects on poor countries.
  • Nuclear power laws and climate change.
  • Is it true that climate change is caused by man?

Mistakes to avoid when writing an essay on climate change

When composing your essay, you must avoid the following (quite common!) mistakes:

  • Clichés – no one wants to read universal truths presented as relevant discoveries.
  • Repeating an idea already expressed – don’t waste your readers’ time .
  • Making an accumulation of ideas that are not connected and that do not follow one another; structure your ideas logically .
  • Being contradictive (check consistency).
  • Using bad or tired collocations .
  • Using lackluster adjectives like “good”/”bad”. Instead, think of more eye-catching synonyms.

Structure your essay in a logical way : introduce your thesis, develop your ideas in at least 2 parts that contain several paragraphs, and draw a conclusion.

Bottom line

Writing an essay on global warming and climate change is essentially reflecting on the inevitable consequence of the irresponsible behavior of people inhabiting the planet. Outside of big-scale thinking, there is something each of us can do, and by shaping minds the right way, essential change can be done daily.

Each of us can act to protect the environment, reducing the use of plastic, recycling, buying food with as little packaging as possible, or turning off water and light when not in use. Every little help, even a short essay on climate change can help make a difference.

Can’t wait to save the planet? Do it, while we write your essay. Easy order, complete confidentiality, timely delivery. Click the button to learn more!

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Essay on Climate Change

Climate Change Essay - The globe is growing increasingly sensitive to climate change. It is currently a serious worldwide concern. The term "Climate Change" describes changes to the earth's climate. It explains the atmospheric changes that have occurred across time, spanning from decades to millions of years. Here are some sample essays on climate change.

100 Words Essay on Climate Change

200 words essay on climate change, 500 words essay on climate change.

Essay on Climate Change

The climatic conditions on Earth are changing due to climate change. Several internal and external variables, such as solar radiation, variations in the Earth's orbit, volcanic eruptions, plate tectonics, etc., are to blame for this.

There are strategies for climate change reduction. If not implemented, the weather might get worse, there might be water scarcity, there could be lower agricultural output, and it might affect people's ability to make a living. In order to breathe clean air and drink pure water, you must concentrate on limiting human activity. These are the simple measures that may be taken to safeguard the environment and its resources.

The climate of the Earth has changed significantly over time. While some of these changes were brought on by natural events like volcanic eruptions, floods, forest fires, etc., many of the changes were brought on by human activity. The burning of fossil fuels, domesticating livestock, and other human activities produce a significant quantity of greenhouse gases. This results in an increase of greenhouse effect and global warming which are the major causes for climate change.

Reasons of Climate Change

Some of the reasons of climate change are:

Deforestation

Excessive use of fossil fuels

Water and soil pollution

Plastic and other non biodegradable waste

Wildlife and nature extinction

Consequences of Climate Change

All kinds of life on earth will be affected by climate change if it continues to change at the same pace. The earth's temperature will increase, the monsoon patterns will shift, the sea level will rise, and there will be more frequent storms, volcano eruptions, and other natural calamities. The earth's biological and ecological equilibrium will be disturbed. Humans won't be able to access clean water or air to breathe when the environment becomes contaminated. The end of life on this earth is imminent. To reduce the issue of climate change, we need to bring social awareness along with strict measures to protect and preserve the natural environment.

A shift in the world's climatic pattern is referred to as climate change. Over the centuries, the climate pattern of our planet has undergone modifications. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has significantly grown.

When Did Climate Change Begin

It is possible to see signs of climate change as early as the beginning of the industrial revolution. The pace at which the manufacturers produced things on a large scale required a significant amount of raw materials. Since the raw materials being transformed into finished products now have such huge potential for profit, these business models have spread quickly over the world. Hazardous substances and chemicals build up in the environment as a result of company emissions and waste disposal.

Although climate change is a natural occurrence, it is evident that human activity is turning into the primary cause of the current climate change situation. The major cause is the growing population. Natural resources are utilised more and more as a result of the population's fast growth placing a heavy burden on the available resources. Over time, as more and more products and services are created, pollution will eventually increase.

Causes of Climate Change

There are a number of factors that have contributed towards weather change in the past and continue to do so. Let us look at a few:

Solar Radiation |The climate of earth is determined by how quickly the sun's energy is absorbed and distributed throughout space. This energy is transmitted throughout the world by the winds, ocean currents etc which affects the climatic conditions of the world. Changes in solar intensity have an effect on the world's climate.

Deforestation | The atmosphere's carbon dioxide is stored by trees. As a result of their destruction, carbon dioxide builds up more quickly since there are no trees to absorb it. Additionally, trees release the carbon they stored when we burn them.

Agriculture | Many kinds of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere by growing crops and raising livestock. Animals, for instance, create methane, a greenhouse gas that is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The nitrous oxide used in fertilisers is roughly 300 times more strong than carbon dioxide.

How to Prevent Climate Change

We need to look out for drastic steps to stop climate change since it is affecting the resources and life on our planet. We can stop climate change if the right solutions are put in place. Here are some strategies for reducing climate change:

Raising public awareness of climate change

Prohibiting tree-cutting and deforestation.

Ensure the surroundings are clean.

Refrain from using chemical fertilisers.

Water and other natural resource waste should be reduced.

Protect the animals and plants.

Purchase energy-efficient goods and equipment.

Increase the number of trees in the neighbourhood and its surroundings.

Follow the law and safeguard the environment's resources.

Reduce the amount of energy you use.

