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Climate Change – Explanation & New Study July 2011

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Climate Change: Explanation and Implications of a New Analysis 

July 2011

Understanding the Problem and Pointing to a way forward

David Wasdell has been working with top climate scientists  around the world to draw together the findings from a 6 year study of how the earth’s climate system responds to increases of CO2 and other Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere so that we can better assess the risk of more dangerous rises in the average global temperature. This study is based on palaeontology, systems analysis and mathematical calculations rather than computer models that cannot yet represent all the complexities of feedback dynamics in our climate system. The first formal presentation of results has been at the 3rd Global Conference on Global Warming inLisbon in July 2011.

In the 8 short recordings presented here he goes through all the key concepts and facts to understand how changes in CO2 can affect global temperatures.  He then goes on to explain how, and by how much, the resulting global heating is amplified by the feedback processes of the earth’s living and physical systems. The whole process exposes life on earth to serious risks. He points out that we can solve the problem as long as we draw down or take out excessive CO2 from the atmosphere as well as eliminating further emissions through our way of living and the energy sources we use. The necessary changes in the way we live can lead to a good quality of life while in the short term demanding a whole systems change and efficient co-operative action to avoid the most dangerous consequences. We discuss together the resistance in people and institutions to facing up to these facts and the risks.  It is important to show that practical solutions exist so that anxiety and denial can be transformed into a sense of urgency, realism and action, and mobilised around the world.

The discussion between David and myself (John Bristow) is recorded in a series of 8 segments, between 5 ½ and nearly 9 mins long, each of which addresses a question or key fact or concept. These are available in both audio and video versions, with the video accessible on You Tube for use also in presentations if required. These links are given under each of the segment summaries:

1. David introduces himself and his work. David has a highly relevant mix of an understanding of climate science helped by his knowledge of physics, together with a background of research and consulting in complex, large scale social systems. He has focussed on resistance to change and strategic interventions to overcome it. Top climate scientists were involved in the study conducted over the last 6 years (the Apollo-Gaia or Sun-Earth system project)     5 mins 25 secs


Audio  Update on climate change 1

2. The greenhouse effect explained  The balance in the form of a dynamic equilibrium between short wave (light) energy received from the sun and long wave (infra-red energy) emitted by the earth has been disturbed by recent excessive increases in CO2 emissions that prevent heat leaving the earth even more. These are driven by the increase in use of fossil fuels since the dawn of the industrial revolution. In recent decades the availability of cheap energy from coal and oil has driven economic growth and consumerism that occurred alongside the growth in population – a whole system change.     5 mins 34 secs


Audio Update on climate change 2

3. Amplifying feedback explained. The contribution of global warming caused by the increased concentration of CO2 is in turn amplified by feedback processes within the climate and earth systems. This speeds up the rate of increase in average global temperature. Some examples are given of the family of amplifying feedback processes or loops within these systems.     6 mins 30 secs


Audio Update on climate change 3

4. Estimating climate sensitivity.  This is defined as the amount by which the average global temperature increases as a result of a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere (measured in parts per million).This new analysis goes beyond the limits of computer modelling to calculate a value for climate sensitivity based on historical records of the effects of change in CO2 levels in the past. These findings are alarming and were first published in July 2011.       8 mins 3 secs


Audio Update on Climate Change 4

5. Consequences of increases in global temperature. There are long time delays between cause and effect in the global system. Increase in global heating in turn eventually drives rise in global temperature, and many other natural phenomena. For instance we already see melting ice (both land-based and floating), changes in rainfall patterns, increased frequency of floods and droughts and the intensity of storms. Rise in sea level is already observed and can only accelerate in the future.

The consequences for humanity are profound. Because of long time delays, significant increase in temperature is already “in the pipeline” as a result of current changes in CO2 in concentration. The risks are so great now that we need not only to stop putting any more CO2 into the atmosphere but also begin taking out the CO2 already there, using George Bush’s analogy, we need to stop the addiction to fossil fuels and detox the system (take CO2 out). 6 mins 29 secs


Audio Update on climate change 5

6. Anxiety and denial arising from highly disturbing information. As if temperature increase were not enough, the earth’s climate is also subject to a series of tipping points with an even more disturbing possibility of setting off “runaway” feedback processes. Both processes are illustrated by examples in the earth’s climate system. Eventually a new equilibrium may be found but this is likely to be less hospitable to life on the planet for thousands of years. Such fast change in global energy balance and temperature has not been seen before in the earth’s history. We need to build confidence in our ability to solve the problem in order to overcome denial and mobilise action based on a realistic sense of urgency.          8 mins 44secs


Audio  Update on climate change 6

7. Risk assessment needs updating. While there is significant uncertainty concerning thresholds of tipping points and the onset of runaway, it is important to make the distinction between uncertainty and risk. It is essential to update conservative assessments of temperature increase, and to understand that the risks are now seen to be so great that they cannot be taken even if some uncertainties remain. There now needs to be a consensus around the facts presented in the current analysis as it is subject to testing and peer review in the best practice of modern science. These findings will then need to be more widely known, supported by positive strategic solutions.               8 mins 10 secs


Audio Update on climate change 7

8. Next steps. As the analysis is seen to be solidly grounded and viable solutions emerge, it becomes totally unacceptable to block or misrepresent valid scientific findings. While becoming more aware that to do this is to hold the life support system on earth to ransom, it is important to find ways of helping people see there are practical alternatives to keeping the current system as it is. It then becomes possible to address the particularly collusive interdependencies between the different parts of the power elite and the key institutions in society that reinforce vested interests in maintaining the status quo.           7 mins 21secs


 Audio Update on climate change 8

The extended version of Part 1 of the Lisbon presentation gives in-depth resources to explore the material further:

The pdf itself is at

Apollo-Gaia Project, Meridian Programme     (Hosted by the Unit for Research into Changing Institutions (URChIn)
Websites: and

Click here for 4 further video clips by David Wasdell on the New Study








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