The Climate Crisis: How we got here. Where we are. Where we've got to go.
Global heating is the single greatest threat humanity faces. Human activity has caused it and only human choices can change it.
Oil companies knew about Climate Change over 50 years ago. Just like Tobacco companies lied about risks of cancer, they spread disinformation, misled the public and manipulated governments.
This is the real story of climate change
We are in a state of Climate Crisis.
As global temperatures rise, so do sea levels and the frequency of extreme weather events: hurricanes, floods, heatwaves and droughts. The Earth is more than one degree Celsius hotter than it was before the Industrial Revolution. (1)
Global heating is caused by the pumping of Carbon Dioxide (along with Carbon Monoxide, Methane and other ‘greenhouse gases’) into the atmosphere.
The extent of global heating that we are witnessing has one clear cause - human activity. Our dependence on fossil fuels and our reluctance to let them go, our exploitation of natural resources and our reluctance to seek alternatives, and most of all our reluctance to face the facts have caused this crisis.
This is good news.
Since human activity is directly responsible for the crisis that we face, a change in human actions is the only thing that can solve it. These are the facts, and 97% of climate scientists agree. (2)
Over 50 years ago we knew almost just as much as we do about global warming as we do today.
The people who knew chose not to act.
The people who knew chose not to care.
Politicians take sides on climate change, debate the facts and negotiate the solutions, climate change is not a political issue.
Climate Change is a human issue with political players.
We are not all equally responsible for causing Global Heating. Nor will we all suffer equally. Although the Climate Crisis was caused predominantly by countries in the Global North, it is those in the Global South that are already facing the impacts of Climate Change.
Climate justice is social justice.
In fact, the denial of climate change or of human responsibility isn’t a scientific standpoint at all, it’s a commercial and political one.
Although the strong majority of us want to live in harmony with the world around us and avert the destruction of our Earth as we know it, there are a few who actually profit from wreaking this damage: the fossil fuel corporations who make billions in profit every year from burning carbon-emitting fuels. These corporations fund governments, spread misinformation and profit from destruction.
Climate Change is a fact, not a belief.
HOW ON EARTH DID WE END UP HERE?
To understand where we are, we must understand where we’ve come from.
This crisis dates back to the industrial revolution in the 19th Century. Britain, Europe and America started burning fossil fuels to power factories and move into the modern age. They released a huge amount of Carbon into the atmosphere as a result, sending the natural Greenhouse Effect (vital for keeping Earth at the right temperature) into overdrive. And as far back as 1896 they knew this too as scientist Svante Arrhenius concluded just that.
We now know that the Carbon in the atmosphere is the biggest cause of the Climate Crisis.
70 years ago we knew that too.
By the 1950s, scientists were drawing a link between human industrial activity and the warming of the earth in the public sphere.
New York Times. Oct 28 1956.
Washington Post. May 4 1953.
Long story short; the Earth was starting to heat up, and scientists had started to figure out why.
Credit: NASA Scientific Visualisation Studio
The findings of these scientists were starting to catch the attention of governments and fossil fuel companies who wanted to see if they had merit. Having reviewed the evidence, the Scientific Advisory Committee produced a report for US President Johnson concluding that Climate Change was a matter of real concern.
The Stanford Research Institute (SRI) also presented a report to the American Petroleum Institute which ‘warned [that] the release of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels could carry an array of harmful consequences for the planet’. (3) The authors of this report noted the irony that governments, regulatory bodies, and environmentalists were concerned with local incidents of air pollution but not with the mass emission of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere.
They found that :
They concluded that :
Climate Change was no longer just a scientific discussion. It now involved big businesses and governments and it had to be discussed on the international stage.
The UN held their first environment conference in Stockholm 1972, but spent hardly any time discussing Climate Change.
Meanwhile key players in the fossil fuel industry were beginning to realise the implications that reducing Carbon emissions would have on their businesses. Initially, Exxon, BP, Shell (among others) were actually at the forefront of research into Climate Change. Having heard a lot about Carbon emissions in the press, they decided to conduct internal research to assess how far 'Global Warming' was propelled by the use of fossil fuels.
Just like all the others, they concluded that the burning of fossil fuels was heating the Earth with disastrous consequences.
The Senior Scientist at Exxon, James F Black, circulated an internal report on 'The Greenhouse Effect'. Exxon had done the research, run the numbers and concluded :
Exxon internal report 'The Greenhouse Effect', 1978
Exxon also concluded that from the time of writing the global community had around 5-10 years to drastically reduce Carbon emissions in order to avoid the predicted effects of Climate change.
The report stated that:
'There is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.’
‘Present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.’
Exxon had said it themselves. That was in 1978.
In 1978 Exxon knew that the irresponsible burning of fossil fuels would cause a global catastrophe.
A decision between addressing Climate Change and protecting profit had to be made.
They chose profit.
The following year the Charney Report was published by the Ad Hoc Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate. This was the first comprehensive assessment of global Climate Change due to Carbon Dioxide, and formalised the consensus on Climate Change.
They predicted the continued burning of fossil fuels would cause a global heating of several degrees.
40 years ago they accurately predicted how global Climate Change would play out.(4)
In fact, 40 years ago, they knew almost everything we do about Climate Change today.