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essay on global warming 2021

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State of the climate: How the world warmed in 2021

essay on global warming 2021

Zeke Hausfather

The climate data for 2021 is now mostly in, and it has proved to be another noteworthy year across the oceans, atmosphere, cryosphere and surface temperature of the planet.

In this article, Carbon Brief unpacks the different datasets, remarkable records and extreme events of last year. Use the links below to navigate between sections:

  • Ocean heat content : It was the warmest year on record for ocean heat content, which increased markedly between 2020 and 2021.
  • Surface temperature : It was between the fifth and seventh warmest year on record for surface temperature for the world as a whole, the fifth warmest for the world’s land regions, and the seventh warmest for the oceans.
  • Warming over land : It was the warmest year on record in 25 countries, and in areas where 1.8 billion people live.
  • Extreme weather : 2021 saw the warmest northern-hemisphere summer (June, July, and August) on record over the world’s land, along with extreme heatwaves, wildfires, and rainfall events.
  • Comparison with climate model data : Observations fall well within the range of CMIP5 climate model projections over the past 70 years.
  • Warming of the atmosphere : It was the sixth or eighth warmest year in the lower troposphere – the lower part of the atmosphere – depending on which dataset is used.
  • Sea level rise : Sea levels reached new record-highs, with notable acceleration over the past three decades.
  • Greenhouse gases : Concentrations reached record levels for CO2, methane and nitrous oxide.
  • Sea ice extent : Arctic sea ice was well below the long-term average for most of the year, though relatively few daily records were set. The summer Arctic sea ice minimum was the 12th lowest since records began in the late 1970s.
  • Looking ahead to 2022 : Carbon Brief predicts that global average temperature in 2022 will be similar to 2021. 

Record ocean heat content

Last year was the warmest on record for the heat content of the world’s oceans. Ocean heat content (OHC) has increased by around 417 zettajoules – a billion trillion joules – since the 1940s. The heat increase in 2021 alone compared to 2020 – about 14 zettajoules – is around 23 times more than the total energy used by everyone on Earth in 2019 (the latest year in which global primary energy statistics are available).

Human-emitted greenhouse gases trap extra heat in the atmosphere. While some of this warms the Earth’s surface, the vast majority – around of 93% – goes into the oceans. About two thirds of this accumulates in the top 700 metres, but some also ends up in the deep oceans. Annual OHC estimates between 1950 and present for both the upper 700m and 700m-2000m depths of the ocean are shown in the figure below.

Annual global ocean heat content for the 0-700 metre and 700-2000 metre layers

In many ways, OHC represents a much better measure of climate change than global average surface temperatures. It is where most of the extra heat ends up and is much less variable on a year-to-year basis than surface temperatures.

Changes in the amount or rate of warming are much easier to detect in the OHC record than on the surface. For example, OHC shows little evidence of the modest slowdown in warming at the surface in the mid-2000s that got so much attention at the time. It also shows a distinct acceleration after 1991, matching the increased rate of greenhouse gas emissions over the past few decades.

Just about every year since 1991 has set a new OHC record, showing that heat has continued to accumulate in the Earth system as concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases have increased.

Fifth-to-seventh warmest year on the surface

Global surface temperatures in 2021 were among the warmest measured since records began in the mid-1800s. Data from NASA , NOAA and Berkeley Earth show it was the sixth warmest year on record, while data from Copernicus ERA5 has it as the fifth warmest. The release of the Hadley Centre/UEA HadCRUT5 record has been delayed due to data reporting problems, but it will likely show a similar ranking for 2021. 

In all cases, the records are effectively tied with 2015 and 2018, making 2021 anywhere between the fifth and seventh warmest on record within the bounds of measurement uncertainties. 

Global surface temperature records can be calculated back to 1850, though some groups choose to start their records in 1880 when more data was available. Prior to 1850, records exist for some specific regions, but are not sufficiently widespread to calculate global temperatures with any reasonable accuracy. These records are created by combining ship- and buoy-based measurements of ocean sea surface temperatures with temperature readings of the surface air temperature from weather stations on land (Copernicus ERA5 is an exception, as it uses weather model-based reanalysis ). 

The chart below shows global temperature records since 1850, with temperatures shown relative to the 1880-99 period to highlight warming since the pre-industrial period .

Annual global average surface temperatures from 1850-2021

Temperatures in 2021 were between 1.1C and 1.2C warmer than temperatures in the late 19th century (between 1880 and 1900), depending on the temperature record chosen. Last year represented between the seventh and tenth consecutive year that global temperatures have exceeded 1C above pre-industrial levels across the different datasets.

The figure below shows surface temperatures since 1970, a period during which atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have been rapidly increasing. While 2021 is not quite as warm as the past two years, it is well in-line with the longer-term warming trend seen in the data.

Annual global average surface temperatures from 1970-2021

The past seven years of the record really stand out as much warmer than anything that has come before. This can be seen in the figure below from Berkeley Earth. Each shaded curve represents the annual average temperature for that year. The further that curve is to the right, the warmer it was.

The width of each year’s curve reflects the uncertainty in the annual temperature values (caused by factors such as changes in measurement techniques and the fact that some parts of the world have fewer measurement locations than others).

Global average surface temperatures for each year relative preindustrial with their respective uncertainties from Berkeley Earth

Year-to-year variability in temperature records is mostly due to the influence of El Niño and La Niña events , which have a short-term warming or cooling impact on the climate. Other dips are associated with large volcanic eruptions . The longer-term warming of the climate is due to increases in atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases emitted from human activity.

Last year’s temperatures were dragged down a bit by a modest La Niña event in the early part of the year, which reemerged in the last few months of the year (creating an uncommon “ double dip ” La Niña event). However, due to a lag of a few months between La Niña conditions in the Pacific and their peak effect on global temperatures, the La Niña conditions at the end of 2021 will likely result in a larger effect in 2022.

To assess the effects of El Niño and La Niña on the surface temperature record, Carbon Brief has produced an estimate of what temperatures would be in the absence of these events. The figure below shows estimated temperatures with El Niño removed (see the methods section at the end of the article for details on the approach used). The Copernicus record is not included in the figure as it does not have data available prior to 1979.

Annual global mean surface temperatures with the effect of El Nino and La Nina events removed

Removing the effects of El Niño and La Niña from the temperature record makes 2020 rather than 2016 the warmest year on record for all the temperature datasets, as 2016 temperatures benefited from a large El Niño event. It also generally reduces the difference between years over the 2015-21 period, though 2021 remains the sixth warmest year on record.

Temperatures for 2021 are bumped up modestly – by around 0.07C – with the cooling effects of the early-2021 La Niña event removed. Once El Niño effects are removed, the impact of major volcanic eruptions – such as those in 1982 and 1991 – are also much easier to spot in the temperature record.

Much more rapid warming over land

The focus on global surface temperature as a key metric of climate change is important, but can obscure very different rates of change across the planet.

For example, while most of the Earth’s surface is covered by oceans, nearly all human settlements and activities are in land areas. The land has been warming around 70% faster than the oceans – and 40% faster than the global average – in the years since 1970.

The figure below breaks down the Berkeley Earth temperature dataset into land-only (red) and ocean-only (blue) temperatures.

Land and ocean temperature rise since the pre-industrial 1850-1900 period

While the world as a whole has warmed by around 1.3C since the pre-industrial period (1850-1900) in the Berkeley Earth dataset, land areas have warmed a much larger amount – by 1.8C on average. In contrast, the oceans have warmed more slowly – by around 0.8C since pre-industrial times. (See Carbon Brief ’s guest post on why the land and ocean warm at different rates.)

Different parts of the land and ocean are also warming at different rates. The warmth in 2021 covered large regions of the world, with particularly anomalously high temperatures in northeast Canada, China, North and South Korea, the Middle East, and northern Africa. The figure below, from Berkeley Earth, shows the average annual temperatures, relative to 1951-80, across the world for the year.

Surface temperature anomalies for 2021 from Berkeley Earth

A year of extremes

In addition to being one of the top-seven warmest years on record, 2021 saw many climate extremes around the world – including record-breaking extreme heat events , heavy rainfall and flooding , catastrophic wildfires , storms and drought .

Areas home to 1.8 billion people saw their warmest year on record during 2021, with 25 countries – including China, South Korea, Bangladesh and Nigeria – setting all-time annual temperature records. The figure below, also from Berkeley Earth, shows the regions of the world where either warm or cold records were set in 2021. 

It is noteworthy that while large parts of the planet set new warm records, there was no location on Earth where annual average temperatures were among the coldest on record.

Regions of the world among the five warmest of five coolest on record for average annual temperatures in 2021

China in particular saw exceptionally high temperatures in 2021, with annual average warmth exceeding 2C above pre-industrial levels for the first time. 

The northern-hemisphere summer months (June, July and August) were particularly warm, with the year seeing the hottest summer on record over the world’s land regions. The figure below shows summer temperatures from the Berkeley Earth dataset between 1850 and 2021. Each red dot represents the average temperature over the three months.  

Northern-hemisphere summer average land surface temperatures

A few extreme events in 2021 stand out as truly exceptional. In particular, a summer heatwave in northwestern North America in late June saw temperatures reach 49.6C (121F) in Canada, shattering the previous record of 45C (113F) set in 1937. The town in which this record was set was largely destroyed by a wildfire the following day.

An attribution study by the World Weather Attribution team found that the heatwave would have been “ virtually impossible ” without human-caused global warming. In a pre-industrial climate, the event would only be expected to occur once in every 150,000 years. Climate change to-date has made it 150 times more likely to occur, but it likely remains a relatively rare one-in-one-thousand year event, the scientists found.

However, in a scenario of 2C warming by the end of the century relative to pre-industrial (that is, 0.8C warming above current levels), such an extreme heatwave would “occur roughly every five to 10 years” in the region.

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The authors cautioned that there is a risk that even the 150 times more likely finding may underestimate the prevalence of these sorts of extremes in a warming world. They suggested that there is the possibility of “a non-linear threshold where a small amount of overall global warming is now causing a faster rise in extreme temperatures than has been observed so far”.

Last year also saw more than 50 hurricanes, cyclones and extratropical storms. There was deadly flooding in Nigeria, Ghana, India, Turkey, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and China, as well as, extreme heatwaves in Siberia, Pakistan, northern India, parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, and catastrophic wildfires in the western US, the Mediterranean and ​​Israel.

The figure below, from a Carbon Brief guest post on summer extreme weather events, shows the location of different types of climate extremes experienced in 2021.


Observed temperatures close to climate model projections

Climate models provide physics-based estimates of future warming given different assumptions about future emissions, greenhouse gas concentrations and other climate-influencing factors .

Here, Carbon Brief examines a collection of climate models – known as CMIP5 – used in the 2013 fifth assessment report (AR5) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In CMIP5, model estimates of temperatures prior to 2005 are a “hindcast” using known past climate influences, while temperatures projected after 2005 are a “forecast” based on an estimate of how things might change. 

The figure below shows the range of individual CMIP5 models projections since 1950, as well as future projections through to 2100 under the middle-of-the-road RCP4.5 emissions scenario. The black line shows the average of 38 different models, while the grey area shows the 95% ( two sigma ) range of the model projections. Observational temperatures are plotted on top of the climate model data, with individual observational records represented by coloured lines.

Annual global average surface temperatures from CMIP5 models and observations between 1950 and 2100

Observations fall well within the range of CMIP5 climate model projections over the past 70 years. Temperatures in 2021 are quite close to the model average. The climate model outputs shown here are blended – that is, they combine surface air temperature over the land with sea surface temperatures over the ocean in the same way they are measured in the observational climate record. This allows for a more accurate comparison of the two. 

The latest generation of models –  CMIP6 – are not compared to observations in this state of the climate report. The most recent report from the IPCC’s sixth assessment report (AR6) has changed the way that the ensemble of models is used. Rather than simply taking the average of all the models (and their range) – as was the case in previous IPCC reports – the IPCC decided to use a weighted subset of models that agreed well with historical observations. This also reflected a narrowing of climate sensitivity in the most recent IPCC report – such that a number of new models fall outside the “very likely” sensitivity range. 

While the IPCC AR6 provided a new set of future “assessed warming” projections, these start in the year 2015, which makes comparisons with observations over such a short period not very informative.

Warming of the atmosphere

In addition to surface measurements over the world’s land and oceans, satellite microwave sounding units have been providing estimates of temperatures at various layers of the atmosphere since 1979. 

The lowest layer they estimate – the lower troposphere – reflects temperatures a few kilometres above the surface and roughly corresponds to surface temperature changes. The record produced by Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) shows 2021 as the sixth warmest year on record in the lower troposphere, while the record from the University of Alabama, Huntsville (UAH) shows it as the eighth warmest. The chart below shows the two records – RSS in red and UAH in blue – for the lower troposphere (TLT).

Global average lower troposphere temperatures for the period from 1979-2021

The lower troposphere tends to be influenced more strongly by El Niño and La Niña events than the surface and satellite records show correspondingly larger warming or cooling spikes during these events. This is why, for example, 1998 shows up as one of the warmest years in satellites, but not in surface records.

The two lower tropospheric temperature records show large differences after the early 2000s. RSS shows an overall rate of warming quite similar to surface temperature records, while UAH shows considerably slower warming in recent years than has been observed on the surface. Both have seen large adjustments in recent years that have warmed RSS and cooled UAH compared to prior versions of each record.

In addition to a temperature record of the lower troposphere, RSS and UAH also provide measurements of the lower stratosphere – a region of the upper atmosphere around 18km above the surface. The lower stratosphere has been cooling for the last few decades in a clear fingerprint of human greenhouse gases, which warm the lower part of the atmosphere by trapping heat while cooling the upper atmosphere as less heat escapes. If other factors – such as changing solar output – were causing climate change, both the stratosphere and troposphere would be warming. 

The figure below shows lower stratospheric temperatures (TLS) records for both RSS (red) and UAH (blue) from 1979 through 2021.

Global average lower stratospheric temperatures for the period from 1979-2021

Accelerating sea level rise

Modern-day sea levels have risen to a new high, due to a combination of melting land ice (such as glaciers and ice sheets), the thermal expansion of water as it warms, and changes in land water storage . In recent years, there have been larger contributions to sea level rise from melting ice sheets and glaciers, as warmer temperatures accelerate ice sheet losses in Greenland and Antarctica .

Since the early 1990s, the increase in global sea level has been estimated using altimeter data from satellites. Earlier global sea levels have been reconstructed from a network of global tide gauge measurements. This allows researchers to estimate how sea level has changed since the late 1800s . 

The chart below shows seven different sea level rise datasets (coloured lines), along with satellite altimeter measurements from NASA satellites as assessed by the University of Colorado (in black) after 1993. (As sea level rise data has not yet been released for the whole year, the 2021 value is estimated based on data through July.)

Global mean sea level rise between 1900 and 2021

Sea levels have risen by around 0.2 metres (200mm) since 1900. While sea level rise estimates mostly agree in recent decades, larger divergences are evident before 1980. There is also evidence of accelerating sea level rise over the post-1993 period when high-quality satellite altimetry data is available. (See Carbon Brief’s explainer on how climate change is accelerating sea level rise.)

A portion of this sea level rise is being driven by melting land glaciers. Scientists measure the mass of glaciers around the world using a variety of remote sensing techniques, as well as through GRACE measurements of the Earth’s gravitational field. The balance between snow falling on a glacier and ice loss through melting and the breaking off – or “ calving ” – of icebergs determines if glaciers grow or shrink over time.