During the last few decades especially, climate change has grown to be of concern. Global concern has been raised over changes in the Earth's climatic pattern. The causes of climate change are numerous, as well as the effects of it and it is our responsibility as inhabitants of this planet to look after its well being and leave it in a better condition for future generations.

Explore Career Options (By Industry)

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Data Administrator

Database professionals use software to store and organise data such as financial information, and customer shipping records. Individuals who opt for a career as data administrators ensure that data is available for users and secured from unauthorised sales. DB administrators may work in various types of industries. It may involve computer systems design, service firms, insurance companies, banks and hospitals.

Bio Medical Engineer

The field of biomedical engineering opens up a universe of expert chances. An Individual in the biomedical engineering career path work in the field of engineering as well as medicine, in order to find out solutions to common problems of the two fields. The biomedical engineering job opportunities are to collaborate with doctors and researchers to develop medical systems, equipment, or devices that can solve clinical problems. Here we will be discussing jobs after biomedical engineering, how to get a job in biomedical engineering, biomedical engineering scope, and salary. 

Ethical Hacker

A career as ethical hacker involves various challenges and provides lucrative opportunities in the digital era where every giant business and startup owns its cyberspace on the world wide web. Individuals in the ethical hacker career path try to find the vulnerabilities in the cyber system to get its authority. If he or she succeeds in it then he or she gets its illegal authority. Individuals in the ethical hacker career path then steal information or delete the file that could affect the business, functioning, or services of the organization.

Data Analyst

The invention of the database has given fresh breath to the people involved in the data analytics career path. Analysis refers to splitting up a whole into its individual components for individual analysis. Data analysis is a method through which raw data are processed and transformed into information that would be beneficial for user strategic thinking.

Data are collected and examined to respond to questions, evaluate hypotheses or contradict theories. It is a tool for analyzing, transforming, modeling, and arranging data with useful knowledge, to assist in decision-making and methods, encompassing various strategies, and is used in different fields of business, research, and social science.

Water Manager

A career as water manager needs to provide clean water, preventing flood damage, and disposing of sewage and other wastes. He or she also repairs and maintains structures that control the flow of water, such as reservoirs, sea defense walls, and pumping stations. In addition to these, the Manager has other responsibilities related to water resource management.

Geothermal Engineer

Individuals who opt for a career as geothermal engineers are the professionals involved in the processing of geothermal energy. The responsibilities of geothermal engineers may vary depending on the workplace location. Those who work in fields design facilities to process and distribute geothermal energy. They oversee the functioning of machinery used in the field.

Geotechnical engineer

The role of geotechnical engineer starts with reviewing the projects needed to define the required material properties. The work responsibilities are followed by a site investigation of rock, soil, fault distribution and bedrock properties on and below an area of interest. The investigation is aimed to improve the ground engineering design and determine their engineering properties that include how they will interact with, on or in a proposed construction. 

The role of geotechnical engineer in mining includes designing and determining the type of foundations, earthworks, and or pavement subgrades required for the intended man-made structures to be made. Geotechnical engineering jobs are involved in earthen and concrete dam construction projects, working under a range of normal and extreme loading conditions. 

Operations Manager

Individuals in the operations manager jobs are responsible for ensuring the efficiency of each department to acquire its optimal goal. They plan the use of resources and distribution of materials. The operations manager's job description includes managing budgets, negotiating contracts, and performing administrative tasks.

Budget Analyst

Budget analysis, in a nutshell, entails thoroughly analyzing the details of a financial budget. The budget analysis aims to better understand and manage revenue. Budget analysts assist in the achievement of financial targets, the preservation of profitability, and the pursuit of long-term growth for a business. Budget analysts generally have a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance, economics, or a closely related field. Knowledge of Financial Management is of prime importance in this career.

Finance Executive

Product manager.

A Product Manager is a professional responsible for product planning and marketing. He or she manages the product throughout the Product Life Cycle, gathering and prioritising the product. A product manager job description includes defining the product vision and working closely with team members of other departments to deliver winning products.  

Investment Banker

An Investment Banking career involves the invention and generation of capital for other organizations, governments, and other entities. Individuals who opt for a career as Investment Bankers are the head of a team dedicated to raising capital by issuing bonds. Investment bankers are termed as the experts who have their fingers on the pulse of the current financial and investing climate. Students can pursue various Investment Banker courses, such as Banking and Insurance , and  Economics to opt for an Investment Banking career path.

Underwriter

An underwriter is a person who assesses and evaluates the risk of insurance in his or her field like mortgage, loan, health policy, investment, and so on and so forth. The underwriter career path does involve risks as analysing the risks means finding out if there is a way for the insurance underwriter jobs to recover the money from its clients. If the risk turns out to be too much for the company then in the future it is an underwriter who will be held accountable for it. Therefore, one must carry out his or her job with a lot of attention and diligence.

A career as financial advisor is all about assessing one’s financial situation, understanding what one wants to do with his or her money, and helping in creating a plan to reach one’s financial objectives. An Individual who opts for a career as financial advisor helps individuals and corporations reduce spending, pay off their debt, and save and invest for the future. The financial advisor job description includes working closely with both individuals and corporations to help them attain their financial objectives.

Welding Engineer

Welding Engineer Job Description: A Welding Engineer work involves managing welding projects and supervising welding teams. He or she is responsible for reviewing welding procedures, processes and documentation. A career as Welding Engineer involves conducting failure analyses and causes on welding issues. 

Transportation Planner

A career as Transportation Planner requires technical application of science and technology in engineering, particularly the concepts, equipment and technologies involved in the production of products and services. In fields like land use, infrastructure review, ecological standards and street design, he or she considers issues of health, environment and performance. A Transportation Planner assigns resources for implementing and designing programmes. He or she is responsible for assessing needs, preparing plans and forecasts and compliance with regulations.

