(Investigator 196, 2021 January)

Accelerating melt-off from glaciers and especially ice sheets in Antarctica is helping drive sea level rises, threatening coastal megacities and small island nations... The past decade has been the hottest on record ... with last year being the second-hottest year, after 2016. (The Weekend Australian, February 15-16, 2020, p. 6)

The Background

In recent years the phrase "climate emergency" has resounded around the world. Vaughen (2019) writes: "More than 600 local and national governments have declared climate emergencies since January 2018..."

My concern with this topic started when, as a young person in 1970, I took time off to give attention to the Bible. Deuteronomy 28:22-24 links adverse climate to people rejecting God. Job 38:22-23 implicates snow and hail. And Jesus' words "distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves" (Luke 21:25), taken literally, implied a rise in ocean levels. 

A year later I purchased the book Wilderness and Plenty (1971), authored by English ecologist/conservationist Sir Frank Fraser Darling (1903-1979), which warned of future sea-level rise due to atmospheric heating from the build-up of carbon dioxide. This strengthend the expectation that I got from the Bible. (See: "Sea Levels and The Bible", Investigator #179)

In 1973 a news report titled "Crazy Weather World-Wide" seemed to give further support and I filed it for future reference.

In 1984 I was studying for a science degree at the University of Adelaide. Worth 30% of the assessment (of that subject for 1 term) was a research essay which students could select from a number of offered topics. The lecturer warned "The climate topic is the most difficult" but, predisposed by the Bible, it's the topic I chose — titled "Air Pollution and the World's Climate".

Some of the essay's references were groundbreaking and still get cited by academics. Roger Revelle (1909-1991), Californian oceanographer and pioneer researcher into human impact on climate, forecast a 3oC rise in average world temperature in the 21st century. Bert Bolin (1925-2007), Swedish meteorologist, researched the impact on climate of the world's increasing production and use of energy. Mikhail Budyko (1920-2001) of Russia authored Heat Balance of the Earth's Surface (1956) and later calculated that a 50% rise in atmospheric CO2 could melt the ice caps.

My essay summarized the science of climate change as it was in the early 1980s. My conclusion left the verdict open — whether global temperature would increase, or sea levels rise, was not scientifically established.

Now, in the 21st century, with thousands of temperature and weather records being broken, glaciers retreating, Arctic ice-cover shrinking, extreme weather-events increasing, and international climate conferences occurring regularly, the conclusion could be different. Jesus' words "distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves'' could become a literal description of global coastal flooding and nations scrambling to survive.

Whose Responsibility?

The following table, based on Wikipedia, compares CO2 (Carbon dioxide) emissions (from burning of fossil fuels and cement manufacture but not land-use, forestry and shipping) of the 17 top countries in 2017 with 1990:

Table 1

Country   Emissions in
Millions of Tons 1990
  Emissions in
Millions of Tons 2017
   % of Global
 Emissions 2017
Emissions Per Capita
in Tons 2017
2,397 10,877 29.3% 7.7
5,086 5,107 13.8% 15.7
India 606 2,455 6.6% 1.8
1,765 4.8% 12.3
1,149 1,321 3.6% 10.4
2.1% 9.7
S. Korea
270 673 1.8% 13.2
207 671 1.8% 8.3
Saudi Arabia
511 1.4% 1.9
290 507 1.4% 3.9
S. Africa
312 468 1.3% 8.2
150 430 1.2% 5.3
275 402 1.1% 16.5
589 379 1.0% 5.7

The Paris Agreement (2015) on greenhouse-gas emissions committed the nations to reduce their CO2 emissions so as to limit global warming to below 2oC.

Some governments have argued that countries with high per capita rates of carbon emissions, like Australia and USA, have the primary responsibility to act. HOWEVER, China emits 29% of the global total (Table 1), and still increasing. Australia, which emits only 1.1% of the world total, fears committing "economic suicide" for no reason if it reduced while China doesn't. Twelve other countries have even higher per capita rates than Australia but lower total emissions (except Saudi Arabia & Canada) and can likewise make no global difference.

Australia could reduce its emissions by closing its gas industry. But China imports Australian gas and would probably compensate by importing more coal (it already has 1000 of the worlds 2500 coal-fired power stations). China's 29% of world carbon emissions would then rise even faster!

This conflict of interests is aggravated by third world nations wanting to industrialize, thereby needing to raise their carbon emissions, arguing in effect — "That's how the rich nations got rich; why therefore should we stay poor?" 

It's a conundrum.

Current Observations

Increase in average global air temperature has been mitigated by absorption of heat into the oceans. Pearce (2005) reported: "The oceans eventually absorb 84 per cent of the Earth's extra  heat." Whipple (2019) writes: "93 per cent of all heating occurs in the oceans, unnoticed by traditional meteorological stations..."

Eventually warming oceans should result in increased ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica, and perhaps dislodge ice-shelves by warming from below.

In 2019 The Weekend Australian reported:

July was the hottest month across the globe ever measured... (August 7, 2019, p. 9)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2020 found that:

The world’s five warmest years have all occurred since 2015 with nine of the 10 warmest years occurring since 2005, according to scientists from NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)...
Ocean heat content, which describes the amount of heat stored in the upper-levels of the ocean, was the highest ever recorded. High ocean-heat content can contribute to sea-level rise...

New Scientist reported:

...the Himalayas have lost a quarter of their ice mass since 1975. (Vaughen 2019)

Children born now could live to see the oceans rise well over a metre by 2100..."  (Le Page 2019)

More of Greenland's ice was lost in 2019 than in any year since measurements began... The loss of all Greenland's ice would add at least 6 metres to global sea level... (Le Page 2020)

My 1984 science essay, "Air Pollution and the World's Climate" is now available to Investigator Magazine.


Bolin, B. The Impact Of Production And Use Of Energy On The Global Climate!

Budyko, M.

Le Page, M. Greenland lost a record amount in 2019, New Scientist, 29 August, 2020, p. 18

Le Page, M. Sea levels look set for even higher rise, New Scientist, 16 February, 2019, p. 12

Pearce, F. Climate evidence finds us guilty as charged, New Scientist, 11 June, 2005, p. 17

Revelle, R.

Van Onselen, P. No Denying, Too Small To Matter Doesn't Cut It, The Weekend Australian, December 21-22, 2019, p. 18

Vaughen, A. Ice melt in world's highest mountain range speeds up, New Scientist, 29 June, 2019, p. 16

Vaughen, A. The time for talk is over, New Scientist, 29 June, 2019, p. 23

Whipple, T. Scientists alarmed at speed of ocean warming, The Weekend Australian, January 12-13, 2019, p. 13 climate-change-global-temperature