Friendly Guide to Climate Change
Transcript & References
OK so you’ve heard about climate change and that it’s a big deal. But what is it really about? And what can you actually do about it?
This video is a simple pragmatic summary of climate change. We’ll cut through the noise and confusion and focus on the basic facts, so you can figure out how to help. OK?
So here’s the situation. The climate is kind of broken and we’re in trouble because, well, we’re stuck on this one planet so our lives depend on it.
The good news is that scientists have figured out the cause if the problem: Us! We humans broke it. Yup. <ref>
But wait, wait, how is that GOOD news? Well, because it proves that we humans are powerful enough to actually impact the earth’s climate! Which means we can fix it. Well, partly at least.
But before we get to solutions, let’s examine the problem a bit.
Here’s our planet.
For thousands of years our average surface temperature has been mostly stable. But now, just the past few decades, it has shot up <ref, pg 477>.
By the way, this graph and everything else in the video has references. Check the description below for links.
On a geological timescale that’s CRAZY fast! We’ve never been at this level in the history of mankind, and it keeps climbing.
We call this Global Warming because, well, that’s exactly what it is!
But wait. A few degrees warmer, who cares? It’s a global average. You might not even notice the difference locally.
Well, actually, it has nasty consequences.
Ref for this entire chapter: http://ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf
When oceans get hotter, they expand, so sea levels rise. The heat also melts ice and glaciers sitting on land in places like Greenland and Antarctica, which raises sea levels even further.
This rapid change destabilizes the climate. We get flooding, extreme rainfall, extreme storms. A lot of destruction.
Others places get extreme drought, which kills crops and causes starvation. We get heatwaves, wildfires, water shortage. Basically, Bad Stuff happening all over the place<ref>.
Sure, we’ve always had storms and droughts and stuff from time to time. But global warming makes them more frequent and more extreme.
All this climate-related destruction forces more and more millions of people to flee their homes, permanently. <ref> And where do they go?
Even the places that are lucky enough not to be hit by extreme weather, they need to deal with the growing stream of climate refugees showing up at their doorstep.
More people fleeing, fewer places to go. That’s a recipe for instability and war! <ref> Which in turn generates even more refugees, compounding the problem.
It’s like we’re passengers on a leaking boat. No matter where the hole is, it’s still everyone’s problem!
As this drama unfolds, how do we react? Some react with denial, some with panic, or shame, or blame.
But none of that helps solve the problem, so let’s skip that. What does help, is doing something! At the very least, it feels better than just worrying.
And congrats, you’re already doing something – educating yourself by watching this video!
Now, the first step towards solving any problem is to understand it’s cause, so let’s talk about that.
Here’s our atmosphere, otherwise known as The Sky.
You’ve probably heard of the greenhouse effect. Sunlight continuously hits our planet and reflects back out. But greenhouse gases, like Carbon Dioxide and Methane, capture some of that energy and keep it in, like a blanket.
That’s a good thing actually, because otherwise the entire earth would be a frozen ball of ice and you would be a popsicle.
These gases have been pretty consistent for thousands of years, giving us a stable climate and enabling convenient things like, well, human civilization.
But during the past 50 years or so, carbon dioxide concentration has suddenly increased by 40%. In 800,000 years it’s never been above this line, and now suddenly it jumps to here and keeps rising! (ref)
Hmmmm! Rising CO2 levels, rising temperature! Coincidence? No! Turns out, this is the main cause of global warming. (ref)
So why is carbon dioxide increasing?
All living things are made of carbon. Carbon is neither created nor destroyed, it just cycles around our biosphere as plants and animals live, breath, and die. So what’s with all the extra carbon, where the heck is that coming from?
It all started a century and a half ago when we discovered a really neat party trick- dig up coal and oil and gas, and use it to fuel cars and produce electricity! Wow!
These are known as “Fossil Fuels” because, well, they come from fossils - buried carbon from organisms that died millions of years ago. When we dig it up and burn it we get LOTS of energy all at once. Great! But a side effect is that we also get carbon dioxide gas.
Note an important distinction here. Non-fossil fuel, like burning a tree, does NOT add carbon dioxide to our system, as long as a new tree grows to replace it. That carbon was already in our biosphere, it is renewable. However, fossil fuels DO add carbon dioxide to our system, because we dig it up and don’t dig it back down again.
And so every year we end up adding about 50 billion tons of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere, and about 70% of that is carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and oil. <ref>
And it keeps going up, because of more people using more energy.
Hah! We found the biggest leak! Now we just need to plug the hole.