Landscape Architect

Having a landscape architecture career, you are involved in site analysis, site inventory, land planning, planting design, grading, stormwater management, suitable design, and construction specification. Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park in New York introduced the title “landscape architect”. The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) proclaims that "Landscape Architects research, plan, design and advise on the stewardship, conservation and sustainability of development of the environment and spaces, both within and beyond the built environment". Therefore, individuals who opt for a career as a landscape architect are those who are educated and experienced in landscape architecture. Students need to pursue various landscape architecture degrees, such as  M.Des , M.Plan to become landscape architects. If you have more questions regarding a career as a landscape architect or how to become a landscape architect then you can read the article to get your doubts cleared. 

Urban Planner

Urban Planning careers revolve around the idea of developing a plan to use the land optimally, without affecting the environment. Urban planning jobs are offered to those candidates who are skilled in making the right use of land to distribute the growing population, to create various communities. 

Urban planning careers come with the opportunity to make changes to the existing cities and towns. They identify various community needs and make short and long-term plans accordingly.

An expert in plumbing is aware of building regulations and safety standards and works to make sure these standards are upheld. Testing pipes for leakage using air pressure and other gauges, and also the ability to construct new pipe systems by cutting, fitting, measuring and threading pipes are some of the other more involved aspects of plumbing. Individuals in the plumber career path are self-employed or work for a small business employing less than ten people, though some might find working for larger entities or the government more desirable.

Construction Manager

Individuals who opt for a career as construction managers have a senior-level management role offered in construction firms. Responsibilities in the construction management career path are assigning tasks to workers, inspecting their work, and coordinating with other professionals including architects, subcontractors, and building services engineers.

Environmental Engineer

Individuals who opt for a career as an environmental engineer are construction professionals who utilise the skills and knowledge of biology, soil science, chemistry and the concept of engineering to design and develop projects that serve as solutions to various environmental problems. 

Naval Architect

A Naval Architect is a professional who designs, produces and repairs safe and sea-worthy surfaces or underwater structures. A Naval Architect stays involved in creating and designing ships, ferries, submarines and yachts with implementation of various principles such as gravity, ideal hull form, buoyancy and stability. 

Orthotist and Prosthetist

Orthotists and Prosthetists are professionals who provide aid to patients with disabilities. They fix them to artificial limbs (prosthetics) and help them to regain stability. There are times when people lose their limbs in an accident. In some other occasions, they are born without a limb or orthopaedic impairment. Orthotists and prosthetists play a crucial role in their lives with fixing them to assistive devices and provide mobility.

Veterinary Doctor

Pathologist.

A career in pathology in India is filled with several responsibilities as it is a medical branch and affects human lives. The demand for pathologists has been increasing over the past few years as people are getting more aware of different diseases. Not only that, but an increase in population and lifestyle changes have also contributed to the increase in a pathologist’s demand. The pathology careers provide an extremely huge number of opportunities and if you want to be a part of the medical field you can consider being a pathologist. If you want to know more about a career in pathology in India then continue reading this article.

Speech Therapist

Gynaecologist.

Gynaecology can be defined as the study of the female body. The job outlook for gynaecology is excellent since there is evergreen demand for one because of their responsibility of dealing with not only women’s health but also fertility and pregnancy issues. Although most women prefer to have a women obstetrician gynaecologist as their doctor, men also explore a career as a gynaecologist and there are ample amounts of male doctors in the field who are gynaecologists and aid women during delivery and childbirth. 

An oncologist is a specialised doctor responsible for providing medical care to patients diagnosed with cancer. He or she uses several therapies to control the cancer and its effect on the human body such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy and biopsy. An oncologist designs a treatment plan based on a pathology report after diagnosing the type of cancer and where it is spreading inside the body.

Audiologist

The audiologist career involves audiology professionals who are responsible to treat hearing loss and proactively preventing the relevant damage. Individuals who opt for a career as an audiologist use various testing strategies with the aim to determine if someone has a normal sensitivity to sounds or not. After the identification of hearing loss, a hearing doctor is required to determine which sections of the hearing are affected, to what extent they are affected, and where the wound causing the hearing loss is found. As soon as the hearing loss is identified, the patients are provided with recommendations for interventions and rehabilitation such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, and appropriate medical referrals. While audiology is a branch of science that studies and researches hearing, balance, and related disorders.

Healthcare Social Worker

Healthcare social workers help patients to access services and information about health-related issues. He or she assists people with everything from locating medical treatment to assisting with the cost of care to recover from an illness or injury. A career as Healthcare Social Worker requires working with groups of people, individuals, and families in various healthcare settings such as hospitals, mental health clinics, child welfare, schools, human service agencies, nursing homes, private practices, and other healthcare settings.  

For an individual who opts for a career as an actor, the primary responsibility is to completely speak to the character he or she is playing and to persuade the crowd that the character is genuine by connecting with them and bringing them into the story. This applies to significant roles and littler parts, as all roles join to make an effective creation. Here in this article, we will discuss how to become an actor in India, actor exams, actor salary in India, and actor jobs. 

Individuals who opt for a career as acrobats create and direct original routines for themselves, in addition to developing interpretations of existing routines. The work of circus acrobats can be seen in a variety of performance settings, including circus, reality shows, sports events like the Olympics, movies and commercials. Individuals who opt for a career as acrobats must be prepared to face rejections and intermittent periods of work. The creativity of acrobats may extend to other aspects of the performance. For example, acrobats in the circus may work with gym trainers, celebrities or collaborate with other professionals to enhance such performance elements as costume and or maybe at the teaching end of the career.