An international consortium called the World Glacier Monitoring Service tracks 164 different glaciers in 19 different regions around the world. The figure below shows the change in global average glacier mass from 1950 through to the end of 2020 (2021 values are not yet available). Note that glacier melt is reported in metres of water equivalent , which is a measure of how much mass has been lost on average.

Global average glacier melt from 1950-2020

Atmospheric greenhouse gases concentrations reach new highs

Greenhouse gas concentrations reached a new high in 2021, driven by human emissions from fossil fuels, land use and agriculture.

Three greenhouse gases – CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) – are responsible for the bulk of additional heat trapped by human activities. CO2 is by far the largest factor, accounting for roughly 50% of the increase in “ radiative forcing ” since the year 1750. 

Methane accounts for 29%, while nitrous oxide accounts for around 5%. The remaining 16% comes from other factors including carbon monoxide, black carbon and halocarbons , such as CFCs.

Human emissions of greenhouse gases have increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide to their highest levels in at least a few million years – if not longer. 

The figure below shows concentrations of these greenhouse gases – in parts per million (ppm) for CO2 (blue line) and parts per billion (ppb) for methane (orange) and nitrous oxide (red) – from the early 1980s through to October 2021 for CO2 and September 2021 for CH4 and N2O (the most recent data currently available).

Global concentrations of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide 1980-2021

Methane concentrations in particular have seen a sharp rise over the past decade after a plateau in the 2000s. This appears to be driven by both increased emissions from agriculture and fossil fuels, in roughly equal measure. To date there is limited evidence of methane from permafrost thaw meaningfully contributing to atmospheric concentrations according to the 2020 Global Methane Budget , though this may become a larger source in the future.  

Twelfth lowest Arctic sea ice on record

Arctic sea ice was at the low end of the historical (1979-2010) range for most of 2021, but saw few new all-time daily low records set outside of brief periods in February and July. The summer minimum extent – the lowest recorded level for the year – was the 12th lowest since records began in the late 1970s.

Antarctic sea ice was normal for the first half of the year, but fell to the low end of the historical range after October. (For more on how Antarctic sea ice extent has changed over recent decades, see the guest post that Carbon Brief published last year.)

The figure below shows both Arctic (red line) and Antarctic (blue line) sea ice extent for each day of the year, along with how it compares to the historical range (corresponding shading).

Arctic and Antarctic daily sea ice extent 2021

Looking ahead to 2022

With a “double dip” La Niña event in the latter part of 2021, La Niña conditions are expected to persist for at least the first three months of 2022. Because there is a lag of a few months between when El Niño or La Niña conditions peak in the tropical Pacific and their impact on global temperatures, these La Niña conditions will likely have a cooling influence on 2022 temperatures. 

So far, there are already three predictions – from the UK Met Office , NASA’s Dr Gavin Schmidt and Berkeley Earth – of what temperatures might look like in 2022.

For the first time, Carbon Brief provides its own prediction of likely 2022 temperatures – based on a model using the prior year (2021), temperatures over past three months, the El Niño/La Niño conditions over the past six months, and projections of El Niño/La Niño conditions over the next six months.

There are notable differences between four predictions of likely 2022 temperatures. The Met Office and the new Carbon Brief estimate have 2022 quite similar to 2021, with it very unlikely to be among the top 2 warmest years on record. Berkeley Earth predicts that 2022 will be a bit warmer, similar to 2017 which is the fourth warmest year on record, while Schmidt predicts that 2022 might end up tieing with 2016 and 2020 as the warmest year on record.

The figure below shows the four different 2022 predictions compared to the NASA GISTEMP temperature record. These have been “normalised” to show 2022 warming relative to the 2001-20 period in the NASA dataset. This is to remove any differences in predictions due to divergences between datasets in earlier parts of the temperature record.

2022 temperature predictions

While it is too early to predict with any certainty where 2022 will end up, it would be nothing out of the ordinary to have a year either similar to 2021 or 2020. 

What matters for the climate is not the leaderboard of individual years. Rather, it is the long-term upward trend in global temperatures driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases . Until the world reduces emissions down to net-zero, the planet will continue to warm .

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Our Future Is Now - A Climate Change Essay by Francesca Minicozzi, '21

Francesca Minicozzi (class of 2021) is a Writing/Biology major who plans to study medicine after graduation. She wrote this essay on climate change for WR 355/Travel Writing, which she took while studying abroad in Newcastle in spring 2020. Although the coronavirus pandemic curtailed Francesca’s time abroad, her months in Newcastle prompted her to learn more about climate change. Terre Ryan Associate Professor, Writing Department

Our Future Is Now

By Francesca Minicozzi, '21 Writing and Biology Major

 “If you don’t mind me asking, how is the United States preparing for climate change?” my flat mate, Zac, asked me back in March, when we were both still in Newcastle. He and I were accustomed to asking each other about the differences between our home countries; he came from Cambridge, while I originated in Long Island, New York. This was one of our numerous conversations about issues that impact our generation, which we usually discussed while cooking dinner in our communal kitchen. In the moment of our conversation, I did not have as strong an answer for him as I would have liked. Instead, I informed him of the few changes I had witnessed within my home state of New York.

Francesca Minicozzi, '21

Zac’s response was consistent with his normal, diplomatic self. “I have been following the BBC news in terms of the climate crisis for the past few years. The U.K. has been working hard to transition to renewable energy sources. Similar to the United States, here in the United Kingdom we have converted over to solar panels too. My home does not have solar panels, but a lot of our neighbors have switched to solar energy in the past few years.”

“Our two countries are similar, yet so different,” I thought. Our conversation continued as we prepared our meals, with topics ranging from climate change to the upcoming presidential election to Britain’s exit from the European Union. However, I could not shake the fact that I knew so little about a topic so crucial to my generation.

After I abruptly returned home from the United Kingdom because of the global pandemic, my conversation with my flat mate lingered in my mind. Before the coronavirus surpassed climate change headlines, I had seen the number of internet postings regarding protests to protect the planet dramatically increase. Yet the idea of our planet becoming barren and unlivable in a not-so-distant future had previously upset me to the point where a part of me refused to deal with it. After I returned from studying abroad, I decided to educate myself on the climate crisis.

My quest for climate change knowledge required a thorough understanding of the difference between “climate change” and “global warming.” Climate change is defined as “a pattern of change affecting global or regional climate,” based on “average temperature and rainfall measurements” as well as the frequency of extreme weather events. 1   These varied temperature and weather events link back to both natural incidents and human activity. 2   Likewise, the term global warming was coined “to describe climate change caused by humans.” 3   Not only that, but global warming is most recently attributed to an increase in “global average temperature,” mainly due to greenhouse gas emissions produced by humans. 4

I next questioned why the term “climate change” seemed to take over the term “global warming” in the United States. According to Frank Luntz, a leading Republican consultant, the term “global warming” functions as a rather intimidating phrase. During George W. Bush’s first presidential term, Luntz argued in favor of using the less daunting phrase “climate change” in an attempt to overcome the environmental battle amongst Democrats and Republicans. 5   Since President Bush’s term, Luntz remains just one political consultant out of many politicians who has recognized the need to address climate change. In an article from 2019, Luntz proclaimed that political parties aside, the climate crisis affects everyone. Luntz argued that politicians should steer clear of trying to communicate “the complicated science of climate change,” and instead engage voters by explaining how climate change personally impacts citizens with natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and forest fires. 6   He even suggested that a shift away from words like “sustainability” would gear Americans towards what they really want: a “cleaner, safer, healthier” environment. 7

The idea of a cleaner and heathier environment remains easier said than done. The Paris Climate Agreement, introduced in 2015, began the United Nations’ “effort to combat global climate change.” 8   This agreement marked a global initiative to “limit global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels,” while simultaneously “pursuing means to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.” 9    Every country on earth has joined together in this agreement for the common purpose of saving our planet. 10   So, what could go wrong here? As much as this sounds like a compelling step in the right direction for climate change, President Donald Trump thought otherwise. In June 2017, President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement with his proclamation of climate change as a “’hoax’ perpetrated by China.” 11   President Trump continued to question the scientific facts behind climate change, remaining an advocate for the expansion of domestic fossil fuel production. 12   He reversed environmental policies implemented by former President Barack Obama to reduce fossil fuel use. 13

Trump’s actions against the Paris Agreement, however, fail to represent the beliefs of Americans as a whole. The majority of American citizens feel passionate about the fight against climate change. To demonstrate their support, some have gone as far as creating initiatives including America’s Pledge and We Are Still In. 14   Although the United States officially exited the Paris Agreement on November 4, 2020, this withdrawal may not survive permanently. 15   According to experts, our new president “could rejoin in as short as a month’s time.” 16   This offers a glimmer of hope.

The Paris Agreement declares that the United States will reduce greenhouse gas emission levels by 26 to 28 percent by the year 2025. 17   As a leader in greenhouse gas emissions, the United States needs to accept the climate crisis for the serious challenge that it presents and work together with other nations. The concept of working coherently with all nations remains rather tricky; however, I remain optimistic. I think we can learn from how other countries have adapted to the increased heating of our planet. During my recent study abroad experience in the United Kingdom, I was struck by Great Britain’s commitment to combating climate change.

Since the United Kingdom joined the Paris Agreement, the country targets a “net-zero” greenhouse gas emission for 2050. 18   This substantial alteration would mark an 80% reduction of greenhouse gases from 1990, if “clear, stable, and well-designed policies are implemented without interruption.” 19   In order to stay on top of reducing emissions, the United Kingdom tracks electricity and car emissions, “size of onshore and offshore wind farms,” amount of homes and “walls insulated, and boilers upgraded,” as well as the development of government policies, including grants for electric vehicles. 20   A strong grip on this data allows the United Kingdom to target necessary modifications that keep the country on track for 2050. In my brief semester in Newcastle, I took note of these significant changes. The city of Newcastle is small enough that many students and faculty are able to walk or bike to campus and nearby essential shops. However, when driving is unavoidable, the majority of the vehicles used are electric, and many British citizens place a strong emphasis on carpooling to further reduce emissions. The United Kingdom’s determination to severely reduce greenhouse emissions is ambitious and particularly admirable, especially as the United States struggles to shy away from its dependence on fossil fuels.

So how can we, as Americans, stand together to combat global climate change? Here are five adjustments Americans can make to their homes and daily routines that can dramatically make a difference:

  • Stay cautious of food waste. Studies demonstrate that “Americans throw away up to 40 percent of the food they buy.” 21   By being more mindful of the foods we purchase, opting for leftovers, composting wastes, and donating surplus food to those in need, we can make an individual difference that impacts the greater good. 22   
  • Insulate your home. Insulation functions as a “cost-effective and accessible” method to combat climate change. 23   Homes with modern insulation reduce energy required to heat them, leading to a reduction of emissions and an overall savings; in comparison, older homes can “lose up to 35 percent of heat through their walls.” 24   
  • Switch to LED Lighting. LED stands for “light-emitting diodes,” which use “90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and half as much as compact fluorescents.” 25   LED lights create light without producing heat, and therefore do not waste energy. Additionally, these lights have a longer duration than other bulbs, which means they offer a continuing savings. 26  
  • Choose transportation wisely. Choose to walk or bike whenever the option presents itself. If walking or biking is not an option, use an electric or hybrid vehicle which emits less harmful gases. Furthermore, reduce the number of car trips taken, and carpool with others when applicable. 
  • Finally, make your voice heard. The future of our planet remains in our hands, so we might as well use our voices to our advantage. Social media serves as a great platform for this. Moreover, using social media to share helpful hints to combat climate change within your community or to promote an upcoming protest proves beneficial in the long run. If we collectively put our voices to good use, together we can advocate for change.

As many of us are stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these suggestions are slightly easier to put into place. With numerous “stay-at-home” orders in effect, Americans have the opportunity to make significant achievements for climate change. Personally, I have taken more precautions towards the amount of food consumed within my household during this pandemic. I have been more aware of food waste, opting for leftovers when too much food remains. Additionally, I have realized how powerful my voice is as a young college student. Now is the opportunity for Americans to share how they feel about climate change. During this unprecedented time, our voice is needed now more than ever in order to make a difference.

However, on a much larger scale, the coronavirus outbreak has shed light on reducing global energy consumption. Reductions in travel, both on the roads and in the air, have triggered a drop in emission rates. In fact, the International Energy Agency predicts a 6 percent decrease in energy consumption around the globe for this year alone. 27   This drop is “equivalent to losing the entire energy demand of India.” 28   Complete lockdowns have lowered the global demand for electricity and slashed CO2 emissions. However, in New York City, the shutdown has only decreased carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent. 29   This proves that a shift in personal behavior is simply not enough to “fix the carbon emission problem.” 30   Climate policies aimed to reduce fossil fuel production and promote clean technology will be crucial steppingstones to ameliorating climate change effects. Our current reduction of greenhouse gas emissions serves as “the sort of reduction we need every year until net-zero emissions are reached around 2050.” 31   From the start of the coronavirus pandemic, politicians came together for the common good of protecting humanity; this demonstrates that when necessary, global leaders are capable of putting humankind above the economy. 32

After researching statistics comparing the coronavirus to climate change, I thought back to the moment the virus reached pandemic status. I knew that a greater reason underlay all of this global turmoil. Our globe is in dire need of help, and the coronavirus reminds the world of what it means to work together. This pandemic marks a turning point in global efforts to slow down climate change. The methods we enact towards not only stopping the spread of the virus, but slowing down climate change, will ultimately depict how humanity will arise once this pandemic is suppressed. The future of our home planet lies in how we treat it right now. 

  • “Climate Change: What Do All the Terms Mean?,” BBC News (BBC, May 1, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-48057733 )
  • Ibid. 
  • Kate Yoder, “Frank Luntz, the GOP's Message Master, Calls for Climate Action,” Grist (Grist, July 26, 2019), https://grist.org/article/the-gops-most-famous-messaging-strategist-calls-for-climate-action
  • Melissa Denchak, “Paris Climate Agreement: Everything You Need to Know,” NRDC, April 29, 2020, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/paris-climate-agreement-everything-you-need-know)
  • “Donald J. Trump's Foreign Policy Positions,” Council on Foreign Relations (Council on Foreign Relations), accessed May 7, 2020, https://www.cfr.org/election2020/candidate-tracker/donald-j.-trump?gclid=CjwKCAjw4871BRAjEiwAbxXi21cneTRft_doA5if60euC6QCL7sr-Jwwv76IkgWaUTuyJNx9EzZzRBoCdjsQAvD_BwE#climate and energy )
  • David Doniger, “Paris Climate Agreement Explained: Does Congress Need to Sign Off?,” NRDC, December 15, 2016, https://www.nrdc.org/experts/david-doniger/paris-climate-agreement-explained-does-congress-need-sign )
  • “How the UK Is Progressing,” Committee on Climate Change, March 9, 2020, https://www.theccc.org.uk/what-is-climate-change/reducing-carbon-emissions/how-the-uk-is-progressing/)
  • Ibid.  
  • “Top 10 Ways You Can Fight Climate Change,” Green America, accessed May 7, 2020, https://www.greenamerica.org/your-green-life/10-ways-you-can-fight-climate-change )
  • Matt McGrath, “Climate Change and Coronavirus: Five Charts about the Biggest Carbon Crash,” BBC News (BBC, May 5, 2020), https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/science-environment-52485712 )
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The Reporter

The Economic Impact of Climate Change over Time and Space

Climate change is an unintended consequence of the industrialization of the world economy. The evidence that human activity has released large amounts of CO 2 into the atmosphere, leading to rising global temperatures, is by now uncontroversial. However, so far, the scientific and political recognition of this reality has not translated into a commitment to emissions reductions sufficient to stop further global warming. As a result, economists are tasked with evaluating the economic costs of climate change and designing policies to address them. These evaluations are essential: the world cannot embark on ambitious attempts to reduce carbon emissions if we are not reasonably confident that the benefits of these actions will outweigh their costs.