The SECOND biggest cause of global warming is (muuu sound).... actually we’ll get to that later.
Ref for this entire chapter: http://ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf
Unfortunately climate change is happening faster than even the most pessimistic climate scientists expected. Why? Because of so-called ‘positive feedback’, which, by the way, isn’t nearly as positive as it sounds.
The biggest feedback loop is water vapour. Hotter oceans cause more evaporation. And water vapor is actually also a greenhouse gas, so that causes further global warming.
Second feedback loop: Reduced ice cover. Ice reflects sunlight. When that ice cover melts away, more surface is exposed, more heat is sucked in and global warming increases.
Finally, permafrost. Large parts of Siberia, Greenland, Canada, and Alaska are covered in permafrost. Turns out, this frozen soil contains lots of greenhouse gas. When it thaws the buried gases are released, causing even more global warming.
So climate change is accelerating because of three vicious cycles! It all works together like some kind of evil scheme from a B-movie villain (evil laugh)!
These feedback loops are almost impossible to stop, so we really need to tackle the root cause.
Since burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming, we need to – hmmm... (drum roll)…. Ah!
STOP burning fossil fuels!
(applause - thank you, thank you)
So wait, WHY are we burning this stuff again?
We burn it in power plants to generate electricity, we burn it inside cars and planes to drive them around. We burn it in factories to produce stuff. See the chimneys? Exhaust pipes? Smoke! That’s a hint. All this accounts for about two thirds of the 50 billion tons! <ref>.And by the way, that smoke is deadly poisonous so we kinda want to get rid of it anyway <ref>.
Here’s the most fascinating thing. The fossil fuels industry is subsidized! Governments around the world spend about half a trillion dollars per year, 1% of the global GDP, financially supporting the very thing that’s killing us. Clearly, change is needed.<ref><ref>
So... what, are we going erase 200 years of progress? Back to candles and horses?
No of course not! Cuz we’ve grown really fond of electricity and transport, so that’s not going away. We just need to solve it without burning fossil fuels. And the good news is that we don’t even NEED to burn it any more!
Instead of coal and oil, we can use solar panels and wind turbines to generate the same electricity, without screwing up the climate.
This used to be expensive and ineffective, but the technology has finally caught up. Now solar and wind is often more cost-effective than coal and oil – even without taking climate impact into account! That’s known as Grid Parity, a crucial economic tipping point, where people who don’t even know or care about climate change will want to switch – because it’s cheaper. <ref><ref><ref>
Of course, we need energy even when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, so the next big challenge is energy storage. But battery technology and other storage solutions are catching up fast. <ref>
An added bonus to all this, is that ALL countries have free access to sun and wind! It is basically democratized energy. So less need for countries to bicker with each other over unevenly distributed oil reserves and gas pipelines and stuff.
Of course, we have other non-fossil energy alternatives too. Nuclear, which of course carries its own risks and challenges, hydro, biofuel, geothermal. From a global warming perspective, ANYTHING is better than burning fossil fuels.
Renewable energy is spreading fast. But globally, about 80% of our energy is still based on fossil fuels <ref>. So we gotta keep that ball moving.
What about transport then?
Transport accounts for about 14% of all emissions, and three-quarters of that is from fuel cars (including trucks and buses). <ref>. Oil power plant on wheels. They are worse than planes only because there are so many more of them.
But now we have electric cars. Plug it in and charge it up, just like you do with your phone! Range used to be a problem, but now some electric cars can go over 500 kilometers on one charge, and by then you’ll need a break anyway. They are still pretty expensive, but prices are coming down fast.<ref>
Of course, an electric car is only as clean as the electricity it uses. But the difference is that a fuel car will stay dirty forever, while an electric car gets cleaner automatically as the power grid gets cleaner.
There’s more good stuff going on. More energy-efficient appliances. Smart energy distribution systems. These things help the climate AND lower your electricity bill.
Regulation is also catching up, mainly through carbon pricing schemes<ref>. For example tax shifting, where governments charge a carbon emission tax, and use that revenue to reduce something else, like income tax or VAT. So these imported bananas are more expensive! But hey, these local apples are cheaper! It’s a shift, not a tax increase<ref>.
When companies end up paying the REAL cost of their carbon footprint, they find innovative ways to reduce it.
Some engineers are even experimenting with carbon capture. Which means sucking carbon dioxide from the air and putting it back into the ground. Kinda like trees on steroids.<ref>
Someday, the whole oil and coal thing will be history. A horror story that we tell our grandchildren.
A common misconception about climate change, is that lowering our carbon footprint means lowering our living standard. That’s actually not true.