Video Game Designer

Career as a video game designer is filled with excitement as well as responsibilities. A video game designer is someone who is involved in the process of creating a game from day one. He or she is responsible for fulfilling duties like designing the character of the game, the several levels involved, plot, art and similar other elements. Individuals who opt for a career as a video game designer may also write the codes for the game using different programming languages.

Depending on the video game designer job description and experience they may also have to lead a team and do the early testing of the game in order to suggest changes and find loopholes.

Radio Jockey

Radio Jockey is an exciting, promising career and a great challenge for music lovers. If you are really interested in a career as radio jockey, then it is very important for an RJ to have an automatic, fun, and friendly personality. If you want to get a job done in this field, a strong command of the language and a good voice are always good things. Apart from this, in order to be a good radio jockey, you will also listen to good radio jockeys so that you can understand their style and later make your own by practicing.

A career as radio jockey has a lot to offer to deserving candidates. If you want to know more about a career as radio jockey, and how to become a radio jockey then continue reading the article.

Choreographer

The word “choreography" actually comes from Greek words that mean “dance writing." Individuals who opt for a career as a choreographer create and direct original dances, in addition to developing interpretations of existing dances. A Choreographer dances and utilises his or her creativity in other aspects of dance performance. For example, he or she may work with the music director to select music or collaborate with other famous choreographers to enhance such performance elements as lighting, costume and set design.

Videographer

Multimedia specialist.

A multimedia specialist is a media professional who creates, audio, videos, graphic image files, computer animations for multimedia applications. He or she is responsible for planning, producing, and maintaining websites and applications. 

An individual who is pursuing a career as a producer is responsible for managing the business aspects of production. They are involved in each aspect of production from its inception to deception. Famous movie producers review the script, recommend changes and visualise the story. 

They are responsible for overseeing the finance involved in the project and distributing the film for broadcasting on various platforms. A career as a producer is quite fulfilling as well as exhaustive in terms of playing different roles in order for a production to be successful. Famous movie producers are responsible for hiring creative and technical personnel on contract basis.

Copy Writer

In a career as a copywriter, one has to consult with the client and understand the brief well. A career as a copywriter has a lot to offer to deserving candidates. Several new mediums of advertising are opening therefore making it a lucrative career choice. Students can pursue various copywriter courses such as Journalism , Advertising , Marketing Management . Here, we have discussed how to become a freelance copywriter, copywriter career path, how to become a copywriter in India, and copywriting career outlook. 

Careers in journalism are filled with excitement as well as responsibilities. One cannot afford to miss out on the details. As it is the small details that provide insights into a story. Depending on those insights a journalist goes about writing a news article. A journalism career can be stressful at times but if you are someone who is passionate about it then it is the right choice for you. If you want to know more about the media field and journalist career then continue reading this article.

For publishing books, newspapers, magazines and digital material, editorial and commercial strategies are set by publishers. Individuals in publishing career paths make choices about the markets their businesses will reach and the type of content that their audience will be served. Individuals in book publisher careers collaborate with editorial staff, designers, authors, and freelance contributors who develop and manage the creation of content.

In a career as a vlogger, one generally works for himself or herself. However, once an individual has gained viewership there are several brands and companies that approach them for paid collaboration. It is one of those fields where an individual can earn well while following his or her passion. 

Ever since internet costs got reduced the viewership for these types of content has increased on a large scale. Therefore, a career as a vlogger has a lot to offer. If you want to know more about the Vlogger eligibility, roles and responsibilities then continue reading the article. 

Individuals in the editor career path is an unsung hero of the news industry who polishes the language of the news stories provided by stringers, reporters, copywriters and content writers and also news agencies. Individuals who opt for a career as an editor make it more persuasive, concise and clear for readers. In this article, we will discuss the details of the editor's career path such as how to become an editor in India, editor salary in India and editor skills and qualities.

Fashion Journalist

Fashion journalism involves performing research and writing about the most recent fashion trends. Journalists obtain this knowledge by collaborating with stylists, conducting interviews with fashion designers, and attending fashion shows, photoshoots, and conferences. A fashion Journalist  job is to write copy for trade and advertisement journals, fashion magazines, newspapers, and online fashion forums about style and fashion.

Corporate Executive

Are you searching for a Corporate Executive job description? A Corporate Executive role comes with administrative duties. He or she provides support to the leadership of the organisation. A Corporate Executive fulfils the business purpose and ensures its financial stability. In this article, we are going to discuss how to become corporate executive.

Quality Controller

A quality controller plays a crucial role in an organisation. He or she is responsible for performing quality checks on manufactured products. He or she identifies the defects in a product and rejects the product. 

A quality controller records detailed information about products with defects and sends it to the supervisor or plant manager to take necessary actions to improve the production process.

Production Manager

Procurement manager.

The procurement Manager is also known as  Purchasing Manager. The role of the Procurement Manager is to source products and services for a company. A Procurement Manager is involved in developing a purchasing strategy, including the company's budget and the supplies as well as the vendors who can provide goods and services to the company. His or her ultimate goal is to bring the right products or services at the right time with cost-effectiveness. 

Process Development Engineer

The Process Development Engineers design, implement, manufacture, mine, and other production systems using technical knowledge and expertise in the industry. They use computer modeling software to test technologies and machinery. An individual who is opting career as Process Development Engineer is responsible for developing cost-effective and efficient processes. They also monitor the production process and ensure it functions smoothly and efficiently.

Merchandiser

Aws solution architect.