Evaluating the economic impact of climate change is difficult. First, there is the natural science. Models that map carbon emissions to changes in global and local temperatures are readily available, but the mapping of many other physical impacts, such as sea level rise, extreme weather events, or nonlinearities in the climate system, is more complex. While our understanding of these effects is rapidly improving, as shown by the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, there are still no good off-the-shelf models that we can easily plug into our economic analysis.

Second, climate change evolves relatively slowly, unfolding over decades and centuries rather than over months and years. While anthropogenic temperature change is already affecting our present-day reality, many of its more pernicious effects will only be felt in the distant future. Evaluating the implications of warmer temperatures in the far-off future requires dynamic models, as recognized since the pioneering work of William Nordhaus. These protracted effects limit the usefulness of reduced-form empirical studies: extrapolating so far out of sample is undesirable and does not recognize the capacity of humans to react, respond, and adapt to changing circumstances. The Lucas critique — that historical data on the results of economic policy cannot be used to accurately predict the consequences of future policy because people’s behavioral responses also change over time — bites hard here.

Third, CO 2 emissions are a global externality with local economic impact. Because CO 2 mixes rapidly in the atmosphere, emissions from anywhere on the planet lead to changing temperatures across the globe. As a result, any attempt to evaluate the economic impact of climate change needs to be global in nature. At the same time, an aggregate dynamic model of the world economy is not sufficient if it ignores spatial heterogeneity. How can we discuss the impact of coastal flooding without recognizing the difference between Miami and Dallas, or without considering that people can move inland to escape inundation? And how can we evaluate the cost of a 1 ° C increase in global temperatures without recognizing that this will result in a more than 2 ° C increase in the most northern latitudes but only a 0.5 ° C increase in some equatorial regions? Perhaps more importantly, how can we do a comprehensive evaluation if we ignore the fact that higher temperatures are bound to have very different economic effects in the world’s coldest and warmest areas? Recognizing this spatial heterogeneity is essential for an accurate assessment of not just the aggregate impact of climate change, but also the spatial inequality that it might generate.

The Need for Spatial-Dynamic Models

Motivated by these observations, we came to realize the need for economic climate assessment models that take both temporal and spatial dimensions explicitly into account. As temperatures and sea levels change, individuals and firms will respond, and an important part of that adaptation will materialize between, rather than within, locations. Incorporating these behavioral responses requires models with a realistic geography of the world economy that include trade and migration linkages across space. Furthermore, such models also need to recognize that the geography of the world’s productive capacity is not immutable. Where economic activity is concentrated varies significantly over time. The rise of China as a manufacturing powerhouse is but one example of these geographic shifts. As climate changes, areas that benefit from rising temperatures will attract investment and grow. To account for this, climate assessment models should allow growth to endogenously differ across regions.

Over the last decade we have undertaken a research agenda to develop quantitative dynamic spatial models with the goal of evaluating the economic impact of climate change. In doing so, we continue a long tradition of using assessment models that integrate the basic insights of climate science into economic modeling. The difference is that we bring the spatial-dynamic aspect to the forefront. There are various precedents, but we first introduced a model with some of these characteristics in 2014. 1 It features growth and investment in a one-dimensional framework with a continuum of locations, two sectors, costly trade, and free migration.

Temperature Change across Latitudes

In 2015, we used this framework to study the effect of global warming on sectoral specialization, trade, and mobility. 2 As a first pass, a one-dimensional framework that focuses on differences across latitudes and ignores differences across longitudes is reasonable: a mere 5 percent of the world’s variance in temperature occurs within latitudes.

This research helped us realize the importance of the changing spatial distribution of economic activity in determining the economic cost of global warming. The logic is simple but, we believe, compelling. If moving across locations is cheap, particularly over decades or centuries, and if global warming hurts some places but not others, then changing the spatial distribution of economic activity can be a powerful way to mitigate the losses from climate change. This adaptation mechanism is particularly strong if land is abundant in regions that might benefit from rising temperatures, such as Alaska, northern Canada, and Siberia.

The inevitable conclusion is that the losses from climate change must, to a large extent, be linked to the cost of moving economic activity across locations. These costs are related to moving people and firms. They also depend on trade barriers and on frictions associated with changing local specialization patterns. Additional costs involve leaving behind capital and past investments in local productivity. Losing the agglomeration economies linked to existing clusters of economic activity compounds these costs, even though new population centers sprout up elsewhere.

Modeling the World’s Geography

To more precisely quantify these costs and the spatial frictions faced by agents adapting to climate change, we needed a model with realistic geography. Although a one-dimensional model may be enough to analyze the main effects of rising temperatures across latitudes, it does not suffice to convincingly assess the economic effects of climate change for specific regions in the world and it does not allow use of quantitatively realistic spatial frictions.

In 2018, we developed and quantified a dynamic spatial model with two dimensions, latitude and longitude. Importantly, it features firm investments in local technology that lead to differential local growth in the very protracted transition to a balanced growth path. We used this framework to understand the role of migration and trade frictions in shaping the evolution of the geographic distribution of activity in the world economy. 3 Our findings indicate that completely unrestricted migration would increase world welfare by 306 percent. Lending credibility to the framework, a backcasting exercise performed well in predicting population changes across regions over time. More specifically, using a quantification based on data from the year 2000 at a 1 ° by 1 ° spatial resolution for the entire globe, we ran the model backward for 50 years and found a correlation between model-implied population changes and actual population changes of 0.74. The fundamental forces in the model can account for many of the changes in the distribution of the world population over half a century without introducing any of the specific local and aggregate shocks that the world economy experienced over this period. Because of these encouraging results, this framework has served as the core economic structure for our subsequent work on climate change.

The Economic Cost of Sea Level Rise

One of the main consequences of a warming world is the global rise in sea levels, expected to surpass half a meter on average by the year 2100. To assess the economic impact of the inundation of coastal areas, we joined forces with climate scientists who generated probabilistic sea level rise projections for various locations around the globe. 4 Although all oceans are connected, the sea level does not rise uniformly across space, due to differences in factors such as ocean dynamics and tectonics. For example, because of high subsidence, Galveston, Texas is predicted to experience twice the average sea level rise, whereas, because of solid earth responses to regional glacial mass loss, Juneau, Alaska is predicted to experience a drop in its sea level. We combine data on the range of possible paths for the extent of inundation of coastal regions over the next 200 years with our economic model to analyze the economic effect of sea level rise. The result is a probabilistic assessment of the welfare cost of coastal flooding.

Naturally, the ability to move is an effective way to avoid the most harmful impact of rising oceans. Moving is expensive though, and past investments in coastal areas are lost. Still, these costs are substantially lower than when mobility is not considered. Figure 1 depicts the global welfare losses between the years 2000 and 2200 for the median sea level rise projection. Under our baseline estimate (in black), average welfare losses peak around 2150 at roughly 0.5 percent. The figure represents three more scenarios: the static equilibrium (in dark grey) does not allow for changes in firm investments in response to flooding, the fixed population equilibrium (in light grey) does not allow flooding-induced population mobility, and the naïve equilibrium (in blue) keeps the spatial distribution of population as observed in 2000. As expected, when we allow for more forms of adaptation, the negative effect of sea level rise on welfare declines. Going from the naïve scenario with no adaptation at all to our baseline reduces the welfare costs fivefold, from around 2.5 percent to less than 0.5 percent. Of course, sea level rise constitutes only one of the dimensions along which climate change affects the economic environment. It also happens to be a dimension where adapting by moving is particularly useful.

Figure1 Desmet Rossi-Hansberg Reporter 2021 number 4

The Geography of Global Warming

In recent work, we have turned our attention from sea level rise to global warming, using a more comprehensive and sophisticated assessment model. We allow changes in local temperatures to influence three local characteristics. 5 First, changes in temperature affect local productivity, with the impact depending on the location’s initial temperature. Second, changes in temperature have an effect on the attractiveness of a location as a place to live — what is commonly referred to as a location’s amenities. Third, temperature can influence the difference between birth and death rates. Where someone is born matters because migration is costly.

In addition, we incorporate the decision of how much energy to use in production, the choice of the intensity of fossil fuels in generating energy, and the resulting CO 2 emissions of these local choices. Together with a standard carbon cycle model, this yields a framework in which the behavior of the economy affects climate scenarios and vice versa. Incorporating this two-way feedback between local economies and climate is essential if a model is going to be useful in evaluating climate policy.

Figure2 Desmet Rossi-Hansberg Reporter 2021 number 4

The spatial heterogeneity of the impact of global warming is stark. Figure 2 depicts the cost of global warming across the world’s geography and is expressed as welfare under global warming relative to welfare in a counterfactual scenario where temperatures do not rise. Grey and light blue areas in the map lose, while dark blue areas gain. On average, the world experiences welfare losses of 5 percent, but in the world’s poorest regions losses tend to be substantially larger, as much as 15 percent. The graph in the right panel of Figure 2 presents the population-weighted distribution of these gains and losses. The distribution is bimodal, with many areas of Central Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia losing about 10 percent, while many advanced economies lose only marginally and some of the northernmost regions gain. The big story is the spatial heterogeneity of the effects of climate change, and the corresponding augmenting inequality, with the world’s poorest regions being hardest hit.

A core part of the quantification of these welfare losses is the estimation of the damage functions that map changes in temperature to changes in productivity and amenities. Estimating damage functions requires using model-implied fundamental productivities and amenities, rather than final outcomes that already include the many adaptation margins that we are modeling. Using model-implied fundamentals for several periods, we can incorporate local fixed effects and regional trends when estimating the damage functions.

Our damage function estimates suggest that an increase of 1 ° C in local temperatures implies a decline in amenities of about 2.5 percent in the world’s hottest areas, and a commensurate increase in the world’s coldest areas. The effects of temperature on productivity are larger and asymmetric: a 1 ° C increase in local temperatures leads to a 15 percent decline in productivity in the warmest regions and a 10 percent increase in the coldest regions. The estimates of these semi-elasticities are statistically significant in the world’s warmest and coldest areas, but the damage functions are estimated with sizable error. This implies uncertainty in the evaluation of global warming. Future research should focus on reducing this error by getting a longer panel of data and by conditioning on not just the mean local temperature, but also on the variance and on the frequency of extreme temperatures.

Trade and Migration as Adaptation Mechanisms

In addition to migration, trade also has the potential to act as a powerful adaptation mechanism. There are, of course, situations where the scope for trade to mitigate the impact of climate change is limited. For example, if global warming affects the productivity of all local firms similarly and if changes in temperature are spatially correlated, trade may not be an effective adaptation mechanism. However, the effect of temperature on productivity likely varies by sector, so trade can help hard-hit locations switch to sectors that are less affected by climate change.

In recent research, we incorporate an agricultural and a nonagricultural sector and evaluate how changes in local specialization may operate as an adaptation mechanism. 6 Our analysis shows that the role of trade is complex. On the one hand, freer trade increases the scope of local specialization, leading to smaller losses from global warming. On the other hand, freer trade weakens the incentives for people to migrate away from today’s poorest regions, which are more affected by climate change. On balance, we find that freer trade increases losses from global warming in the near future but reduces losses in the far-off future.

Figure3 Desmet Rossi-Hansberg Reporter 2021 number 4

As adaptation mechanisms, trade and migration are substitutes. Figure 3 depicts the climate-induced change in population in 2200 when trade costs are high compared to when trade costs are low. Areas marked in dark blue gain more population due to rising temperatures when trade costs are high, and areas marked in light blue and grey lose more population. The map shows that more people move away from highly affected areas in equatorial regions when trade costs are higher. That is, when trade has less scope to act as an adaptation mechanism, migration plays a bigger role.

What’s Next?

We are continuing to improve our climate assessment model, estimating richer damage functions that incorporate episodic effects and their variance, incorporating anticipatory effects on investments, and adding a richer sectoral composition with input-output linkages. Our agenda includes a thorough evaluation of various environmental policies, including their spatial characteristics and implications.


More from nber.

“ Spatial Development ,” Desmet K, Rossi-Hansberg E. NBER Working Paper 15349, revised December 2011, and American Economic Review 104(4), April 2014, pp. 1211–1243.  

“ On the Spatial Economic Impact of Global Warming ,” Desmet K, Rossi-Hansberg E. NBER Working Paper 18546, November 2012, and Journal of Urban Economics 88, July 2015, pp. 16–37.

“ The Geography of Development: Evaluating Migration Restrictions and Coastal Flooding ,” Desmet K, Nagy D, Rossi-Hansberg E. NBER Working Paper 21087, April 2015, and Journal of Political Economy , 126(3), June 2018, pp. 903–983.  

“ Evaluating the Economic Cost of Coastal Flooding ,” Desmet K, Kopp R, Kulp S, Nagy D, Oppenheimer M, Rossi-Hansberg E, Strauss B. NBER Working Paper 24918, August 2018, and American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 13(2), April 2021, pp. 444–486.  

“ The Economic Geography of Global Warming ,” Cruz J, Rossi-Hansberg E. NBER Working Paper 28466, February 2021.  

“ Local Sectoral Specialization in a Warming World ,” Conte B, Desmet K, Nagy D, Rossi-Hansberg E. NBER Working Paper 28163, December 2020, and Journal of Economic Geography 21(4), July 2021, pp. 493–530.  

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  • v.7(11); 2021 Nov

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Climate change/global warming/climate emergency versus general climate research: comparative bibliometric trends of publications

Rafael m. santos.

a School of Engineering, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada

Reza Bakhshoodeh

b Department of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering, University of Western Australia, Perth, 6009, Australia

Associated Data

Data will be made available on request.

This article presents and discusses the scientific publication record from 1910 to 2020 on two topics: "climate" (CL) and "climate change/global warming/climate emergency" (CC/GW/CE). The goal is to comparatively visualize how these two distinct publication records have evolved over time, from different classification perspectives, using publication ratios as the key indicator. It is found that research output related to the Earth's contemporary changing climate overtook that of general climate research in 2010, and the publication ratio (CC/GW/CE)/(CL) has been expanding in the last decade. There are significant differences in the publication countries and sources between the two topics. Differentiation factors that affect the level of research output and engagement on the climate challenge include island versus landlocked nations, specialized versus general scientific journals, academic versus institutional organizations. The future of the publication records is discussed, such as the emergence of new terms to refer to the climate challenge, such as “climate emergency”.

Bibliometric analysis; Scientometrics; Human influence on climate; Natural control of climate; Improving climate monitoring; Climate variability; Climate models; CO 2 .

1. Introduction

The climate of a region is its average or typical weather over a long period of time; for example, the climate of Antarctica is freezing cold, and Hawaii is warm and sunny. Climate change, therefore, is a long-term change in the typical or average weather of a region; in the last few decades, industrial and human activities have led to gradually accelerating changes in the climate, including an annually incremental increase in the average surface temperature, which has been defined as climate change ( IPCC, 2014 ). Climate change also has noticeable negative impacts on other parts of the planet, like changes in ecosystems and desertification, rise in sea level, flooding, and drought ( Hisano et al., 2018 ; Ouhamdouch et al., 2019 ). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines climate change as “a change in the state of the climate that can be identified… by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period” ( IPCC, 2018 ). Climate Change (CC), Global Warming (GW) and more recently Climate Emergency (CE) have been, in the past decade and longer, terms synonymous with the greatest sustainability challenge of the 21 st century ( Munasinghe, 2010 ; Kyte, 2014 ; Princiotta and Loughlin, 2014 ; Martens et al., 2016 ).

