Conscious Climate: Science Overview

Home Science Overview Science Specifics Consensus & Denial Impacts Solutions


The resources listed below outline the major lines of evidence that have prompted growing recognition that the world’s climate is warming, that human-emitted greenhouse gases are largely responsible, and that our failure to bring those emissions under control SOON will have dramatic - and even catastrophic - consequences within our lifetimes.

They provide a starting-point from which more detailed examinations of science specifics, skepticism versus denial, projections of possible impacts, and levels of response will be explored in other sections of this site.

  Best Scientific Summary  
  Humans Are Causing Global Warming From one of the clearest - and calmest - writers I’ve yet found: retired Australian physicist John Cook of the Skeptical Science web-site.  

Introductory Materials
  These materials have been chosen for their clear online presentation of the essentials of climate change. If you want a quick overview of the challenge of human-induced global warming . . .

  Start Here From Real Climate: “Different people have different needs and so we will group resources according to the level people start at . . .”  
  Climate and Earth’s Energy Budget (2008)
GISS Surface Temperature page
Global Climate Animations
From NASA’s Earth Observatory web-site, an excellent explanation - key to understanding the global-warming challenge - of how Earth’s atmosphere (and human changes to its composition) governs the degree to which our planet is warmed by the sun; a portal to graphs, maps and animations of global surface-temperature changes from the 1800s to the present, from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies; and a series of global climate-related animations (including a map of planetary heat-in versus heat-out) based on satellite data.  
  Global Climate Change An attractive and comprehensive treatment from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with sections on key indicators, evidence, causes and effects, uncertainties, and solutions, plus links to various interactive resources, breaking news and key external web-sites.  
  Climate Change Science (2007)
Beyond The Tipping-Point (2008)
A Solar Grand Plan (2007)
Hot, Flat And Crowded (2008)
Four excellent articles from Scientific American, looking at the consensus scientific summary of climate science as represented by the 2007 Report of the IPCC; at NASA climatologist Jim Hansen’s warning that crucial natural feedbacks are pushing the climate faster and farther than the IPCC acknowledges; at Scientific American’s own study on how - and at what cost - the US could make the shift to clean energy; and at New York Times columnist Tom Friedman’s take on the wider context and on the political levers that must be used if we are to deal with global warming effectively.  
  Climate Change and Global Warming From the Brussels-based Green Facts web-site, questions and answers on climate change, presented at three levels of increasing detail, that let you browse through basic summaries of the issues, delve deeper into the supporting details, or dive right down to source documents from the IPCC.  
  Global Warming FAQ (UCAR, 2008) From the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a well-done FAQ - plus links to help you dig deeper.  
  NAS Global Warming Facts From the US National Academy of Sciences, an attractive slide-show, designed especially for science teachers and including several interactive activities.  
  Beginner’s Guide to Global Warming An easy-to-read introduction to the issue (including pieces on the Kyoto Protocol and on its skeptics), from the Woods Hole Research Center (US).  
  Global Warming Time Bomb? (NASA, 2003)
Climate Approaches Tipping Point (NASA, 2007)
Climatologist Jim Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) is at the fore-front of those warning that a business-as-usual response to climate change risks triggering natural climate “tipping points” capable of accelerating subsequent global warming far beyond our ability to respond.  
  Global Warming (Mark Maslin)
Field Notes From A Catastrophe (Elizabeth Kolbert)
Two excellent (and inexpensive) books on the topic of climate change; the first a well-illustrated outline of the basics; the second a more in-depth but eminently readable summary based on an award-winning series by a staff writer for the New Yorker.  
  Global Warming Heats Up (Time, 2006) An early survey from TIME magazine, with warnings about climate feed-backs.  

Free PDF Resources
(designed for printing!)
  Participants in study circles, town-hall meetings, constituency organizations, church groups or school projects will find the following resources particularly useful; note that many of them are available as hard-copy from their original publishers.