An AWS Solution Architect is someone who specializes in developing and implementing cloud computing systems. He or she has a good understanding of the various aspects of cloud computing and can confidently deploy and manage their systems. He or she troubleshoots the issues and evaluates the risk from the third party. 

Azure Administrator

An Azure Administrator is a professional responsible for implementing, monitoring, and maintaining Azure Solutions. He or she manages cloud infrastructure service instances and various cloud servers as well as sets up public and private cloud systems. 

Information Security Manager

Individuals in the information security manager career path involves in overseeing and controlling all aspects of computer security. The IT security manager job description includes planning and carrying out security measures to protect the business data and information from corruption, theft, unauthorised access, and deliberate attack 

Computer Programmer

Careers in computer programming primarily refer to the systematic act of writing code and moreover include wider computer science areas. The word 'programmer' or 'coder' has entered into practice with the growing number of newly self-taught tech enthusiasts. Computer programming careers involve the use of designs created by software developers and engineers and transforming them into commands that can be implemented by computers. These commands result in regular usage of social media sites, word-processing applications and browsers.

ITSM Manager

It consultant.

An IT Consultant is a professional who is also known as a technology consultant. He or she is required to provide consultation to industrial and commercial clients to resolve business and IT problems and acquire optimum growth. An IT consultant can find work by signing up with an IT consultancy firm, or he or she can work on their own as independent contractors and select the projects he or she wants to work on.

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Climate research and essays

comprehensive essay about climate change

Our growing body of climate research brings new insights and analysis to the global climate debate and helps to inform policy and practice.

Please find below bite-sized summaries of our research in this area with links to reports and publications where available. Visit our Research and Insight webpages to discover our full research portfolio.

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An overview of and recommendations to enhance climate change and sustainability education in schools.

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A literature review examining the impact of climate change on tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

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An overview of leading trends in climate action and environmental sustainability programmes in the UK arts and culture sector, with best practice examples.

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Enabling research collaboration between international researchers, Scottish universities and Scotland-based academic mentors, and external arts and culture organisations.

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Fellowships to support an international research programme at the University of Cambridge on community-led climate resilience.

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Insights into what young people around the world think about climate change and their priorities for climate action.

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Examining how climate change affects the craft sector and artisans in India, highlighting the interplay between craft, sustainability and the climate crisis.

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International case studies focusing on the logistics of the finances behind climate funding.

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Trilateral research collaborations between universities in Japan, the United Kingdom, and ASEAN countries, aimed at addressing climate change.

comprehensive essay about climate change

The research highlights the urgent issue of cultural heritage being at risk from climate change, and explores best practices to protect against these effects focusing on East Africa.

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The Big Conversation Climate Change delivers new insights on values and attitudes towards climate change in China, India, Japan and Mexico – major world economies.

comprehensive essay about climate change

This research considers how national cultural policy can strengthen the creative climate movement, and thereby mobilise action at scale.

Global Youth Letter

The research showcases the voices of more than 8,000 young people, from 23 countries, whose views have contributed to the Global Youth Letter on Climate Action.

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The Cultural Relations Collection includes a series of essays exploring the role of cultural relations in responding to global environmental challenges.

comprehensive essay about climate change

This research focuses on the lively debate of more than 20 mayors and city leaders, from 19 countries, on the urgent issue of climate-forced displacement.

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A deeper understanding of the perceptions, attitudes, and readiness of young people in Afghanistan, Bangladesh Pakistan and Sri Lanka around climate vulnerability and their action.

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Future by Design aims to inspire a global dialogue around climate change, while showcasing radical thinking about the role design can play in responding to urgent environmental issues.

comprehensive essay about climate change

Fashion Open Studio uses an action research approach to showcase the work of young fashion designers around the world.

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Climate Change Essay

500+ words essay on climate change.

Climate change is a major global challenge today, and the world is becoming more vulnerable to this change. Climate change refers to the changes in Earth’s climate condition. It describes the changes in the atmosphere which have taken place over a period ranging from decades to millions of years. A recent report from the United Nations predicted that the average global temperature could increase by 6˚ Celsius at the end of the century. Climate change has an adverse effect on the environment and ecosystem. With the help of this essay, students will get to know the causes and effects of climate change and possible solutions. Also, they will be able to write essays on similar topics and can boost their writing skills.

What Causes Climate Change?

The Earth’s climate has always changed and evolved. Some of these changes have been due to natural causes such as volcanic eruptions, floods, forest fires etc., but quite a few of them are due to human activities. Human activities such as deforestation, burning fossil fuels, farming livestock etc., generate an enormous amount of greenhouse gases. This results in the greenhouse effect and global warming which are the major causes of climate change.

Effects of Climate Change

If the current situation of climate change continues in a similar manner, then it will impact all forms of life on the earth. The earth’s temperature will rise, the monsoon patterns will change, sea levels will rise, and storms, volcanic eruptions and natural disasters will occur frequently. The biological and ecological balance of the earth will get disturbed. The environment will get polluted and humans will not be able to get fresh air to breathe and fresh water to drink. Life on earth will come to an end.

Steps to be Taken to Reduce Climate Change

The Government of India has taken many measures to improve the dire situation of Climate Change. The Ministry of Environment and Forests is the nodal agency for climate change issues in India. It has initiated several climate-friendly measures, particularly in the area of renewable energy. India took several steps and policy initiatives to create awareness about climate change and help capacity building for adaptation measures. It has initiated a “Green India” programme under which various trees are planted to make the forest land more green and fertile.