Climate change mitigation is a technological measure aiming to reduce the amount of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) ( Fawzy et al., 2020 ), and can be divided mainly into: (i) mitigation technologies, which focus on reducing fossil-based CO 2 emissions, including nuclear power, renewable energies, and carbon capture and storage ( Ricke et al., 2017 ; Bustreo et al., 2019 ); (ii) negative emissions technologies, which aim to capture and sequester atmospheric carbon to reduce carbon dioxide levels, and include approaches such as BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage), DACCS (direct air carbon capture and storage), enhanced rock weathering, and ocean fertilization ( Goglio et al., 2020 ; Khalidy and Santos, 2021 ; Lezaun, 2021 ); and (iii) geoengineering techniques that change the Earth's radiative energy budget to stabilize or reduce global temperatures, such as stratospheric aerosol injection, and marine cloud brightening ( Lockley et al., 2019 ; Osman et al., 2020 ). Controlling and reversing climate change is expected to be a major concern and undertaking for mankind in the forthcoming decades.

Bibliometric analysis is a popular technique commonly employed to investigate the internal relationships in the body of scientific outputs in the literature. This method is helpful for researchers who are interested in but unfamiliar with a specific field to understand the status of this field quickly. Various bibliometric studies have explored different topics related to climate change ( Demiroglu and Hall, 2020 ), global warming ( Marx et al., 2017 ), climate change's impact on human health, agriculture, and water resource management ( Wang et al., 2014 ; Janssen et al., 2006 ; Li et al., 2011 ; Wei et al., 2015 ), and various scientific ( Oliveira et al., 2020 ) and technological ( Sobreira et al., 2020 ) questions. Studies that merge traditional bibliometrics with scientific topics also term these types of studies scientometrics ( Janmaijaya et al., 2018 ; Sobreira et al., 2020 ). Such studies often rely on the most comprehensive literature databases available, including Web of Science and Scopus ( Sobreira et al., 2020 ; Salmerón-Manzano and Manzano-Agugliaro, 2017 ; Macchi Silva et al., 2019 ). It is also common for such studies to span several decades ( Janmaijaya et al., 2018 ; Oliveira et al., 2020 ), and cover regional ( Marx et al., 2017 ; Demiroglu and Hall, 2020 ) to global ( Salmerón-Manzano and Manzano-Agugliaro, 2017 ; Oliveira et al., 2020 ) topics.

In the last years, scientific publications and reports by scholars that study different aspects of climate change have rapidly increased ( Aleixandre-Benavent et al., 2017 ). Aleixandre-Benevant et al. (2017) evaluated that the number of publications increase by over six-fold between 2005 and 2014. They used social networks to conclude that the United States is at the center of much of the research, and found relationships between keywords to find to which fields of research climate change research is primarily interconnected with (main keywords were: CO 2 , adaptation, model, temperature, and impact). According to the results of Fu and Waltman (2021) , the number of publications on climate change topics in a country reflects the priorities set by its government to cover some of the existing issues. Geography and level of economic development were other factors associated with the scientific output of various countries or regions. Fu and Waltman (2021) also point to how the purpose of the research has been shifting in the last two decades from that concerned with the causes and effects of climate change to measures to reverse or incentivize the reversal of climate change. Due to the growing scientific and public attention to climate change, researchers have used the bibliometric method to characterize the intellectual landscape of climate change, including the impact of climate change on migration ( Milán-García et al., 2021 ), tourism ( Fang et al., 2018 ), and infectious diseases ( Li et al., 2020 ).

An important aspect of bibliometric studies is the choice of search string used to retrieve publications from databases ( Haunschild et al., 2016 ). Using too restrictive or specific keywords (e.g., simply “climate change”) can lead to an incomplete search record, so authors frequently use combinations and variations of keywords. For example: Aleixandre-Benevant et al. (2017) utilized [“climate change” OR “climate changes” OR “climatic change” OR “climatic changes”]; Fu and Waltman (2021) utilized [“climate chang∗” OR “climatic chang∗” OR “climate variabilit∗” OR “climatic variabilit∗” OR “global warming” OR “climate warming” OR “climatic warming”]; and Tan et al. (2021) utilized the largest combination among these three, [“climate change∗” OR “climatic change∗” OR “climatic variation” OR “climatic oscillation” OR “environmental risk∗” OR “environmental exposure” OR “environmental externalities” OR “ecological risk∗” OR “eco-risk∗” OR “climatic risk∗” OR “ecological management∗” OR “ecological governance” OR “ecological control” OR “environmental governance, environmental management∗” OR “environmental control” OR “environmental improvement” OR “eco-environmental risk∗” OR “low carbon” OR “carbon emission∗” OR “cost of emission reduction” OR “emission reducing potential” OR “emission reduction”]. Evidently, the search of Tan et al. (2021) would lead to inclusion of papers not related to climate change, such as those related to general climate research and those related to all forms of environmental impact and pollution. Fu and Waltman's search string also runs the risk of including general climate research via the term “climate variability”, but is the only one of the three to have included the term “global warming”. Haunschild et al. (2016) present a detailed discussed on how truncation and other operators can be used to narrowed down a bibliometric search to a specific area of research (climate change in their case), and also how additional keywords can then be used to split a large dataset into sub-sets based on specific sub-areas of the research field (e.g., the effects of climate change on ice and snow using the search terms [“∗ice∗” OR “∗glacier∗” OR “∗snow∗” OR “∗frost∗”] or on oceanic currents using the search terms [“∗el nino∗” OR “∗elnino∗” OR “∗southern oscillation∗” OR “∗enso∗” OR “∗Walker circulation∗” OR “∗north atlantic oscillation∗” OR “∗nao∗”]). Two things can be concluded from inspecting the various search strings used by authors of bibliometric studies: (i) it is critical to find a good balance between inclusion and exclusion of articles, and this is done by careful selection of search terms, focusing on the ones known to be frequently associated with the research topic, and by the use of the truncation (∗) operator; and (ii) there has not been a bibliometric study that has attempted to separate and analyze the unique research records related to climate change research from those related to general climate research. These are two important motivators on our present work.

In this article, we aim to comparatively explore the bibliometric and scientometric data on two topics: general “climate” research and “climate change/global warming/climate emergency” research. The former relates to research that builds on our understanding of what naturally governs the Earth's climate, and how the climate regulates natural processes on the Earth's surface; the latter relates to research that investigates what is causing the Earth's climate to change rapidly, primarily as a result of anthropogenic drivers, and what effects climate change has on the Earth's systems, and what could be done to mitigate or adapt to this. An inspiration we have used for this work is the historical importance of the work of British engineer Guy Callendar, who in 1938 pointed to the anthropogenic contribution to global temperature rise ( Callendar, 1938 ), at a time before climate change research took off. That is, climate change research originated from general climate research, and at some point in the 20 th century, as will be presented later on in this article, became a unique field of research with a unique publication record.

Apart from the novel comparative topical theme, another differentiator of this article is its use of publication ratio values. We define the publication ratios as the number of publications in a category in one record over that in another record, which help us to distinguish and contrast CC/GW/CE versus general climate (CL) research. This approach differs from other comparative studies (e.g., Baek et al. (2020) , Arana Barbier (2020) , Wang et al. (2021) ), in that the traditional approach for comparing records is to plot or tabulate the data of each record separately, and then compare the trends seen in each record. The publication ratio method allows more direct and precise comparisons, as are shown in this article. Yet another differentiator is that this article is hypothesis-driven; that is, hypotheses (presented below) are posed to guide the collection and analysis of the bibliometric and scientometric data. The testing of hypotheses allows for evaluation of the quality and effectiveness of the data analysis performed, and thus acts as a verification mechanism that often is lacking in traditional literature reviews. past studies on climate change do not attempt to isolate or exclude papers that relate to general climate research. To this end, we hereafter explore the publication trends of two records (CL and CC/GW/CE), since the topical terms appeared in the journal records in the early part of the 20 th century, to test the following hypotheses:

  • 1. It is possible to substantially distinguish the scientific literature that pertains to the study of the aforementioned climate challenge (or solutions for mitigating it) from studies that address gaining a better understanding of the earth's climate itself, using topical keyword searches.
  • 2. The scientific literature has become so enriched in works addressing the climate challenge that it surpassed climate research in terms of the number of publications sometime in the late part of the 20 th century.
  • 3. The scientific literature that pertains to the climate challenge is at least partly distinct from that on climate research in terms of the venue of publication, country of origin of studies, and organizations that have conducted these works.

The present study is global in scope and covers a century of data, as it looks to highlight key moments in the publication record and scientific advancement histories, in addition to the temporal and various categorical trends. The following research questions have been formulated to contrast CL research versus CC/GW/CE research via hypothesis testing: (i) what are the dynamics of the conceptual structure of CC/GW/CE versus CL research; (ii) when the scientific record has become more enriched in CC/GW/CE versus CL research; (iii) in which countries the climate challenge has become the dominant topic and are there any relationships between countries and the dominant scientific topic?

2. Methodology

Web of Science (WoS) was used to search the scientific literature and collect the relevant publication data for analysis. The searches were conducted on August 7 th , 2021 (for 1900 to complete 2020 data); all data were collected within a short time on those days to obtain a snapshot of the publication record. Figure 1 shows the protocol used for this bibliometric study, which is classified into five steps detailed below.

Figure 1

Protocol used for the bibliometric study.

Step one: The search used a time span of 1900–2020 and all indexes within the Web of Science Core Collection, namely: Science Citation Index Expanded: SCI-EXPANDED (1900–2020), Social Sciences Citation Index: SSCI (1900–2020), Arts & Humanities Citation Index: A&HCI (1975–2020), Conference Proceedings Citation Index - Science: CPCI–S (1990–2020), Conference Proceedings Citation Index - Social Science & Humanities: CPCI-SSH (1990–2020), and Emerging Sources Citation Index: ESCI (2015–2020). The two search strings used were: (i) TOPIC: ("climat∗ chang∗" OR "global warming∗" OR "climat∗ emergenc∗"); and (ii) TOPIC: ("climate" NOT ("climat∗ chang∗" OR "global warming∗" OR "climat∗ emergenc∗")). The former search string was used to collect papers related to research on the climate challenge (CC/GW/CE), and the latter search string was used to collect papers related to general research on the Earth's climate (CL). That is, these search strings tested Hypothesis 1.

Step two: In the results section, the document type was refined to ‘Article’. These searches yield 245,391 on the CC/GW/CE topic and 228,280 papers on the CL topic. The use of the NOR logical operator in the CL search string ensures that the two records are unique; that is, there are no repeating papers.

To verify if the search string used for CC/GW/CE research may have missed a substantial portion of research papers that did not use the three searched keywords, a third search was conducted using the following search string: TOPIC: ((("greenhouse gas∗" OR "GHG∗") NOT ("climate" OR "climate change" OR "global warming" OR "climate emergency"))). This search yielded 29,943 articles. This represents 11.56% of articles obtained with the combined search strings. In the Discussion and Conclusions section, the omission of these articles from the data analysis is explained.

Step three: The search results were at first analyzed using the Analyze Results feature of WoS. On the analysis page, it is possible to download tab-delimited text files containing a set of publication data according to the WoS category selected. Data files were obtained for the following four categories: publication years; organizations-enhanced; source titles; countries/regions. The data from these text files were then imported into Microsoft Excel for further processing and analysis. These data and analyses enabled testing Hypotheses 2 and 3. More details on the data handling procedure are provided in the Data Analysis section.

One additional procedure used was to recover keywords from the search records. This was done using the Export feature of WoS on the search results page to generate Excel files containing various attributes of each paper, including the keywords. Keywords were compiled from the top 100 cited papers from both topics (CC/GW/CE and CL) as of August 7 th , 2021. These keywords were used to generate word clouds using the software Wordle ( Feinberg, 2020 ).

Step four: A bibliometric analysis including keywords co-occurrence, countries collaboration, most relevant words, beamplots and affiliations was also performed on the full search results, which was exported from WoS as a bibtex or CSV file, using the bibliometrix package ( Aria and Cuccurullo, 2017 ) in RStudio software Version 1.2.5001 ( R Core Team, 2019 ). The bibliometrix R-package provides a set of tools for quantitative research in bibliometrics and scientometrics. It is written in the R language ( Ihaka, 1998 ), which is an open-source environment and ecosystem ( Aria and Cuccurullo, 2017 ). The codes used in this paper are provided at the end of the Supplementary Materials. Beamplot percentile data was obtained from author profiles found within Web of Science.

These data and analyses enabled testing Hypotheses 2 and 3, which are shown in the Supplementary Materials. This package uses the meta-data in the Web of Science citations to calculate and rank country production, journal sources, and country collaborations.

Step five: The previous steps (step one to four) were for all selected databases. In this step, each database was separately selected for analysis. Therefore, steps 2 to 4 were repeated again, and the results from each search were imported to Excel and Rstudio for further analysis.

3. Publication record highlights

From 1910 to 1970, the publications record for CC/GW/CE shows only eight entries, with 1971 being the first year with multiple (three) records. In fact, a line can be drawn at 1970 with the publication of Berton's paper titled “Carbon dioxide and its role in climate change” ( Benton, 1970 ). This is the first of the papers on record to specifically address contemporary anthropogenic climate change. It does not mean that only in 1970 the role of humans on climate change was understood; such hypothesis dates to decades earlier. But it may be one of the first papers to consistently use the term “climate change” to describe the observed phenomena (increasing atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and increasing global surface temperatures, as discussed in the paper). Another evidence of this shift in terminology is that two of the three 1971 papers, those by Frisken (1971) and Kopec (1971) , address the pressing climate challenge. This is in contrast with the first paper on this record, the 1910 Nature article by Lockyer titled “Does the Indian climate change?” ( Lockyer, 1910 ), which discusses short term observations of changing frequency of monsoons to conclude that the climate on the sub-continent varies from year to year, with both short- and long-term trends, but the influence of humans on these trends is not addressed, in fact, the opposite (the natural control of climate) is inferred. Notably, both Frisken (1971) and Kopec (1971) highlight that by the early 1970's it is well accepted that humans can have a significant effect on the climate by air emissions, but that at that time (when CO 2 atmospheric concentration have just surpassed 320 ppm ( Benton, 1970 )), the role of nature was still deemed stronger than the role of humans.

One way to contrast the publication record of CC/GW/CE versus that of CL is to compare their most cited works. Tables S-1 and S-2 in the Supplementary Materials also present the classification of 50 top cited papers for each record. Briefly reviewing these papers (i.e., reading the paper's aims and conclusions) helps understanding if the two data records contain the required topical selection of CC/GW/CE versus CL. Based on the results from these tables, for CC/GW/CE records, 45 papers are correctly classified, two are unusually misclassified, and three of them are outliers. While for CL records, 41 papers are correctly classified in CL subject, eight are misclassified, and one is an outlier. Within the top 5 most cited papers of each record, seven of the ten papers are correctly classified, two are unusually misclassified, and one is an outlier, as follows. Table 1 presents the publication history of the first authors of the five most cited journal articles from each record (according to Tables S-1 and S-2), in terms of the three most cited papers authored or co-authored by these first authors, on any topic (in some cases, the same topic as the record, and in some cases on other topics). Notable, the first most cited paper of each of these authors is also their highly cited paper according to Tables S-1 and S-2.

