Review

Climate change and society

  • Received: 01 April 2021 Accepted: 03 June 2021 Published: 07 June 2021
  • This paper examines our understanding of climate change, as well as the reluctance of industrial societies to deal with the drivers, especially the burning of the fossil fuels, before the future consequences become catastrophic. We describe how the energy balance of the Earth, oceans, land and Arctic sea ice are maintained, and how climate is warming and changing with increases in the three most important greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, water vapor from evaporation off a warmer ocean, and methane from several sources. We discuss the Earth's water cycle and the role of evaporation, latent heat and condensation in driving storms, transporting energy poleward and giving increasing precipitation extremes, floods, droughts and fires. We review the increasing challenge of meeting human demand for water as water tables are falling globally from increased pumping, and winter snowpack storage is shrinking. We discuss rising sea level, the challenges of long-term carbon storage and the lessons from the past four ice age cycles. The text is written for scientific and public audiences, both global and in the US, so metric and US units are given. The social, moral and ethical choices are mapped by contrasting the Earth-centered indigenous worldview needed for our survival with the industrial mindset that is willing to destroy a stable climate to keep the profits of the current economy growing. We review the long history of the misuse of human power, the rise of science and technology without a guiding moral framework, and how neoliberal capitalism by default makes choices that are driving rapid climate change. We outline how deceit by the matrix of corporations and fossil fuel interests that we call the Fossil Empire has prevented government regulation for decades and accelerated the climate crisis.

    Citation: Alan K Betts. Climate change and society[J]. AIMS Geosciences, 2021, 7(2): 194-218. doi: 10.3934/geosci.2021012

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  • This paper examines our understanding of climate change, as well as the reluctance of industrial societies to deal with the drivers, especially the burning of the fossil fuels, before the future consequences become catastrophic. We describe how the energy balance of the Earth, oceans, land and Arctic sea ice are maintained, and how climate is warming and changing with increases in the three most important greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, water vapor from evaporation off a warmer ocean, and methane from several sources. We discuss the Earth's water cycle and the role of evaporation, latent heat and condensation in driving storms, transporting energy poleward and giving increasing precipitation extremes, floods, droughts and fires. We review the increasing challenge of meeting human demand for water as water tables are falling globally from increased pumping, and winter snowpack storage is shrinking. We discuss rising sea level, the challenges of long-term carbon storage and the lessons from the past four ice age cycles. The text is written for scientific and public audiences, both global and in the US, so metric and US units are given. The social, moral and ethical choices are mapped by contrasting the Earth-centered indigenous worldview needed for our survival with the industrial mindset that is willing to destroy a stable climate to keep the profits of the current economy growing. We review the long history of the misuse of human power, the rise of science and technology without a guiding moral framework, and how neoliberal capitalism by default makes choices that are driving rapid climate change. We outline how deceit by the matrix of corporations and fossil fuel interests that we call the Fossil Empire has prevented government regulation for decades and accelerated the climate crisis.



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