Inconvenient facts

The latest UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid, which is holding its closing session as I am writing this post, does not appear to have reached any significant conclusions.  Unsurprisingly, vested interests have dominated and there is little agreement on a plan of action to slow down climate change or to mitigate its impact. However, perhaps there is progress because two recent polls imply that 75% of Americans believe humans cause climate change and roughly half say that urgent action is needed.  This is important because the USA has made the largest cumulative contribution to greenhouse gas emissions with 25% of total emissions, followed by the EU-28 at 22% and China at 13%, according to the Our World in Data website.  However, the need for urgent action is being undermined by suggestions that we cannot afford it, or that we will have better technology in the future that will make it easier to act.  However, much of the engineering technology that is needed to remove fossil fuels from our economy is already available.   Of course, the technology will be improved in the future but that is always true because we are continually making technological advances.  We could replace fossil fuels as the energy source for all of our electricity, buildings and heating (31%) and for most of our industry (21%) and transportation (14%) using the technology that is available today and this could eliminate about two-thirds of current global greenhouse gas emissions. The numbers in parentheses are the percentage contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions according to the IPCC. Of course, it would require a massive programme of infrastructure investment; however, if we are serious then the subsidies paid to the oil and gas industry could be redirected toward decarbonising our economies.  According to the IMF, that is approximately $5.2 trillion per year in subsidies, which is about the GDP of Japan.  The science of climate change is well-understood (see for example ‘What happens to emitted carbon‘ and ‘Carbon emissions and surface warming‘) and widely recognised; the engineering technology to mitigate both climate change and its impacts is largely understood and implementation-ready; however, most urgently, we need well-informed public debate about the economic changes required to decarbonise our society.


Mark Maslin, The five corrupt pillars of climate change denial, The Conversation, November 28th, 2019.

United Nations Blog, The drive to a conclusion, December 13th, 2019.

Sandra Laville, Top oil firms spending millions lobbying to block climate change policies, says report, The Guardian, March 22nd 2019.

Footnote: The videos ‘What happens to emitted carbon‘ and ‘Carbon emissions and surface warming‘ are part of a series produced by my colleague, Professor Ric Williams at the University of Liverpool.  He has produced a third one: ‘Paris or Bust‘.


2 thoughts on “Inconvenient facts

  1. solow46

    I am assuming that you are a believer in global warming which has been changed to climate change. What surprise me is that as a scientist you have bought into this cognitive bias without researching this topic on your own. What should worry you and the rest of us more is the shifting of the earth’s magnetic field and its impact on the climate and our survival. ________________________________

    1. Eann Patterson Post author

      Most of us have biases; however, contrary to you implication, I have examined some of the evidence and written about it, see for example: ‘Climate change and tides in Liverpool’ on May 16th, 2016; ‘Opal offers validation opportunity for climate models’ on April 26th, 2016; ‘More violent storms’ on March 1st, 2017 and more recently ‘Planetary emergency’ on February 20th, 2019.

      The earth’s magnetic field has started moving faster than it did in the first half of the last century (see for example an 2019 article in Nature:; however, it is unclear what impact this is will have on life on Earth, besides causing us to adjust our navigation tools, and whether we can control it. It does not appear to represent the same level of existential threat to life as rising global temperatures and the resultant climate change.


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