Table 1

The first three most cited journal articles of the five first authors of the highest cited papers from the two records (CC/GW/CE and CL), as tabulated in Tables S-1 and S-2.

Rayner et al. (2003) present sea ice and sea surface temperature and nighttime marine air temperature data sets, starting from 1871. That is, the study covers parameters pertinent for climate change research and the contemporary post-industrial revolution period attributed to anthropogenic climate change; after 18 years since their first publication in 1985, the first author reached their most cited paper in 2003. Parmesan and Yohe (2003) showed that climate change effects on living systems could be discerned from non-climatic effects by looking for systematic trends over diverse species and geographic regions; after 16 years since their first publication in 1987, the first author had reached their most cited paper in 2003. Kottek et al. (2006) provide a climate classification map update valid for the second half of the 20 th century, which was updated from the original 1961 Wladimir Köppen map. One motivation for this update was that climate changes have occurred and thus up-to-date global temperature and precipitation data sets were required to update the geographical distribution of the various climate zones (equatorial, arid, warm temperate, snow, and polar, and the various sub-classifications); one year after the first author's first publication on 2005, they reached their most cited paper in 2006. Thomas et al. (2004) showed how climate change leads to species-level extinction. They concluded that 18%–35% of species would be committed to extinction by 2050 because of climate change, in part because of habit loss due to changes in biome; after 20 years since the first author's first publication in 1984, they had reached their most cited paper in 2004. Allen et al. (2010) studied the effect of climate change and drought on trees mortality risks. They concluded that there is a direct relationship between tree mortality rates and heat severity and climate change; after 16 years since the first author's first publication in 1994, they had reached their most cited paper in 2010. All of these five highly cited papers are thus correctly classified under the CC/GW/CE topic. In addition, most (7 out of 10) of their second and third most cited papers are in the same research area (CC/GW/CE) as the record.

Kalnay et al. (1996) investigated how improvements to climate monitoring can avoid misinterpretation of climate variations that are not a result of climate change. The study is not concerned about studying climate change directly, even if the advances can benefit climate change research, and after 20 years since the first author's first publication in 1976, they had reached their most cited paper in 1996. Hijmans et al. (2005) developed a method for very high-resolution interpolation of temperature and precipitation climate data, which can be used to generate accurate climate surfaces (i.e., continuous grids); and after nine years since the first author's first publication in 1996, they had reached their most cited paper in 2005. This advance can help improve the analysis of climate change since more accurate values are obtained, though this was not the main aim of the study. An example was provided on how for Madagascar, the newly interpolated data set does not show direct evidence of climate change between 1930 and 1990. Another example stated that an insufficiently dense station network could lead to erroneous climate change conclusions. Phillips et al. (2006) present a model of the distribution of biological species due to geographic distribution, including climatic variables and conditions. The model was posed as being able to predict the movement of species due to climate change, such as invasive species, but this was not the study's main aim; after 37 years since the first author's first publication in 1969, they had reached their most cited paper in 2006. These are the three out of five highly cited papers correctly classified under CL. In addition, nearly all (5 out of 6) of their second, third most cited papers are also classified as CL research.

Tenenbaum et al. (2000) is the outlier. This paper does have relevance for CL research, as it pertains to the development of nonlinear algorithms to find trends in complex and large data sets, such as climate data sets, and is certainly not about CC/GW/CE. So while correctly classified, due to the use of the word “climate” in the abstract, the paper's topic is largely mathematical rather than about natural or engineering sciences. Taylor et al. (2012) is the paper that was unusually misclassified. This article does not have an abstract registered in WoS, and the article's single keyword registered in WoS is "climate" (the article itself does not have a keywords list). The article is in fact, about CC/GW/CE research; thus, the unusually incomplete record for this article caused it to be misclassified. These two papers highlight that the CL record is less robust than the CC/GW/CE record, particularly because of the CL record's less specific search string. While a weakness, the more analytical data processing presented in the Data Analysis section will show that this record is still useful for contrasting against the CC/GW/CE to yield dataset level (as opposed to paper-by-paper) trends and conclusions.

Table S-3 in the Supplementary Materials shows the top 5 cited paper in both records, which highlighted in blue (similar to the first column of Table 1 ) and 5 top papers in terms of citations which have cited these papers which are highlighted in grey. Almost all papers in each row are following the main papers’ topics (paper in the first column). For example, all articles that cited Hijmans et al. (2005) and Kalnay et al. (1996) were about climate modelling. Table S-4 in the Supplementary Materials lists the top 5 hot papers in both records which are highlighted in blue, and the top 5 hot papers in terms of citations that have cited the paper in the first column, which are highlighted in grey. According to WoS, hot papers are those that have been published in the last two years and have received enough citations to place them in the top 0.1% of papers in their academic fields. These papers demonstrate potential research hotspots and future research directions, providing readers with a more comprehensive understanding of these two studies. COVID-19 topics are one of the hottest topics due to the current situation and pandemic that most countries are dealing with; these papers cover the impact of COVID-19 on various aspects of our climate such as air pollution and microplastics. Furthermore, the majority of COVID-19-related papers are about climate change, which is classified in the CC/GW/CE record. Other hot topics in both records include air quality and wildlife conservation, such as insect extinction.

Bornmann and Marx first introduced beamplots in 2014 to better visualize the citation impact and productivity of researchers. In addition, beamplots are used to see performance variation over time to make more informed decisions about research impact and evaluation ( Bornmann and Marx, 2014 ). The beamplot represents a single frame of an author's output (the citation performance of an author's entire publication list), which reflects how it varies over time. In the beamplot, each dot represents a specific publication and its position is based on its publication year and its normalized citation percentile score (0–100). For example, a score of 90 for an article means that the article is among the top 10% most cited publications of the subject area, document type, and year.

For the first authors of the top 3 most cited papers in each record, as listed in Table 1 , the citation percentiles of their first authors were higher after publishing these articles, except in the case of Camile Parmesan, first author of Parmesan and Yohe (2003) . Figure S-1 in the Supplementary Materials shows the beamplots of these six authors from both records. For example, in the case of N.A. Rayner, who has published the highest cited paper in the CC/GW/CE record, the mean citation percentile of their papers published after their highest cited paper ( Rayner et al., 2003 ) has increased from 58% to 80%. Likewise but to a much lesser extent, for Eugenia Kalnay, who has published the highest cited paper in the CL record, the citation percentile was increased from 64.7% to 65.3%. This indicates that these authors either had more impactful research output following the publication of their most cited paper, or became better or more widely known after that date and hence received more citations to their latter work than their earlier work. The citation percentile of Camille Parmesan, who has the second highest cited paper ( Parmesan and Yohe, 2003 ) in the CC/GW/CE record, was lower after 2003, when they published their highest cited paper, than before 2003. Figure S-1 shows that their citation percentiles during 2009 and 2010 were zero, which were for five book chapters, and causes this difference between the citation percentile before and after publishing their highest cited paper in 2003. Excluding these book chapters from the beamplot analysis leads to the conclusion that the author's performance actually improved after 2003. In summary, it is commonly the case that highly cited papers, whether they be on CC/GW/CE or CL topics, typically boost an author's citation profile.

Figures  2 and ​ and3 3 present the word clouds generated for the keywords extracted from the top 100 most cited papers in each record. In contrast to the aforementioned analysis of the top 5 most cited papers in each record, which showed significant differences in the two records, the word clouds are qualitatively less precise. Table 2 also presents the top 10 words frequency for the top 100 cited papers in each record. It is understandable that research on CC/GW/CE will use many similar keywords to more general research on the Earth's climate, thus several terms are similarly enlarged on both clouds. For example, model, variability, temperature, precipitation and circulation are some of the main words on both clouds. In fact, the vast majority of words from Figure 2 also appear in Figure 3 , even if in a different size. Climate change and CO 2 are the two terms in Figure 2 that are particularly distinct from Figure 3 , which is expected given that these are key topics of CC/GW/CE research. Figure S-2 in the Supplementary Materials also shows the word dynamic of both records over time. Based on the results from this figure, “climate change” and “climate” terms had the highest increase over time in terms of occurrence in articles. The conclusion from word clouds is that they are visually interesting, but are not ideal tools to evaluate two unique but topically similar publication records. As aforementioned, the Data Analysis section presents more deeply analytical comparisons between the two records, from which clearer trends can be seen.

Figure 2

Word cloud of keywords from top 100 most cited papers on CC/GW/CE research.

Figure 3

Word cloud of keywords from top 100 most cited papers on CL research.

Table 2

Word frequency of top ten used words in Figures  2 and ​ and3 3 .

Figure S-3 in the Supplementary Materials shows the co-occurrence analysis of keywords using the bibliometrix package in Rstudio in order to find research focus ( Aria and Cuccurullo, 2017 ). Based on results from this figure, “climate change”, “climate”, and “variability” were the most frequent words among all keywords from 500 top most cited papers, which were similar to the key topics from the word clouds (Figures  2 and ​ and3 3 ).

4. Data analysis

This section is sub-divided into the four categories of data collection and analysis of the publication records: (i) year of publication; (ii) country (corresponding author's) of publication; (iii) source (i.e., journal) of publication; and (iv) organization (corresponding author's) of publication.

4.1. Year of publication

Figure 4 and Table S-5 in the Supplementary Materials present the data analysis for the year of publication, ranging from 1910 to 2020. The number of articles published per year in the two publication records (CC/GW/CE and CL) was compiled from WoS. For each year, a ratio of the number of articles in the CC/GW/CE record over the number of articles in the CL record was calculated. This ratio is plotted as a function of time in Figure 3 a. The purpose of this ratio is to help visualize when the scientific record became more enriched in CC/GW/CE versus general CL research; that is when the ratio surpasses a value of one. This occurred in 2010, and the ratio has since increased to 1.36 in 2019 and then to 1.45 in 2020 (a full-year record). Notably, before 1989, the ratio was consistently smaller than 0.1, meaning that CC/GW/CE research was scarce for much of the 20 th century. The exceptions in 1910, 1939 and 1941 are due to the very small number of CL publications on record for those decades. From 1989 onwards, the ratio increases nearly every year (in fact, it increases 28 out of 31 times, and every year since 1997).

Figure 4

Data for CC/GW/CE and CL records for year of publication: a) Publication ratio ((CC/GW/CE)/(CL)) as a function of time (years); b) Number of publications per year in the CC/GW/CE record versus those in the CL record (dashed line illustrates the 1:1 mark), which are labelled with the year of each ratio for the period 2006 to 2020 (over this recent period, the annual CL publications continuously increased).

The number of publications in both records rose by orders of magnitude over the last several decades, and Figure 4 b helps to visualize this climb. The CL record crossed 100 publications per year in 1975 versus 1990 for the CC/GW/CE record. The CL record crossed 1,000 publication per year also first, in 1991, followed by the CC/GW/CE record in 1996. Then both records breached 10,000 articles in a year in 2012. This coincides almost exactly with the 2010 threshold when the CC/GW/CE record overtook the CL in the number of publications per year. Points on Figure 4 b above the dashed line indicate the records from the last decade, while those below the dashed line correspond to the pre-2010 record.

Figure 5 breaks down the two data records for the number of articles per year ranging from 1910 to 2020 according to the databases that make up the Web of Science Core Collection. The purpose of this analysis is to visualize if any unusual or sudden changes in the underlying databases could contribute to the trends observed in the full data sets. This could include the effect of databases entering the coverage of the Core Collection in a particular year, or the databases changing their coverage at some point in time. Figure 5 shows that the two largest and oldest databases, namely SCI-EXPANDED and SSCI (with coverage commencing in 1900), have similar temporal trends, to each other and to the Core Collection, given that they make up the most substantial portion of the latter. The ESCI is a newer database (started in 2015), and the A&HCI is a database with a focus on research areas far from the theme of climate research, hence the smaller size of its records in this analysis; their data set trends also are also in overall agreement. Figure 5 is plotted on a log-scale to magnify trends of the smaller data sets, and variability in the two CPCI data sets is evident for both records. Likely this variability is at least partly related with variable number of conference proceedings being indexed by Web of Science each year, and underlying changes in the types of venues used for publication of peer-reviewed papers. Notwithstanding, the small numbers of these data sets (in the order of tens to hundreds of papers per year in the last decades) have insignificant impact on the trends of the much larger overall Core Collection data sets. Tables S-6 and S-7 in the Supplementary Materials show the number of articles in the CL and CC/GW/CE records per year for all databases.

Figure 5

Data for the number of articles per year for all databases in logarithmic scale: a) CC/GW/CE and b) CL.

4.2. Country/region of publication

Figure 6 , Figures S-4 and S-5 in the Supplementary Materials, and Table S-8 in the Supplementary Materials present the data analysis for the country (or region) of publication for the full records ranging from 1910 to 2020. The number of articles published per country/region in the two publication records (CC/GW/CE and CL), from 1910 to 2020, was compiled from WoS. For each country/region, a ratio of the number of articles in the CC/GW/CE record over the number of articles in the CL record was calculated. This ratio is plotted for each country/region in Figure S-4, ordered from largest to smallest ratio. Countries/regions with a ratio greater than one have been more engaged in CC/GW/CE research, while those with a ratio smaller than one have been more engaged in CL research. The number of countries/regions for which a ratio was calculated is 210. An additional 32 countries of regions did not have a ratio calculated, either due to no CC/GW/CE or CL articles on record (this occurs for small states such as Equatorial Guinea and Turks and Caicos). In addition, countries that no longer exist and became part of other countries were merged with their successor countries which include the Soviet Union with Russia; Western Germany with Germany; Serbia Montenegro with Serbia; Yugoslavia with Serbia; Czechoslovakia with the Czech Republic; and Swaziland with Eswatini. The number of studies in these countries before and after merging is shown in Table S-7 in the Supplementary Materials. Figure S-4 shows that slightly more than half of the countries/regions have a ratio greater than one, indicating that the climate challenge has become a dominant scientific topic in many parts of the world. It is notable that the majority of countries/regions with ratios greater than 2 are island states, such as Philippines (ratio = 2.21), Fiji (ratio = 2.92), Bahamas (ratio = 3.23), Palau (ratio = 6.25), Micronesia (ratio = 11), and Kiribati (ratio = 11). This highlights that small island states are at most risk of the catastrophic effects of climate change, particularly rising sea levels ( Vitousek et al., 2017 ; Horton et al., 2014 ; Nunn, 2009 ; King and Harrington, 2018 ; Widlansky et al., 2015 ).

Figure 6

Data for CC/GW/CE and CL records for country/region of publication: Number of publications per country/region in the CC/GW/CE record versus those in the CL record (dashed line illustrates the 1:1 mark), which are labeled with the names of outlier countries.

In contrast, countries and regions with a ratio lower than 0.50 tend to be those of lower gross domestic product, those in arid regions of the world, or those landlocked nations, such as Albania, Djibouti, Algeria and Turkmenistan. Other countries of interest to view ratios for are those with long publication history (USA (0.91), England (1.17), France (0.86), Germany (0.92)) and the emerging/fast growing economies (China (1.07), India (1.00), Brazil (0.76), South Africa (1.27)). The average ratio of these eight countries is very close to 1 (0.99), showing that such countries contribute with diverse research. On a case-by-case basis, it may be possible to claim which countries are more engaged in the climate challenge, but this has to also take into account the fact that a rich amount of older literature from some countries, when CL research was dominant, may be holding back their ratio, but that it does not mean that currently, these countries are just as engaged as others in CC/GW/CE research.