We need to follow the path of sustainable development to effectively address the concerns of climate change. We need to minimise the use of fossil fuels, which is the major cause of global warming. We must adopt alternative sources of energy, such as hydropower, solar and wind energy to make a progressive transition to clean energy. Mahatma Gandhi said that “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not any man’s greed”. With this view, we must remodel our outlook and achieve the goal of sustainable development. By adopting clean technologies, equitable distribution of resources and addressing the issues of equity and justice, we can make our developmental process more harmonious with nature.

We hope students liked this essay on Climate Change and gathered useful information on this topic so that they can write essays in their own words. To get more study material related to the CBSE, ICSE, State Board and Competitive exams, keep visiting the BYJU’S website.

Frequently Asked Questions on climate change Essay

What are the reasons for climate change.

1. Deforestation 2. Excessive usage of fossil fuels 3. Water, Soil pollution 4. Plastic and other non-biodegradable waste 5. Wildlife and nature extinction

How can we save this climate change situation?

1. Avoid over usage of natural resources 2. Do not use or buy items made from animals 3. Avoid plastic usage and pollution

Are there any natural causes for climate change?

Yes, some of the natural causes for climate change are: 1. Solar variations 2. Volcanic eruption and tsunamis 3. Earth’s orbital changes

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comprehensive essay about climate change

Feeding the future world

The impacts of climate change on food production will affect us all. It is important that research and funding are available to minimize these effects and support the most vulnerable.

comprehensive essay about climate change

Education outcomes in the era of global climate change

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Are We in the ‘Anthropocene,’ the Human Age? Nope, Scientists Say.

A panel of experts voted down a proposal to officially declare the start of a new interval of geologic time, one defined by humanity’s changes to the planet.

Four people standing on the deck of a ship face a large, white mushroom cloud in the distance.

By Raymond Zhong

The Triassic was the dawn of the dinosaurs. The Paleogene saw the rise of mammals. The Pleistocene included the last ice ages.

Listen to this article with reporter commentary

Open this article in the New York Times Audio app on iOS.

Is it time to mark humankind’s transformation of the planet with its own chapter in Earth history, the “Anthropocene,” or the human age ?

Not yet, scientists have decided, after a debate that has spanned nearly 15 years. Or the blink of an eye, depending on how you look at it.

A committee of roughly two dozen scholars has, by a large majority, voted down a proposal to declare the start of the Anthropocene, a newly created epoch of geologic time, according to an internal announcement of the voting results seen by The New York Times.

By geologists’ current timeline of Earth’s 4.6-billion-year history, our world right now is in the Holocene, which began 11,700 years ago with the most recent retreat of the great glaciers. Amending the chronology to say we had moved on to the Anthropocene would represent an acknowledgment that recent, human-induced changes to geological conditions had been profound enough to bring the Holocene to a close.

The declaration would shape terminology in textbooks, research articles and museums worldwide. It would guide scientists in their understanding of our still-unfolding present for generations, perhaps even millenniums, to come.

In the end, though, the members of the committee that voted on the Anthropocene over the past month were not only weighing how consequential this period had been for the planet. They also had to consider when, precisely, it began.

By the definition that an earlier panel of experts spent nearly a decade and a half debating and crafting, the Anthropocene started in the mid-20th century, when nuclear bomb tests scattered radioactive fallout across our world. To several members of the scientific committee that considered the panel’s proposal in recent weeks, this definition was too limited, too awkwardly recent, to be a fitting signpost of Homo sapiens’s reshaping of planet Earth.

“It constrains, it confines, it narrows down the whole importance of the Anthropocene,” said Jan A. Piotrowski, a committee member and geologist at Aarhus University in Denmark. “What was going on during the onset of agriculture? How about the Industrial Revolution? How about the colonizing of the Americas, of Australia?”

“Human impact goes much deeper into geological time,” said another committee member, Mike Walker, an earth scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. “If we ignore that, we are ignoring the true impact, the real impact, that humans have on our planet.”

Hours after the voting results were circulated within the committee early Tuesday, some members said they were surprised at the margin of votes against the Anthropocene proposal compared with those in favor: 12 to four, with two abstentions. (Another three committee members neither voted nor formally abstained.)

Even so, it was unclear on Tuesday whether the results stood as a conclusive rejection or whether they might still be challenged or appealed. In an email to The Times, the committee’s chair, Jan A. Zalasiewicz, said there were “some procedural issues to consider” but declined to discuss them further. Dr. Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester, has expressed support for canonizing the Anthropocene.

This question of how to situate our time in the narrative arc of Earth history has thrust the rarefied world of geological timekeepers into an unfamiliar limelight.

The grandly named chapters of our planet’s history are governed by a body of scientists, the International Union of Geological Sciences. The organization uses rigorous criteria to decide when each chapter started and which characteristics defined it. The aim is to uphold common global standards for expressing the planet’s history.

Geoscientists don’t deny our era stands out within that long history. Radionuclides from nuclear tests. Plastics and industrial ash. Concrete and metal pollutants. Rapid greenhouse warming. Sharply increased species extinctions. These and other products of modern civilization are leaving unmistakable remnants in the mineral record, particularly since the mid-20th century.

Still, to qualify for its own entry on the geologic time scale, the Anthropocene would have to be defined in a very particular way, one that would meet the needs of geologists and not necessarily those of the anthropologists, artists and others who are already using the term.

That’s why several experts who have voiced skepticism about enshrining the Anthropocene emphasized that the vote against it shouldn’t be read as a referendum among scientists on the broad state of the Earth. “This was a narrow, technical matter for geologists, for the most part,” said one of those skeptics, Erle C. Ellis, an environmental scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “This has nothing to do with the evidence that people are changing the planet,” Dr. Ellis said. “The evidence just keeps growing.”

