Concepts underlying climate change

As a starting point, here are some underlying concepts that I think are needed for productive climate change policy discussions:


Of all the issues that confront us today, the possibility of catastrophic climate change is possibly second only to that of nuclear war as a global threat to the survival of human societies.

But the variability of weather, combined with the complexity of the interactions between oceans, atmosphere, volcanoes, the sun, and human economic activity, obscures climate change trends and creates uncertainty over causes.  Humans have evolved to believe their senses.  Over the span of more than 100,000 years, 5,000+ generations, humans did just fine believing what they saw: that the Earth was flat and the Sun revolved around it.  The idea that the Earth is a rotating sphere that revolves around the Sun is literally “nonsensical”.

Overcoming this bias is unnatural and takes a deliberate force of will.  Despite knowing otherwise, we still speak of the Sun rising and setting as if it, and not Earth, is moving.  Our senses see weather; climate is an abstraction. Our senses can’t make the connection between carbon emissions and weather, and in many places our senses tell us that the weather hasn’t really changed all that much.

Reducing human impact on the climate will involve imposing short and medium term hardship on many people, regions, and industries. Convincing people to suffer a tangible concrete cost now to forestall an invisible abstract threat in the future is one of the hardest tasks in the world.  Without a wide-spread grasp of the concepts needed to understand the danger, discussion on policy will be non-productive.


Quick links to the other initial Post-Pandemic Curriculum issue pages:

Retirement planningSpread of diseaseHate and bias

Making these discussions more productive


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