  Global Climate Change - Summary (2009) From the Obama administration’s recent comprehensive survey of climate change impacts in the US, a 14-page summary of our current knowledge about climate change, its causes, and potential near-term impacts.  
  Introduction to Climate Change (2005)
Climate Change FAQ (2008)
From Environment Canada, two excellent introductions, the first (68 pp., color photos/graphics) covering natural climate dynamics, human-induced change, climate models, the impacts of global warming, and responses at individual, local, national and international levels; and the second (52 pp., color graphics) covering the basics in a concise question/answer format. (Note: FREE print editions of both publications are available.)  
  Climate Change (UK Hadley Center, 2005) A very comprehensive treatment in slide-show format (one topic per page); includes mention of positive and negative feedbacks and a question-and-answer section; 71 pp., color graphics.  
  Understanding Climate Change (NAS, 2008) A clearly-written and attractively-presented summary of climate-change science, from the US National Academy of Sciences (24 pp., color photos and graphics).  
  Physical Basis of Climate Change (2007) The latest from IPCC Working Group I on the physical evidence behind the consensus view on climate change, with PDFs available for the technical summary, the summary for policy makers, and for chapters ranging from a historical review of climate change science to paleoclimate to climate models to regional climate projections.  
  The Climate Change Challenge (UK, 2005) From the UK’s Carbon Trust, an outline of the evidence for, and implications of, human-induced climate change; 24 pp., color graphs and photos.  
  Climate Change 101 (PEW Center, 2006) A series of short PDF summaries from the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change - this is one of the most business-like resources online, with an emphasis on effective responses to the issue at international, national, state and business-enterprise levels.  
  Climate Change Evidence (WRI, 2005) A 2005 PDF summary of recent scientific evidence of accelerating climate change - some of it supporting the proposition that we may be moving towards dangerous “tipping points”. From the World Resources Institute, 16 pp., text only.  
  Overview of Dangerous Climate Change (2006) A paper by two Stanford University scientists, dealing with the definition, modelling and probabilistic estimation of “dangerous” climate change.  
  Earth’s Energy Imbalance (Hansen, 2005) Earth is now absorbing 0.85 ± 0.15 wtts per square meter more energy from the Sun than it is emitting to space, implying unavoidable additional global warming of about 0.6 degrees C, the likely acceleration of ice-sheet melting, and the need for anticipatory action to avoid more dramatic future change.  
  Climate Change Testimony (Hansen, 2008) Jim Hansen’s summary of our current understanding of climate change, given in testimony at the UK trial of the “Kingsnorth Six”.  


  NASA Climate Visualization Studio Climate-related images, data visualizations and video features from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  
  HEAT video (PBS, 120 min., 2008) From PBS, a fascinating feature first broadcast on the eve of the 2008 US presidential election. Presented from an American point of view, in nine segments (each with extensive background material), or as a single two-hour show; also available for purchase as a DVD.  
  Country CO2 Emissions Simulator This interactive map simulates population and CO2 emissions growth for countries around the world - real-time and cumulative since the start of your visit. Scary but instructive.  
  An Inconvenient Truth Al Gore’s 2006 movie, still arguably the most accessible introduction to the climate-change issue. Rent or purchase the DVD (from $20 at - then buy two more copies and send them to friends with an invitation to do the same!  
  Climate Change (Nat’l Geographic, 05:59)
Polar Bears At Risk (Nat’l Geographic, 05:59)
Warming 101 (Nat’l Geographic, 03:04)
Antarctic Ice (Nat’l Geographic, 02:32)
Several short video clips from the National Geographic web-site.  

Statistics and Fact-Checking
  Is some radio talk-show guest claiming that world-wide temperatures are dropping? Check GISSTEMP. Insisting that arctic sea-ice has recovered? Look to NSIDC. That glaciers are growing, not receding? See WGMS. You can also use Google or web-sites like Science Daily or Wikipediato track down source materials by study author, title or institution.

  Global Carbon Budget An annual review of global and regional trends in atmospheric CO2 concentration, emissions from land use change and fossil-fuels, the carbon intensity of the global economy, and CO2 removal draw-down by natural sinks.  
  International Energy Statistics Easy-to-use interactive access to data on fuel exports/imports, use and prices; CO2 emissions; carbon intensity and more - searchable by single or multiple countries or regions.  
  Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center The climate-change data and analysis center of the US Dept. of Energy, with stats on the carbon cycle, climate variables, oceanic trace gases, solar/atmospheric radiation, fossil-fuel emissions, atmospheric trace gases, and more.  
  UNFCCC GHG Data Interface GHG profiles and time series as well as population and economic statistics for signatories and non-signatories to Kyoto, from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  
  GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) Up-to-date data on global temperatures, presented in the context of climate change, is just a small part of the mandate of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, currently headed by Dr. James Hansen.  
  National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) Much more than your best source for news on Arctic sea ice; check the Education Center and State of the Cryosphere pages for a view of the full range of resources available.  
  World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) Based in Zurich, Switzerland, the WGMS collects standardized observations on changes in mass, area, volume and length of glaciers around the world.  

Basic References
  The following links provide more depth on both the science and the history of the science, as well as comprehensive statistics on major climate indicators. The single most comprehensive reference document comes from the IPCC, which was set up by the UN to periodically review relevant research from around the world and draw consensus conclusions as a guide to policy makers.

  Real Climate index The best of the best: a thematically-organized list of the best writing on the Real Climate web-site, which is run by active climatologists.  
  IPCC Physical Science FAQs (AR4, 2007)
Copenhagen Synthesis Report, 2009
Science Compendium, 2009
Well-written summaries of the basic science, from the IPCC’s 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (the world’s most comprehensive peer-reviewed review of climate research); plus two summaries of more recent work, one drawn from a symposium of the International Alliance of Research Universities, the other from the United Nations Environment Programme.  
  The Discovery of Global Warming A uniquely readable and very comprehensive overview written by Harvard science historian Spencer Weart, consisting of a series of interwoven essays on climate science, history, politics and current events, and providing a variety of ways to navigate to the precise information you seek. Well done.  
  Global Climate Change (UK) An advanced and somewhat technical treatment, covering the climate system, causes of climate change, the empirical study of climate, climate modelling, paleoclimates and current challenges.