Francine M.G. McCarthy, a micropaleontologist at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, is the opposite of a skeptic: She helped lead some of the research to support ratifying the new epoch.

“We are in the Anthropocene, irrespective of a line on the time scale,” Dr. McCarthy said. “And behaving accordingly is our only path forward.”

The Anthropocene proposal got its start in 2009, when a working group was convened to investigate whether recent planetary changes merited a place on the geologic timeline. After years of deliberation, the group, which came to include Dr. McCarthy, Dr. Ellis and some three dozen others, decided that they did. The group also decided that the best start date for the new period was around 1950.

The group then had to choose a physical site that would most clearly show a definitive break between the Holocene and the Anthropocene. They settled on Crawford Lake , in Ontario, where the deep waters have preserved detailed records of geochemical change within the sediments at the bottom.

Last fall, the working group submitted its Anthropocene proposal to the first of three governing committees under the International Union of Geological Sciences. Sixty percent of each committee has to approve the proposal for it to advance to the next.

The members of the first one, the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, submitted their votes starting in early February. (Stratigraphy is the branch of geology concerned with rock layers and how they relate in time. The Quaternary is the ongoing geologic period that began 2.6 million years ago.)

Under the rules of stratigraphy, each interval of Earth time needs a clear, objective starting point, one that applies worldwide. The Anthropocene working group proposed the mid-20th century because it bracketed the postwar explosion of economic growth, globalization, urbanization and energy use. But several members of the subcommission said humankind’s upending of Earth was a far more sprawling story, one that might not even have a single start date across every part of the planet.

This is why Dr. Walker, Dr. Piotrowski and others prefer to describe the Anthropocene as an “event,” not an “epoch.” In the language of geology, events are a looser term. They don’t appear on the official timeline, and no committees need to approve their start dates.

Yet many of the planet’s most significant happenings are called events, including mass extinctions, rapid expansions of biodiversity and the filling of Earth’s skies with oxygen 2.1 to 2.4 billion years ago.

Even if the subcommission’s vote is upheld and the Anthropocene proposal is rebuffed, the new epoch could still be added to the timeline at some later point. It would, however, have to go through the whole process of discussion and voting all over again.

Time will march on. Evidence of our civilization’s effects on Earth will continue accumulating in the rocks. The task of interpreting what it all means, and how it fits into the grand sweep of history, might fall to the future inheritors of our world.

“Our impact is here to stay and to be recognizable in the future in the geological record — there is absolutely no question about this,” Dr. Piotrowski said. “It will be up to the people that will be coming after us to decide how to rank it.”

Audio produced by Kate Winslett .

Raymond Zhong reports on climate and environmental issues for The Times. More about Raymond Zhong

Learn More About Climate Change

Have questions about climate change? Our F.A.Q. will tackle your climate questions, big and small .

MethaneSAT, a washing-machine-sized satellite , is designed to detect emissions of methane, an invisible yet potent gas that is dangerously heating the world.  Here is how it works .

Two friends, both young climate researchers, recently spent hours confronting the choices that will shape their careers, and the world. Their ideas are very different .

New satellite-based research reveals how land along the East Coast is slumping into the ocean, compounding the danger from global sea level rise . A major culprit: overpumping of groundwater.

The planet needs solar power. Can we build it without harming nature ? Today’s decisions about how and where to set up new energy projects will reverberate for generations.

Did you know the ♻ symbol doesn’t mean something is actually recyclable ? Read on about how we got here, and what can be done.

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Washington State Department of Commerce

Climate Change - Washington State Department of Commerce

  • Climate Program

This page contains planning guidance, grants and other resources for developing a comprehensive plan climate element that mitigates greenhouse gas emissions and builds community resilience. 

Photo of governor signing climate bill 1181 with supporters

Climate Element Overview

Legislation passed and signed into law in 2023 ( HB 1181 ) adds a climate goal to the Growth Management Act (GMA) and requires local comprehensive plans to have a climate element with resilience and greenhouse gas emissions mitigation sub-elements.

  • The resilience sub-element must include goals and polices to improve climate preparedness, response and recovery efforts. This is mandatory for all counties and cities fully planning under the GMA and encouraged for others.
  • The greenhouse gas emissions sub-element must include goals and policies to reduce emissions and vehicle miles traveled. This sub-element is mandatory for the state’s 11 largest counties and the cities within those counties.
  • Climate elements must maximize economic, environmental, and social co-benefits and prioritize environmental justice in order to avoid worsening environmental health disparities.
  • Climate Law: HB 1181 (2023) – FAQ (PDF )

Who Must Create a Climate Element

Climate-related changes to the Growth Management Act (GMA) that are reflected in HB 1181 (Chapter 228, Laws of 2023) include amendments to several mandatory elements with timeframes for applicability based on the periodic update schedule . Jurisdictions must update their transportation element and land use element, as well as add a climate element that is comprised of a greenhouse gas emissions reduction sub-element and a resilience sub-element.

The resilience sub-element is mandatory for all fully planning counties and cities under the GMA and is encouraged for all other counties and cities. The greenhouse gas emissions reduction sub-element is mandatory only for the following 11 counties (and their cities with a population greater that 6,000 as of April 1, 2021):

Commerce provides a collection of training and guidance on the GMA. The following Commerce resources are available online: Periodic Updates , GMA regulations , and an overview of Washington local land use planning .