For example. This is Krakow, in Poland. Poland suffers about 50,000 premature deaths per year because of toxic dust from burning coal. <ref>
Contrast that with this village in Bavaria, which uses 100% renewable energy sources, a combination of solar, wind, hydro, and biofuel. They breath clean air, produce 5 times the electricity they need and sell the surplus for a profit. <ref> <ref>.
Of course, this is a small village so it’s an unfair comparison. But the trend is clear: this is the future of cities <ref>! Better air, less traffic noise, and basically a higher living standard.
Remember, roughly 70% of global warming is caused by burning fossil fuels. As we gradually shift to renewable energy to power our houses, cars, and factories, most of that stops!
All we have left then is… oh, yeah. <”muuuu” sound>
… the SECOND biggest cause of global warming. We destroy ALOT of forests to clear space for crops to feed livestock, especially cows. Causes a lot of carbon dioxide, as well as….(burp & fart sound)... methane emissions. In fact, forestry and agriculture adds up to almost a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions! More than the entire transport industry. <ref>
A lot of innovation is happening to reduce this. But at the end of the day, we really need to eat less beef. That’s a hard sell to some people. But meat lovers - don’t panic. Pork and chicken and other meats have 5-10x lower climate impact <ref>.
Now you may be thinking “OK so we have a problem, and it’s bad, but it’s being solved. So... why should I do anything?”
The problem is we need to speed up! There are plenty of bumps on the road. Technical challenges, political challenges, and of course resistance from oil-profiting organizations that don’t really appreciate going obsolete.
The faster we move the ball, the less of these horrible consequences we need to suffer.
So what can YOU do?
In management circles, people are often referred to as resources. Naaaaa. People aren’t resources. People HAVE resources! Money, time, passion, creativity, skills, tools.
And, of course, connections to other people, who in turn have their own resources. The mix will vary from person to person, but any resource can be used to help reduce global warming.
For example use your personal network by simply spreading this video, and already there you’ve made a contribution. For every person that sees it, the likelihood increases that someone will do something. And even if only 10% of our actions end up being effective, with a million people doing one thing each, well, that’s 100,000 effective actions! It adds up.
Use your voting power to put climate-aware decision makers into power, or carbon pricing laws in your country.
Use your purchasing power.
Put solar panels on your roof. Or switch to a renewable energy provider.
Buy an electric car, or invest in a company that produces them. Tweak your personal habits. Less flying, more train. Less driving, more biking. Less beef, more… anything else. As a bonus, many of these things improve your health as well as the climate.
But keep in mind, changing your personal lifestyle isn’t the only way to contribute. Look beyond just yourself.
Got some savings? Invest in solar panels somewhere else in the world. Over a billion people in the world lack electricity entirely <ref>, so they burn kerosene and diesel for light and power. There are now crowd-funding platforms that provide these villages with rental solar panels instead, which is a triple win. Inhabitants get electricity and a better living standard, global warming is reduced, and you can earn a return on your investment.
Think about the global impact, as well as local. On average, each person on earth causes 3-18 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, depending on income level <ref>. Doing the math makes it more interesting, almost like a game. For example, for me, switching to an electric car reduced my family’s footprint by 3 tons per year. But a single $500 investment in solar panels in Kenya, enabled a 14 ton yearly reduction, because of all the kerosene they no longer need to burn. My point is, a ton is a ton, no matter where in the world it is reduced.
Overall, renewable energy is a fast-growing area so there are plenty of opportunities to make a buck while also making a difference <ref>. And if you don’t have extra money yourself, well, you can help your rich cousin do something useful with their money.
Do a lot of business trips? Get your boss to carbon offset your flights. That means compensating for your emissions by paying to reduce it somewhere else.
Got programming skills? Testing? Design? Help create apps and web sites. Like this one: electricity map. A cool open source project that visualizes, live, the climate impact of each country’s energy production. This helps people make better decisions.
There’s more things you can do.
Like digging data? Do research to provide the raw data for tools like this.
Got a big network? Form a community, or join ours.
Got writing skills? Inspire people with success stories.
Engineer? Build all this cool technology.
Lawyer? Politician? Improve legislation. Reduce fossil fuel subsidies.
See the pattern? There are LOTS of ways you can help reduce global warming. You may even totally disagree with some of these actions, and that’s fine. Think of these as levers you can pull, YOU decide what you’re willing to do, and what you think will make an impact.
This atmosphere is the only one we’ve got, it’s shared by all countries. So no matter where you are or what you do, every ton counts!