Figure 6 provides a different view of the country/region publication records. By plotting the number of CC/GW/CE publications for each country/region versus the number of CL publications in the same country/region, it is possible to see a focusing effect about the 1:1 dashed line. Countries that have published more, have more diverse body of literature and tend towards the 1:1 line (the USA is the highest point). Countries that have published less are more likely to be more engaged in recent research and thus have more CC/GW/CE articles than CL articles. Notable outliers with more than 10 CL publications (i.e., farthest from the 1:1 line and with a robust body of literature) are Fiji (with the ratio of 2.92) and Monaco (with the ratio of 4.82), both above the line.

4.2.1. Country collaboration

Figure S-6 shows the countries of collaboration of the first authors of the five most cited articles in the CC/GW/CE and CL records, based on the affiliations listed in these authors' articles. For the authors from the CC/GW/CE record, apart from the countries of affiliation of the authors (the USA, England and Austria), the most frequent countries of collaboration have been Germany, the USA, Australia, France and Spain. For the CL record, apart from the country of affiliation of the authors (all from the USA), the most frequent countries of collaboration have been England, Germany, Australia, Canada, China, and Japan. Notably, there is more variety in collaboration in the articles from the CL record. For example, Robert J. Hijmans has collaborated with Peru and the Philippines, which have serious problems with droughts and floods ( Elith et al., 2006 ; Fick and Hijmans, 2017 ). Perhaps unsurprisingly, these highly cited authors collaborate most with anglophone and European countries far more than with others. With climate changing affecting every country on Earth, and disproportionally threatening populations in smaller and less wealthy countries, it would be great to see in the near future deeper engagement of lead researchers directly with the scientific communities in those countries. Among the top 500 articles in the CC/GW/CE record some of these engagements are happing, as seen in Figure S-8 in the Supplementary Materials. Moreover, according to Figures S-5, S-7 and S-8 in the Supplementary Materials, the countries' scientific production and collaboration for the CC/GW/CE record are significantly more diverse than that of the CL record. As mentioned earlier, small island states are at most risk of the catastrophic effects of climate change, particularly rising sea levels ( Vitousek et al., 2017 ; Horton et al., 2014 ; Nunn, 2009 ; King and Harrington, 2018 ; Widlansky et al., 2015 ), which is reflected in the countries’ scientific production and collaboration maps for the CC/GW/CE record (Figures S-5 and S-8).

4.3. Source of publication

Table 3 , Figure 7 , present the data analysis for the source (i.e., journals indexed in WoS) of publication for a part of the records, ranging from 1910 to 2020. The sources analyzed are the top 20 venues of publications from each record in terms of the number of publications in each source. The top 20 were chosen to make the analysis manageable from a reporting and graphing perspective. The top 20 of the CC/GW/CE record represents 18.20% of all articles in this record, and the top 20 of the CL record represents a very similar 18.05% of that record. It is deemed that observations and trends made from the top 20 will be valid as a proxy for the trends of the full record.

Table 3

Top 20 sources of articles from the two records (CC/GW/CE and CL). The number of articles in each source, the percentage of the total number of articles in the full record, and the publication ratios ((CC/GW/CE)/(CL)). Bolded entries are the top 20 of each record, and bolded values reflect the entries that are top 20 on both records (i.e., “match”).

Figure 7

Publication ratio ((CC/GW/CE)/(CL)) for 27 journals, categorized as ‘match’ or ‘non-match’ based on appearance or not in both top 20 lists, ordered from highest to lowest ratio (one curve contains 13 entries and the other 14).

Table 3 presents the number of articles from each record that appear in these journals. A total of 27 journals appear in Table 3 , organized in alphabetic order since there is a partial overlap of the top 20 from each record; in fact, there are 13 journals that are common to both top 20's (these are referred to as ‘match’ journals), and 14 journals in each top 20 that is not in the other top 20 (these are referred to as ‘non-match’ journals). The top journal in the CC/GW/CE record is PLOS ONE, with 3,602 articles representing 1.468% of the full record. The top journal in the CL record is the Journal of Climate, with 5,279 articles representing 2.284% of the full record. Both of these journals are in both top 20 lists, with PLOS ONE having a stronger record of CC/GW/CE articles as given by a ratio (as previously calculated to compare records) of 2.20, while the Journal of Climate has a stronger record of general CL research, with a 0.42 ratio. The ‘match’ journal with the highest ratio (2.36) is Science of the Total Environment, while the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres has the lowest ratio of 0.34. The range of ratios is larger for ‘non-match’ journals. Here the highest ratio is 2.83 for the journal of Sustainability, and the smallest ratio is 0.31 for the journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. These ratios agree with the perception that can be taken about each of these journals. Journals like PLOS One, Science of the Total Environment and Global Change Biology appeal to more applied areas of research, including the applied sciences and engineering, and have wider aims and scopes, while journals such as the Journal of Climate, Journal of Geophysical Research Atmosphere and Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics appeal to more fundamental and specialized research.

Figure 7 helps to highlight the different scopes of the 27 journals listed in Table 3 . Here, the ratios for each journal are plotted and categorized according to ‘match’ or ‘non-match’ journals. The spider plot shows data arranged from largest to smallest ratio for each category (i.e., each line). Had there been no significant difference in the distribution of the articles across the various journals, both of these lines would be very close to the value of 1. It is clear that the ‘non-match’ line deviates the most from 1, with nearly every value much higher or much lower than 1. Even the ‘match’ line deviates significantly from 1. The ratio value closest to 1 from both categories is that of the journal Remote Sensing (0.94). This is not surprising as remote sensing is a climate monitoring technique that can be used both for general climate research as well as to track changes in the climate due to anthropogenic effects ( Kuenzer et al., 2011 , Levizzani and Cattani, 2019 ; Milesi and Churkina, 2020 ). What can be concluded from this analysis is that journals and authors are able to distinguish the research topics sufficiently to steer more CC/GW/CE research to certain journals and more general CL research to other journals. This helps to confirm that these two topics are distinct in practice.

4.4. Organization of publication

Table 4 , Figure 8 , present the data analysis for organization (i.e., universities, research institutes, and other research-intensive organizations, associated with the corresponding author's primary affiliation) of publication, for a part of the records, ranging from 1910 to 2020. As with sources, the organizations analyzed are the top 20 from each record, and an identical data analysis procedure was used here. The top 20 of the CC/GW/CE record represents 36.72% of all articles in this record, and the top 20 of the CL record represents a slightly higher 38.53% of that record. A total of 26 organizations appear in Table 4 , signifying that there are 14 common organizations within the top 20 (i.e., ‘match’ organizations), and 12 ‘non-match’ organizations. Here, the top three organizations are the same on both records, with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (China) being slightly more engaged in CC/GW/CE research than the the University of California System (USA) and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France); the ratios of these three organizations are very close to 1 (1.22, 1.05, and 1.02, respectively). In fact, the ratios of these organizations are much closer to 1, on average, than those of the journals. The highest ratio among the 26 organizations is 1.87 for the United States Forest Service, and the lowest ratio is 0.43 for the National Aeronautics Space Administration. This suggests that academic organizations may have more varied research, and hence ratios closer to 1, while governmental organizations may be more focused on a particular line of research, and thus rations more different than 1. Although such a conclusion would require analysis of a large set of organizations, and is complicated by some countries having organizations that have a dual academic and institutional role.

Table 4

Top 20 organizations of articles from the two records (CC/GW/CE and CL). The number of articles from each organization, the percentage of total number of articles in the full record, and the publication ratios ((CC/GW/CE)/(CL)). Bolded entries are the top 20 of each record, and bolded values reflect the entries that are top 20 on both records (i.e., “match”).

Figure 8

Publication ratio ((CC/GW/CE)/(CL)) for 26 organizations, categorized as ‘match’ or ‘non-match’ based on appearance or not in both top 20 lists, ordered from highest to lowest ratio (one curve contains 14 entries and the other 12).

Figure 8 , in contrast to Figure 7 , makes it clear that organizational information is not enough to place research as belonging to one record or another. Both the ‘match’ and ‘non-match’ lines deviated by small extents away from the ratio of 1 level, with the ‘non-match’ line deviating more, as would be expected. For comparison with the earlier case, one of the ratio values closest to 1 from both categories is that of the University of California System (1.05). Notable about this organization is that it consists of nine campuses offering comprehensive education, with varying levels of research excellence (e.g., excellent (Berkeley), very good (Davis), less highly ranked (Riverside), emerging (Merced) ( Gibson et al., 2014 ). This can explain the diversity of research output, covering both CC/GW/CE and CL topics. Of course, this diversity of topic is an average since 1900, and it is possible that in recent years the research in many organizations has shifted towards the climate challenge, as the year and country trends presented earlier suggest.

5. Discussion

Here, we can revisit the three hypotheses and reach conclusions about their claims. With regards to hypothesis 1, it was possible to distinguish the scientific literature linked to CC/GW/CE research from that pertaining to CL research using the two search strings tested. This was verified by reviewing the scope of a number of highly cited papers in both records and is further supported by the trends seen with regards to years of publication, country/region of publication, and source of publication. That is, in these three categories, the publication records showed significant numerical and graphical differences, and these could at times be explained rationally, with basis on data interpretation. Evidence was found that the two publication records contained some misinterpreted publications and outliers, but it is deemed that the consistency of trends observed signify that these issues are minor and acceptable given the simplicity of the publication record assemblage method. A third search string, related to the topic of greenhouse gases, was also tested, but its data did not become part of this study's analysis. The reason for this is that such search string finds many articles that discuss the emissions of greenhouse gases (e.g., from flue gas stacks ( Su et al., 2009 ) or from livestock farming ( Herrero et al., 2013 )) and technologies to control or mitigate these emissions (e.g., via carbon sequestration ( Santos et al., 2013 ) or green energy ( Panepinto et al., 2013 )). As such, these articles fall outside the scope of the two topical records of interest here. This is further evidence that the two search strings used are effective in reaching their intended goal.

With hypothesis 1 confirmed, it is also possible to confirm hypothesis 2. The publication year data clearly shows that the scientific literature has become enriched in CC/GW/CE works in relation to CL works. This is despite both of these records experiencing massive growth over the decades (from under 100 articles per year in the first half of the 20 th century to over 10,000 articles per year in recent years). It is clear that the more pressing the climate challenge becomes, and its effects actually witnessed ( Mahé et al., 2013 ), the more research is being undertaken to forecast the avoidable or unavoidable impacts ( Ito et al., 2020 ; Döll et al., 2020 ). It is difficult to foresee for how much longer the publication ratio devised in this study will continue to rise, globally or country-by-country, as climate research will become increasingly important in the framework of a sustainable society, so it will be worth revisiting this in a decade or more. Perhaps by then another keyword could be added to complement CC/GW/CE. As of August 7 th 2021, 85.82% of this record is retrieved using only CC and excluding (via the NOT operator) the other two search terms (("climat∗ chang∗" NOT ("global warming∗" OR "climat∗ emergenc∗"))); this compares to only 8.32% of the record that only contains GW (("global warming∗" NOT ("climat∗ chang∗" OR "climat∗ emergenc∗"))), and a mere 0.0248% of the record that only contains CE (("climat∗ emergenc∗" NOT ("global warming∗" OR "climat∗ chang∗"))). A simple search for CE yields 61 articles, 53 of which published since 2019, and the oldest from 2011 ( McMichael, 2011 ) being the most cited to date. This shows that this popular term (in the greater public sphere) is not yet commonly used scientifically; will it eventually be?

Hypothesis 3 was partly confirmed. The data and its interpretation show that the two publications records have distinct differences in terms of size (i.e., the number of publications) when it comes to the originating country/region and venue (journal) of publication. Yet, the two records are nearly indistinguishable when the criteria used are the organizations responsible for producing the work. As was explained, research organizations have broad research interests, and it is understandable that the same departments and research groups that perform CC/GW/CE research also tend to perform CL research. Of course, this would not be the case at the researcher level since expertise for these two topics of research is sufficiently different. WoS allows data analysis at the researcher (i.e., corresponding author level). However, in addition to the number of entries being very large (there are over 100,000 corresponding authors listed in the most recent CC/GW/CE and CL records), there is ambiguity with common author names (i.e., same last name and the same first letter of the first name), making any possible analysis less accurate. Such analysis would thus require close scrutiny at the article level.

6. Conclusions

This article presented and discussed the scientific publication record from 1910 to 2020 on two topics: "climate" and "climate change/global warming/climate emergency". The goal is to comparatively visualize how these two distinct publication records have evolved over time, from different classification perspectives, using publication ratios as the key indicator, which were presented as three hypotheses. To test our hypotheses, we defined publication ratios as the number of publications in a category in one record over that in another record, which allowed us to distinguish and contrast CC/GW/CE versus general CL research. The hypotheses can also be expressed as the following questions: (i) what are the dynamics of the conceptual structure of CC/GW/CE versus general CL research; (ii) when has the scientific record in CC/GW/CE versus general climate (CL) research become more enriched; (iii) which countries have made the climate challenge the dominant topic, and are there any links between countries and the dominant scientific topic? The following are the answers to these questions, which present the study's conclusions:

  • - The journal name and scope had a direct relationship with the number and ratio of publications in these two records; for example, journals like PLOS One, Science of the Total Environment, and Global Change Biology appealed to more applied areas of research, including the applied sciences and engineering, and have wider aims and scopes, while journals such as the Journal of Climate, Journal of Geophysical Research Atmosphere, and Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences appealed to more fundamental and specialized research.
  • - Governmental organizations focused more on a specific line of research (publication ratios farther from a value of 1), whereas academic organizations' research areas were broader and covered a wide range of topics (publication ratios closer to 1).
  • - It was discovered that research output related to the Earth's current changing climate surpassed that of general climate research in 2010, and the publication ratio (CC/GW/CE)/(CL) has been increasing over the last decade.
  • - Among other countries, island states such as the Philippines, Fiji, Bahamas, Palau, Micronesia, and Kiribati had the highest ratios, highlighting the fact that small island states are most vulnerable to the catastrophic effects of climate change, particularly rising sea levels.
  • - Ideas for future bibliometric studies that employ our hypothesis-driven approach and the use of publication ratios as the key trends indicator include: (i) inspecting more closely how non-scientific publications, such as those indexed by databases such as SSCI and A&HCI, have been evolving in covering the topics of climate change, global warming and the climate emergency; (ii) comparing the scientific literature that studies the causes and effects of climate change to the scientific literature that develops ways of mitigating or adapting to climate change or being resilient to it; (iii) identifying important topical gaps in the literature review record (e.g., well-cited articles or articles published in high impact journals that have not been covered in literature reviews); among other possibilities.


Author contribution statement.

Rafael M. Santos: Conceived and designed the experiments; Analyzed and interpreted the data; Wrote the paper.

Reza Bakhshoodeh: Performed the experiments; Analyzed and interpreted the data; Contributed reagents, materials, analysis tools or data; Wrote the paper.

Funding statement

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability statement

Declaration of interests statement.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Additional information

No additional information is available for this paper.


The authors acknowledge the University of Guelph Library and the University of Western Australia Library for the Web of Science access provided, which made this study possible.

Appendix A. Supplementary data

The following is the supplementary data related to this article:

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News | January 13, 2022

2021 tied for 6th warmest year in continued trend, nasa analysis shows.