Climate Planning Rulemaking

As required by HB 1181(2023), Commerce will be updating the Washington Administrative Code. Our rulemaking is expected to provide guidance that cities and counties can use when developing comprehensive plan updates and describe new regulatory authority by which Commerce will review and approve city and county climate elements voluntarily submitted as part of comprehensive plan updates. Please see the following link to our rulemaking page to review the CR-101 notice . 

Commerce will be seeking input starting in early 2024. Please subscribe by scrolling to our “subscribe” button on this page and selecting “planning for climate change” from the list of subscription options. We will also be posting updates on the process to this site. If you would like to learn more, be involved, or provide input, please contact [email protected] .

Climate Planning Guidance

In January 2024, Commerce published intermediate climate element planning guidance and a list of more than 200 model climate goals and policies (Menu of Measures) that jurisdictions could integrate into their comprehensive plan. A climate element can take the form of a single comprehensive plan chapter or be integrated into several chapters/elements such as housing, transportation, and land use.

Applicable cities and counties with a 2025 comprehensive plan periodic update deadline will be the first cities required to have a climate element and should use the intermediate guidance. 

  • Intermediate guidance – Updated 01-11-24 (PDF) 
  • Menu of Measures (PDF)
  • Intermediate guidance FAQ (PDF)
  • Intermediate guidance Overview (PDF)

Climate Guidance Documents by Chapter

  • Introduction (PDF)
  • Planning & Engagement (PDF)
  • Resilience Sub-element (PDF)
  • GHG Emissions Reduction Sub-element (PDF)
  • Climate Measures (PDF)
  • Climate Justice (PDF)
  • Climate Element Workbook (Excel)
  • Best Practices for Integrating Climate into a Hazard Mitigation Plan (PDF)
  • Crosswalk Comparison of FEMA/Commerce Guidance (Excel)
  • Sample RFP for GHG Inventory (PDF)
  • Summary Report: Climate Resilience Pilot Program (PDF)
  • Guiding Principles for Climate Planning (PDF)
  • Multi-criteria Analysis Examples (PDF)
  • Handbook for Analyzing GHG Reductions (PDF)
  • Glossary (PDF)

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Reduction Survey of Small and Mid-sized Cities

  • GHG Emissions Reduction Survey results (PDF) 

Climate Planning Funding

Climate planning grant overview.

Commerce will make approximately $30 million available in statewide grants for the 2023-2025 biennium with an expectation that additional resources will be appropriated through the current periodic update. The current application window is closed. Commerce expects to have additional grant application windows. We expect the next funding window to open in the summer of 2024.

Grant Requirements

Each fully planning city and county is eligible for funding based on applicability (RCW 36.70A.040 (4)) . These grants support implementation of HB 1181, with the current biennium’s funding prioritized for cities and counties with 2025 and 2026 due dates on their comprehensive plan updates. Grant amounts and distribution details are available in the grant instructions (PDF) .

The following climate planning related activities are eligible for funding:

  • Adopting comprehensive plan policy and development regulation amendments to implement HB 1181 (2023) as applicable.
  • Other planning activities related to implementing HB 1181: A jurisdiction could propose both to adopt a climate element and conduct an implementation activity related to the adopted plan. Implementation activities must be climate planning related and not capital or infrastructure projects. Examples of implementation activities include (but not limited to): development of EV infrastructure plan; municipal building decarbonization plan; urban heat resilience strategy; or, native & climate-resilient planting plans for municipal projects.

Grant Materials

  • Climate Planning grant FAQ (PDF)

Grant workshop materials

  • Pre-application Climate Planning grant workshop presentation (PDF)
  • Pre-application Climate Planning grant workshop recording (Vimeo)

Quick Links

  • Growth Management
  • Governor's Smart Communities Awards
  • Planning for Housing
  • Laws and Rules - Growth Management Act
  • Periodic Updates - Growth Management Act
  • Growth Management Grants
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  • Civilian-Military Compatibility
  • Defense Community Compatibility
  • Integrated Stormwater and Watershed Planning
  • Regional Planners' Forums
  • Short Course on Local Planning
  • Submitting Materials to the State
  • Tribal Planning Coordination

Climate Commitment Act Logo

Climate support from Commerce is provided  with funding from Washington’s Climate Commitment Act. The CCA supports Washington’s climate action efforts by putting cap-and-invest dollars to work reducing climate pollution, creating jobs, and improving public health. Information about the CCA is available at www.climate.wa.gov.

Sarah Fox, AICP Climate & Ecosystem Section Manager [email protected] Phone : 360-725-3114

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    This paper evaluates the additional spending needed to meet core targets of selected Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while accounting for the associated cost to address climate risks. The SDGs under study are those related to human and physical capital development. An additional 3.8 percent of global GDP, or US$3.4 trillion, of public and private spending will be required by 2030 to ...

  28. Climate Change

    Climate Program This page contains planning guidance, grants and other resources for developing a comprehensive plan climate element that mitigates greenhouse gas emissions and builds community resilience. Photo courtesy of Washington State Legislative Support Services Climate Element Overview Legislation passed and signed into law in 2023 (HB 1181) adds a climate goal to the Growth Management ...

  29. PDF FACT SHEET The Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related

    Climate-related risks that have had or are reasonably likely to have a material impact on the registrant's business strategy, results of operations, or financial condition; The actual and potential material impacts of any identified climaterelated risks on - the registrant's strategy, business model, and outlook;

  30. Ibicus: A New Open-Source Python Package And Comprehensive Interface

    Abstract. Statistical bias adjustment is commonly applied to climate models before using their results in impact studies. However, different methods based on a distributional mapping between observational and model data can change the simulated trends as well as the spatiotemporal and inter-variable consistency of the model, and are prone to misuse if not evaluated thoroughly.