The image shows global surface temperature anomalies for 2021. Higher than normal temperatures, shown in red, can be seen in regions such as the Arctic. Lower than normal temperatures are shown in blue.

The image shows global surface temperature anomalies for 2021. Higher than normal temperatures, shown in red, can be seen in regions such as the Arctic. Lower than normal temperatures are shown in blue. Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Kathryn Mersmann

Lee esta nota de prensa en español aquí .

Earth’s global average surface temperature in 2021 tied with 2018 as the sixth warmest on record, according to independent analyses done by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Continuing the planet’s long-term warming trend, global temperatures in 2021 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.85 degrees Celsius) above the average for NASA’s baseline period, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. NASA uses the period from 1951-1980 as a baseline to see how global temperature changes over time.

Collectively, the past eight years are the warmest years since modern recordkeeping began in 1880. This annual temperature data makes up the global temperature record – which tells scientists the planet is warming.

According to NASA’s temperature record, Earth in 2021 was about 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 1.1 degrees Celsius) warmer than the late 19th century average, the start of the industrial revolution.

“Science leaves no room for doubt: Climate change is the existential threat of our time,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Eight of the top 10 warmest years on our planet occurred in the last decade, an indisputable fact that underscores the need for bold action to safeguard the future of our country – and all of humanity. NASA’s scientific research about how Earth is changing and getting warmer will guide communities throughout the world, helping humanity confront climate and mitigate its devastating effects.”

This warming trend around the globe is due to human activities that have increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The planet is already seeing the effects of global warming: Arctic sea ice is declining , sea levels are rising , wildfires are becoming more severe and animal migration patterns are shifting . Understanding how the planet is changing – and how rapidly that change occurs – is crucial for humanity to prepare for and adapt to a warmer world.

Weather stations, ships, and ocean buoys around the globe record the temperature at Earth’s surface throughout the year. These ground-based measurements of surface temperature are validated with satellite data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Scientists analyze these measurements using computer algorithms to deal with uncertainties in the data and quality control to calculate the global average surface temperature difference for every year. NASA compares that global mean temperature to its baseline period of 1951-1980. That baseline includes climate patterns and unusually hot or cold years due to other factors, ensuring that it encompasses natural variations in Earth’s temperature.

Many factors affect the average temperature any given year, such as La Nina and El Nino climate patterns in the tropical Pacific. For example, 2021 was a La Nina year and NASA scientists estimate that it may have cooled global temperatures by about 0.06 degrees Fahrenheit (0.03 degrees Celsius) from what the average would have been.

A separate, independent analysis by NOAA also concluded that the global surface temperature for 2021 was the sixth highest since record keeping began in 1880. NOAA scientists use much of the same raw temperature data in their analysis and have a different baseline period (1901-2000) and methodology.

“The complexity of the various analyses doesn’t matter because the signals are so strong,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of GISS, NASA’s leading center for climate modeling and climate change research. “The trends are all the same because the trends are so large.”

NASA’s full dataset of global surface temperatures for 2021, as well as details of how NASA scientists conducted the analysis, are publicly available from GISS.

GISS is a NASA laboratory managed by the Earth Sciences Division of the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science missions, visit:


News Media Contacts

Tylar Greene Headquarters, Washington 202-358-0030 [email protected]

Peter Jacobs Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. 301-286-0535 [email protected]

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Global Warming 101

Everything you wanted to know about our changing climate but were too afraid to ask.

Pedestrians use umbrellas and protective clothing for shade in Beijing, China

Temperatures in Beijing rose above 104 degrees Fahrenheit on July 6, 2023.

Jia Tianyong/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

essay on global warming 2021

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What is global warming?

What causes global warming, how is global warming linked to extreme weather, what are the other effects of global warming, where does the united states stand in terms of global-warming contributors, is the united states doing anything to prevent global warming, is global warming too big a problem for me to help tackle.

A: Since the Industrial Revolution, the global annual temperature has increased in total by a little more than 1 degree Celsius, or about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Between 1880—the year that accurate recordkeeping began—and 1980, it rose on average by 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.13 degrees Fahrenheit) every 10 years. Since 1981, however, the rate of increase has more than doubled: For the last 40 years, we’ve seen the global annual temperature rise by 0.18 degrees Celsius, or 0.32 degrees Fahrenheit, per decade.

The result? A planet that has never been hotter . Nine of the 10 warmest years since 1880 have occurred since 2005—and the 5 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2015. Climate change deniers have argued that there has been a “pause” or a “slowdown” in rising global temperatures, but numerous studies, including a 2018 paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters , have disproved this claim. The impacts of global warming are already harming people around the world.

Now climate scientists have concluded that we must limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040 if we are to avoid a future in which everyday life around the world is marked by its worst, most devastating effects: the extreme droughts, wildfires, floods, tropical storms, and other disasters that we refer to collectively as climate change . These effects are felt by all people in one way or another but are experienced most acutely by the underprivileged, the economically marginalized, and people of color, for whom climate change is often a key driver of poverty, displacement, hunger, and social unrest.

A: Global warming occurs when carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) and other air pollutants collect in the atmosphere and absorb sunlight and solar radiation that have bounced off the earth’s surface. Normally this radiation would escape into space, but these pollutants, which can last for years to centuries in the atmosphere, trap the heat and cause the planet to get hotter. These heat-trapping pollutants—specifically carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and synthetic fluorinated gases—are known as greenhouse gases, and their impact is called the greenhouse effect .

Though natural cycles and fluctuations have caused the earth’s climate to change several times over the last 800,000 years, our current era of global warming is directly attributable to human activity—specifically to our burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, gasoline, and natural gas, which results in the greenhouse effect. In the United States, the largest source of greenhouse gases is transportation (29 percent), followed closely by electricity production (28 percent) and industrial activity (22 percent). Learn about the natural and human causes of climate change .

Curbing dangerous climate change requires very deep cuts in emissions, as well as the use of alternatives to fossil fuels worldwide. The good news is that countries around the globe have formally committed—as part of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement —to lower their emissions by setting new standards and crafting new policies to meet or even exceed those standards. The not-so-good news is that we’re not working fast enough. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, scientists tell us that we need to reduce global carbon emissions by as much as 40 percent by 2030. For that to happen, the global community must take immediate, concrete steps: to decarbonize electricity generation by equitably transitioning from fossil fuel–based production to renewable energy sources like wind and solar; to electrify our cars and trucks; and to maximize energy efficiency in our buildings, appliances, and industries.

A: Scientists agree that the earth’s rising temperatures are fueling longer and hotter heat waves, more frequent droughts, heavier rainfall, and more powerful hurricanes .

In 2015, for example, scientists concluded that a lengthy drought in California—the state’s worst water shortage in 1,200 years —had been intensified by 15 to 20 percent by global warming. They also said the odds of similar droughts happening in the future had roughly doubled over the past century. And in 2016, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine announced that we can now confidently attribute some extreme weather events, like heat waves, droughts, and heavy precipitation, directly to climate change.

The earth’s ocean temperatures are getting warmer, too—which means that tropical storms can pick up more energy. In other words, global warming has the ability to turn a category 3 storm into a more dangerous category 4 storm. In fact, scientists have found that the frequency of North Atlantic hurricanes has increased since the early 1980s, as has the number of storms that reach categories 4 and 5. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season included a record-breaking 30 tropical storms, 6 major hurricanes, and 13 hurricanes altogether. With increased intensity come increased damage and death. The United States saw an unprecedented 22 weather and climate disasters that caused at least a billion dollars’ worth of damage in 2020, but 2017 was the costliest on record and among the deadliest as well: Taken together, that year's tropical storms (including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria) caused nearly $300 billion in damage and led to more than 3,300 fatalities.

The impacts of global warming are being felt everywhere. Extreme heat waves have caused tens of thousands of deaths around the world in recent years. And in an alarming sign of events to come, Antarctica has lost nearly four trillion metric tons of ice since the 1990s. The rate of loss could speed up if we keep burning fossil fuels at our current pace, some experts say, causing sea levels to rise several meters in the next 50 to 150 years and wreaking havoc on coastal communities worldwide.

A: Each year scientists learn more about the consequences of global warming , and each year we also gain new evidence of its devastating impact on people and the planet. As the heat waves, droughts, and floods associated with climate change become more frequent and more intense, communities suffer and death tolls rise. If we’re unable to reduce our emissions, scientists believe that climate change could lead to the deaths of more than 250,000 people around the globe every year and force 100 million people into poverty by 2030.

Global warming is already taking a toll on the United States. And if we aren’t able to get a handle on our emissions, here’s just a smattering of what we can look forward to:

  • Disappearing glaciers , early snowmelt, and severe droughts will cause more dramatic water shortages and continue to increase the risk of wildfires in the American West.
  • Rising sea levels will lead to even more coastal flooding on the Eastern Seaboard, especially in Florida, and in other areas such as the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Forests, farms, and cities will face troublesome new pests , heat waves, heavy downpours, and increased flooding . All of these can damage or destroy agriculture and fisheries.
  • Disruption of habitats such as coral reefs and alpine meadows could drive many plant and animal species to extinction.
  • Allergies, asthma, and infectious disease outbreaks will become more common due to increased growth of pollen-producing ragweed , higher levels of air pollution , and the spread of conditions favorable to pathogens and mosquitoes.

Though everyone is affected by climate change, not everyone is affected equally. Indigenous people, people of color, and the economically marginalized are typically hit the hardest . Inequities built into our housing , health care , and labor systems make these communities more vulnerable to the worst impacts of climate change—even though these same communities have done the least to contribute to it.

A: In recent years, China has taken the lead in global-warming pollution , producing about 26 percent of all CO2 emissions. The United States comes in second. Despite making up just 4 percent of the world’s population, our nation produces a sobering 13 percent of all global CO2 emissions—nearly as much as the European Union and India (third and fourth place) combined. And America is still number one, by far, in cumulative emissions over the past 150 years. As a top contributor to global warming, the United States has an obligation to help propel the world to a cleaner, safer, and more equitable future. Our responsibility matters to other countries, and it should matter to us, too.

A: We’ve started. But in order to avoid the worsening effects of climate change, we need to do a lot more—together with other countries—to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and transition to clean energy sources.

Under the administration of President Donald Trump (a man who falsely referred to global warming as a “hoax”), the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, rolled back or eliminated dozens of clean-air protections, and opened up federally managed lands, including culturally sacred national monuments , to fossil fuel development. Although President Biden has pledged to get the country back on track, years of inaction during and before the Trump administration—and our increased understanding of global warming’s serious impacts—mean we must accelerate our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite the lack of cooperation from the Trump administration, local and state governments made great strides during this period through efforts like the American Cities Climate Challenge and ongoing collaborations like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative . Meanwhile, industry and business leaders have been working with the public sector, creating and adopting new clean-energy technologies and increasing energy efficiency in buildings, appliances, and industrial processes. Today the American automotive industry is finding new ways to produce cars and trucks that are more fuel efficient and is committing itself to putting more and more zero-emission electric vehicles on the road. Developers, cities, and community advocates are coming together to make sure that new affordable housing is built with efficiency in mind , reducing energy consumption and lowering electric and heating bills for residents. And renewable energy continues to surge as the costs associated with its production and distribution keep falling. In 2020 renewable energy sources such as wind and solar provided more electricity than coal for the very first time in U.S. history.

President Biden has made action on global warming a high priority. On his first day in office, he recommitted the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement, sending the world community a strong signal that we were determined to join other nations in cutting our carbon pollution to support the shared goal of preventing the average global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. (Scientists say we must stay below a 2-degree increase to avoid catastrophic climate impacts.) And significantly, the president has assembled a climate team of experts and advocates who have been tasked with pursuing action both abroad and at home while furthering the cause of environmental justice and investing in nature-based solutions.

A: No! While we can’t win the fight without large-scale government action at the national level , we also can’t do it without the help of individuals who are willing to use their voices, hold government and industry leaders to account, and make changes in their daily habits.

Wondering how you can be a part of the fight against global warming? Reduce your own carbon footprint by taking a few easy steps: Make conserving energy a part of your daily routine and your decisions as a consumer. When you shop for new appliances like refrigerators, washers, and dryers, look for products with the government’s ENERGY STAR ® label; they meet a higher standard for energy efficiency than the minimum federal requirements. When you buy a car, look for one with the highest gas mileage and lowest emissions. You can also reduce your emissions by taking public transportation or carpooling when possible.

And while new federal and state standards are a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done. Voice your support of climate-friendly and climate change preparedness policies, and tell your representatives that equitably transitioning from dirty fossil fuels to clean power should be a top priority—because it’s vital to building healthy, more secure communities.

You don’t have to go it alone, either. Movements across the country are showing how climate action can build community , be led by those on the front lines of its impacts, and create a future that’s equitable and just for all .

This story was originally published on March 11, 2016 and has been updated with new information and links.

This NRDC.org story is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the story was originally published by NRDC.org and link to the original; the story cannot be edited (beyond simple things such as grammar); you can’t resell the story in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select stories individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our stories.

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  • Biology Article
  • Essay on Global Warming

Essay On Global Warming

Essay on global warming is an important topic for students to understand. The essay brings to light the plight of the environment and the repercussion of anthropogenic activities. Continue reading to discover tips and tricks for writing an engaging and interesting essay on global warming.

Essay On Global Warming in 300 Words

Global warming is a phenomenon where the earth’s average temperature rises due to increased amounts of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and ozone trap the incoming radiation from the sun. This effect creates a natural “blanket”, which prevents the heat from escaping back into the atmosphere. This effect is called the greenhouse effect.

Contrary to popular belief, greenhouse gases are not inherently bad. In fact, the greenhouse effect is quite important for life on earth. Without this effect, the sun’s radiation would be reflected back into the atmosphere, freezing the surface and making life impossible. However, when greenhouse gases in excess amounts get trapped, serious repercussions begin to appear. The polar ice caps begin to melt, leading to a rise in sea levels. Furthermore, the greenhouse effect is accelerated when polar ice caps and sea ice melts. This is due to the fact the ice reflects 50% to 70% of the sun’s rays back into space, but without ice, the solar radiation gets absorbed. Seawater reflects only 6% of the sun’s radiation back into space. What’s more frightening is the fact that the poles contain large amounts of carbon dioxide trapped within the ice. If this ice melts, it will significantly contribute to global warming. 

A related scenario when this phenomenon goes out of control is the runaway-greenhouse effect. This scenario is essentially similar to an apocalypse, but it is all too real. Though this has never happened in the earth’s entire history, it is speculated to have occurred on Venus. Millions of years ago, Venus was thought to have an atmosphere similar to that of the earth. But due to the runaway greenhouse effect, surface temperatures around the planet began rising. 

If this occurs on the earth, the runaway greenhouse effect will lead to many unpleasant scenarios – temperatures will rise hot enough for oceans to evaporate. Once the oceans evaporate, the rocks will start to sublimate under heat. In order to prevent such a scenario, proper measures have to be taken to stop climate change.

More to Read: Learn How Greenhouse Effect works

Tips To Writing the Perfect Essay

Consider adopting the following strategies when writing an essay. These are proven methods of securing more marks in an exam or assignment.

  • Begin the essay with an introductory paragraph detailing the history or origin of the given topic.
  • Try to reduce the use of jargons. Use sparingly if the topic requires it.
  • Ensure that the content is presented in bulleted points wherever appropriate.
  • Insert and highlight factual data, such as dates, names and places.
  • Remember to break up the content into smaller paragraphs. 100-120 words per paragraph should suffice.
  • Always conclude the essay with a closing paragraph.

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Essay on Global Warming

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  • Nov 23, 2023

essay on global warming

Being able to write an essay is an integral part of mastering any language. Essays form an integral part of many academic and scholastic exams like the SAT , and UPSC amongst many others. It is a crucial evaluative part of English proficiency tests as well like IELTS , TOEFL , etc. Major essays are meant to emphasize public issues of concern that can have significant consequences on the world. To understand the concept of Global Warming and its causes and effects, we must first examine the many factors that influence the planet’s temperature and what this implies for the world’s future. Here’s an unbiased look at the essay on Global Warming and other essential related topics.

essay on global warming 2021

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Since the industrial and scientific revolutions, Earth’s resources have been gradually depleted. Furthermore, the start of the world’s population’s exponential expansion is particularly hard on the environment. Simply put, as the population’s need for consumption grows, so does the use of natural resources , as well as the waste generated by that consumption.

Climate change has been one of the most significant long-term consequences of this. Climate change is more than just the rise or fall of global temperatures; it also affects rain cycles, wind patterns, cyclone frequencies, sea levels, and other factors. It has an impact on all major life groupings on the planet.

Also Read: World Population Day

What is Global Warming?

Global warming is the unusually rapid increase in Earth’s average surface temperature over the past century, primarily due to the greenhouse gases released by people burning fossil fuels . The greenhouse gases consist of methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, carbon dioxide, water vapour, and chlorofluorocarbons. The weather prediction has been becoming more complex with every passing year, with seasons more indistinguishable, and the general temperatures hotter. The number of hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, floods, etc., has risen steadily since the onset of the 21st century. The supervillain behind all these changes is Global Warming. The name is quite self-explanatory; it means the rise in the temperature of the Earth.

Also Read: What is a Natural Disaster?

According to recent studies, many scientists believe the following are the primary four causes of global warming:

  • Deforestation 
  • Greenhouse emissions
  • Carbon emissions per capita

Extreme global warming is causing natural disasters , which can be seen all around us. One of the causes of global warming is the extreme release of greenhouse gases that become trapped on the earth’s surface, causing the temperature to rise. Similarly, volcanoes contribute to global warming by spewing excessive CO2 into the atmosphere.

The increase in population is one of the major causes of Global Warming. This increase in population also leads to increased air pollution . Automobiles emit a lot of CO2, which remains in the atmosphere. This increase in population is also causing deforestation, which contributes to global warming.

The earth’s surface emits energy into the atmosphere in the form of heat, keeping the balance with the incoming energy. Global warming depletes the ozone layer, bringing about the end of the world. There is a clear indication that increased global warming will result in the extinction of all life on Earth’s surface.

Also Read: Land, Soil, Water, Natural Vegetation, and Wildlife Resources

Of course, industries and multinational conglomerates emit more carbon than the average citizen. Nonetheless, activism and community effort are the only viable ways to slow the worsening effects of global warming. Furthermore, at the state or government level, world leaders must develop concrete plans and step-by-step programmes to ensure that no further harm is done to the environment in general.

Although we are almost too late to slow the rate of global warming, finding the right solution is critical. Everyone, from individuals to governments, must work together to find a solution to Global Warming. Some of the factors to consider are pollution control, population growth, and the use of natural resources.

One very important contribution you can make is to reduce your use of plastic. Plastic is the primary cause of global warming, and recycling it takes years. Another factor to consider is deforestation, which will aid in the control of global warming. More tree planting should be encouraged to green the environment. Certain rules should also govern industrialization. Building industries in green zones that affect plants and species should be prohibited.

Also Read: Essay on Pollution

Global warming is a real problem that many people want to disprove to gain political advantage. However, as global citizens, we must ensure that only the truth is presented in the media.

This decade has seen a significant impact from global warming. The two most common phenomena observed are glacier retreat and arctic shrinkage. Glaciers are rapidly melting. These are clear manifestations of climate change.

Another significant effect of global warming is the rise in sea level. Flooding is occurring in low-lying areas as a result of sea-level rise. Many countries have experienced extreme weather conditions. Every year, we have unusually heavy rain, extreme heat and cold, wildfires, and other natural disasters.

Similarly, as global warming continues, marine life is being severely impacted. This is causing the extinction of marine species as well as other problems. Furthermore, changes are expected in coral reefs, which will face extinction in the coming years. These effects will intensify in the coming years, effectively halting species expansion. Furthermore, humans will eventually feel the negative effects of Global Warming.

Also Read: Concept of Sustainable Development

Sample Essays on Global Warming

Here are some sample essays on Global Warming:

Global Warming is caused by the increase of carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere and is a result of human activities that have been causing harm to our environment for the past few centuries now. Global Warming is something that can’t be ignored and steps have to be taken to tackle the situation globally. The average temperature is constantly rising by 1.5 degrees Celsius over the last few years. The best method to prevent future damage to the earth, cutting down more forests should be banned and Afforestation should be encouraged. Start by planting trees near your homes and offices, participate in events, and teach the importance of planting trees. It is impossible to undo the damage but it is possible to stop further harm.

Also Read: Social Forestry

Over a long period, it is observed that the temperature of the earth is increasing. This affected wildlife , animals, humans, and every living organism on earth. Glaciers have been melting, and many countries have started water shortages, flooding, and erosion and all this is because of global warming. No one can be blamed for global warming except for humans. Human activities such as gases released from power plants, transportation, and deforestation have increased gases such as carbon dioxide, CFCs, and other pollutants in the earth’s atmosphere. The main question is how can we control the current situation and build a better world for future generations. It starts with little steps by every individual. Start using cloth bags made from sustainable materials for all shopping purposes, instead of using high-watt lights use energy-efficient bulbs, switch off the electricity, don’t waste water, abolish deforestation and encourage planting more trees. Shift the use of energy from petroleum or other fossil fuels to wind and solar energy. Instead of throwing out the old clothes donate them to someone so that it is recycled. Donate old books, don’t waste paper.  Above all, spread awareness about global warming. Every little thing a person does towards saving the earth will contribute in big or small amounts. We must learn that 1% effort is better than no effort. Pledge to take care of Mother Nature and speak up about global warming.

Also Read: Types of Water Pollution

Global warming isn’t a prediction, it is happening! A person denying it or unaware of it is in the most simple terms complicit. Do we have another planet to live on? Unfortunately, we have been bestowed with this one planet only that can sustain life yet over the years we have turned a blind eye to the plight it is in. Global warming is not an abstract concept but a global phenomenon occurring ever so slowly even at this moment.

Global Warming is a phenomenon that is occurring every minute resulting in a gradual increase in the Earth’s overall climate. Brought about by greenhouse gases that trap the solar radiation in the atmosphere, global warming can change the entire map of the earth, displacing areas, flooding many countries, and destroying multiple lifeforms. Extreme weather is a direct consequence of global warming but it is not an exhaustive consequence. There are virtually limitless effects of global warming which are all harmful to life on earth.

The sea level is increasing by 0.12 inches per year worldwide. This is happening because of the melting of polar ice caps because of global warming. This has increased the frequency of floods in many lowland areas and has caused damage to coral reefs. The Arctic is one of the worst-hit areas affected by global warming. Air quality has been adversely affected and the acidity of the seawater has also increased causing severe damage to marine life forms. Severe natural disasters are brought about by global warming which has had dire effects on life and property.

As long as mankind produces greenhouse gases, global warming will continue to accelerate. The consequences are felt at a much smaller scale which will increase to become drastic shortly. The power to save the day lies in the hands of humans, the need is to seize the day. Energy consumption should be reduced on an individual basis. Fuel-efficient cars and other electronics should be encouraged to reduce the wastage of energy sources. This will also improve air quality and reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Global warming is an evil that can only be defeated when fought together.

It is better late than never. If we all take steps today, we will have a much brighter future tomorrow. Global warming is the bane of our existence and various policies have come up worldwide to fight it but that is not enough. The actual difference is made when we work at an individual level to fight it. Understanding its import now is crucial before it becomes an irrevocable mistake. Exterminating global warming is of utmost importance and each one of us is as responsible for it as the next.  

Always hear about global warming everywhere, but do we know what it is? The evil of the worst form, global warming is a phenomenon that can affect life more fatally. Global warming refers to the increase in the earth’s temperature as a result of various human activities. The planet is gradually getting hotter and threatening the existence of lifeforms on it. Despite being relentlessly studied and researched, global warming for the majority of the population remains an abstract concept of science. It is this concept that over the years has culminated in making global warming a stark reality and not a concept covered in books.

Global warming is not caused by one sole reason that can be curbed. There are multifarious factors that cause global warming most of which are a part of an individual’s daily existence. Burning of fuels for cooking, in vehicles, and for other conventional uses, a large amount of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, and methane amongst many others is produced which accelerates global warming. Rampant deforestation also results in global warming as lesser green cover results in an increased presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is a greenhouse gas. 

Finding a solution to global warming is of immediate importance. Global warming is a phenomenon that has to be fought unitedly. Planting more trees can be the first step that can be taken toward warding off the severe consequences of global warming. Increasing the green cover will result in regulating the carbon cycle. There should be a shift from using nonrenewable energy to renewable energy such as wind or solar energy which causes less pollution and thereby hinder the acceleration of global warming. Reducing energy needs at an individual level and not wasting energy in any form is the most important step to be taken against global warming.

The warning bells are tolling to awaken us from the deep slumber of complacency we have slipped into. Humans can fight against nature and it is high time we acknowledged that. With all our scientific progress and technological inventions, fighting off the negative effects of global warming is implausible. We have to remember that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors but borrow it from our future generations and the responsibility lies on our shoulders to bequeath them a healthy planet for life to exist. 

Also Read: Essay on Disaster Management

One good action in a day is to combat the heat.

Global Warming and Climate Change are two sides of the same coin. Both are interrelated with each other and are two issues of major concern worldwide. Greenhouse gases released such as carbon dioxide, CFCs, and other pollutants in the earth’s atmosphere cause Global Warming which leads to climate change. Black holes have started to form in the ozone layer that protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet rays. Human activities have created climate change and global warming. Industrial waste and fumes are the major contributors to global warming. Another factor affecting is the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and also one of the reasons for climate change.  Global warming has resulted in shrinking mountain glaciers in Antarctica, Greenland, and the Arctic and causing climate change. Switching from the use of fossil fuels to energy sources like wind and solar. When buying any electronic appliance buy the best quality with energy savings stars. Don’t waste water and encourage rainwater harvesting in your community. 

Also Read: Essay on Air Pollution

Writing an effective essay needs skills that few people possess and even fewer know how to implement. While writing an essay can be an assiduous task that can be unnerving at times, some key pointers can be inculcated to draft a successful essay. These involve focusing on the structure of the essay, planning it out well, and emphasizing crucial details. Mentioned below are some pointers that can help you write better structure and more thoughtful essays that will get across to your readers:

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Ans. Both natural and man-made factors contribute to global warming. The natural one also contains methane gas, volcanic eruptions, and greenhouse gases. Deforestation , mining , livestock raising, burning fossil fuels, and other man-made causes are next.

Ans. The government and the general public can work together to stop global warming. Trees must be planted more often, and deforestation must be prohibited. Auto usage needs to be curbed, and recycling needs to be promoted.

Ans. Switching to renewable energy sources , adopting sustainable farming, transportation, and energy methods, and conserving water and other natural resources.

We hope this blog gave you an idea about how to write and present an essay on global warming that puts forth your opinions. The skill of writing an essay comes in handy when appearing for standardized language tests . Thinking of taking one soon? Leverage Edu provides the best online test prep for the same via Leverage Live . Register today to know more!

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This was really a good essay on global warming… There has been used many unic words..and I really liked it!!!Seriously I had been looking for a essay about Global warming just like this…

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I want to learn how to write essay writing so I joined this page.This page is very useful for everyone.

Hi, we are glad that we could help you to write essays. We have a beginner’s guide to write essays ( https://leverageedu.com/blog/essay-writing/ ) and we think this might help you.

It is not good , to have global warming in our earth .So we all have to afforestation program on all the world.

thank you so much

Very educative , helpful and it is really going to strength my English knowledge to structure my essay in future

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Global warming is the increase in 𝓽𝓱𝓮 ᴀᴠᴇʀᴀɢᴇ ᴛᴇᴍᴘᴇʀᴀᴛᴜʀᴇs ᴏғ ᴇᴀʀᴛʜ🌎 ᴀᴛᴍᴏsᴘʜᴇʀᴇ

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Guest Essay

Let’s Build a Climate Wall of Shame

An illustration of a memorial inscription with the words “They Blew It.”

By Nate Loewentheil

Mr. Loewentheil is the founder and managing partner of Commonweal Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in clean energy, health and financial technologies.

Here is a proposal for the environmental movement: Pool philanthropic funds for a day, buy a small plot of land in Washington, D.C., and put up a tall marble wall to serve as a climate memorial. Carve on this memorial the names of public figures actively denying the existence of climate change. Carve the names so deep and large, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren need not search the archives.

This is not a metaphor. The problem with climate change is the disconnect between action and impact. If politicians vote against construction standards and a school collapses, the next election will be their last. But with climate change, cause and effect are at a vast distance.

We are already seeing the consequences of our past and present greenhouse gas emissions. In coming decades, those emissions will wreak their full havoc on the climate, and it will take hundreds, possibly thousands, of years for those pollutants to fully dissipate. But in the short term, the most immediate burdens are borne mostly by the poor in America and distant people in distant lands. Misaligned incentives are at the heart of why some political and business leaders deny and delay.

For them, there can be immediate political and economic benefits to avowed ignorance, and by the time the waters rise, their deeds and words will be forgotten. A memorial would help adjust for this temporal gap. It would serve as a permanent testament of climate deniers whose actions might otherwise be lost to history and a reminder to those weighing their words today of what the future may bring.

The climate memorial would need to be in a highly visible place. Perhaps a commission could be established to select one climate antihero from academia or politics or business to be added to the memorial each quarter. Better yet, the names could be crowdsourced.

I would first nominate those who have sown confusion over climate science, like Myron Ebell, who recently retired as director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment, where he sought to block climate change efforts in Congress, and served as the head of Donald Trump’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Ebell has argued that the idea that climate change is “an existential threat or even crisis is preposterous.”

Then there are lawmakers who have consistently stood in the way of federal action, like the recently retired senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the author of the book “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”

True, some might celebrate their inclusion on the memorial as a badge of honor. Let them. The memorial is designed to set the record straight for posterity. In an age of effervescent social media content, a climate memorial would etch permanently into the public imagination the names of those who hewed to ignorance at a moment of urgent crisis, one that requires “climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once,” as António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, put it last year.

By the same token, the memorial might induce some business and political leaders to reflect on the longer arc of history. The nature of a legacy is defined by future historians. To paraphrase Thomas Reed, a speaker of the House in the late 19th century, only after death can a politician hope to become a statesman. The memorial might move a politician or business leader toward sanity. The antihero nominees could be given a chance to reconsider their positions before hammer hits marble.

Memorials bring the present into the future and the future into the present and, in this case, would put the focus on what is at stake: Earth and humanity’s place on it.

Our nation’s capital would be a good place to build the first climate memorial, but we need not stop there. States like Florida and Louisiana will be among the first to suffer the worst effects of rising oceans and more severe weather. We should build state-specific walls in Tallahassee and Baton Rouge to bring the message home. Just make sure the memorials are situated well above sea level.

Nate Loewentheil is the founder and managing partner of Commonweal Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in clean energy, health and financial technologies.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Photograph by Getty Images

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