investigating the relationship of emergent global civil society to the institutions of global environmental governance

The Science of Climate Change

Richard Widick (IICAT:6/18/2017)

One hundred and fifty years of continuous, increasingly industrial output of green house gasses by the expanding world economic (culture) system is heating up our planet’s atmosphere and changing its climate systems.

There are huge economic costs associated with these changes, for example the costs of droughts that destroy crops, floods that carry away valuable land, and super-storms that destroy coastal regions, livestock, and farmland—all of which raise the cost of food production in general.

With every passing year it becomes more clear that these costs are falling disproportionately on peoples and places of the less developed world, and particularly the global south, from the small island states to Africa and Indonesia, not on the individuals, firms, and societies that benefited most from the carbon-fueled economic development of the 19th and 20th centuries in the first place.

On the contrary, while the development-generated wealth accumulated to individuals and societies particularly in the rich developed nations of the global north, especially in Europe and North America, the unpaid and deferred environmental costs of global warming that are now coming due are being charged disproportionately to the least developed and still developing, so-called “emerging countries.”

Climate science is documenting the human causes of these physical changes in the earth system, leaving it to the social, economic, and behavioral sciences to calculate their associated external and unpaid socio-environmental costs.

Over time this IICAT research portal will reflect our best understanding of the complex relationship between these physical changes and their effects on economies and societies.

Please scroll down and read our narrated and annotated directory of sources on climate science, environmental sociology, and environmental economics, which we update regularly as we discover new work and as our own understanding continues to grow and change.

Wherever we can, we provide embedded video presentations by scientific experts that explain and clarify the science and its implications.

Our objective is to facilitate public understanding of the science by providing a guided tour through what might otherwise be a daunting array of technical sources.

To the extent that we are successful, you will be able to read through what follows, learn the basics of climate science, get a feel for what is at stake, and start gaining access to the resources you need to make better climate-related policy, organizational, research, and scientific decisions on your own.

A first source for critical watchdog reporting on climate science with policy implications is Climate Analytics.

Notwithstanding the growing scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming and climate change, significant efforts are still at work seeking to discredit the science—to them we dedicate a separate page: Climate Change Denial.

We also encourage you to investigate the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, which has found that climate change skeptics tend to formulate their attitudes toward global warming from a narrow and perhaps predictable set of sources. Read the Project’s 2012 report on US perceptions.

Before scrolling down to engage the top sources of basic science of global warming and climate change, we recommend watching former NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen explain the connection of climate science to the social and political consequences of climate change in this presentation, recorded at the UN climate talks in Paris, 2015:



01. United Nations Climate Change Learning Partnership (UN CC:LEARN)

A Research Guide for Advanced Learning on THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CLIMATE CHANGE SCIENCE (2015).

See also the 2013 edition of UN CC:LEARN’s The Scientific Fundamentals of Climate Change.

Explore UN CC:LEARN’S free Introductory E-Course on Climate Change.  


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The Third National Climate Assessment (2014) —


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) compiles and assesses climate science for the United Nations, and issues periodic synthesis reports that represent the best assessment of the global scientific consensus on climate change. Visiting this IPCC Web page, you can download the IPCC’s 5th Synthesis Report, issued in 2013 – 14.  Here is the longer version, released on November 1, 2014: “Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report: Longer Report

Read iisd’s concise history of the IPCC, from its inception in 1988 up through its fortieth session in 2014.

The IPCC was established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to conduct these periodic assessments of climate science.

All of the IPCC Synthesis Reports are collected here—on the “Key Texts” page of the host country site for COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, 2106.

A great place to start studying the IPPC’s recent reports is watching this 2 hour video in which several of the reports lead authors introduce it themselves:



For historical perspective, please watch this 2007 in depth interview with Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, one of the authors of the IPCC’s 2007 4th Synthesis Report.


Please watch this 2010 lecture by Gabriele Hegerl, Professor of Climate Science at the University of Edinburgh and co-author of the forthcoming IPCC Fifth Synthesis Report. The lecture, “Climate Change: past, present, and future,” presents a lucid explanation of current climate science.


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The UNITED NATIONS FRAMEWORK CONVENTION on CLIMATE CHANGE:  producing & disseminating & using climate science to carry out its mandate:

At, the front page of the UNFCCC web site, click the lefthand menu item “Methods & Science” and start studying about the UN process and its methods of producing and publicizing the science that informs climate action planning and the international climate negotiations at every level: Scientific, Technical and Socio-Economic Aspects of Mitigation of Climate Change (mitigation), Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degredation in developing countries (REED), Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF); Emissions Resulting from Fuel Used for International Transportation: Aviation and Marine Bunker Fuels (bunker fuels); Research; Systematic Observation; and Other Methodological Issues.

It might feel like a tough slog, but it is worth the effort for a number of reasons:

First of all, you will discover a rich and varied world in which natural scientists from around the world bring together their collective talents and resources and synthesize their disciplines and their data with ultra-keen focus on the planet’s most pressing ecological problems.

Secondly, these UN reports and studies and programs each embody and reveal what is essentially a universal truth about complex human-related objects and problems: each one appears as an emergent compromise formation of opposing forces, namely those of the natural world itself, peoples’ economic interest, public opinion, and the full array of local, national, and global decision-making political bodies.

These are precisely the constitutive physical and social forces that IICAT scholars place at the center of our research, and which we have structured into the framework of our organization and the design of this research web log, as follows:

Note that our top menu reads from left to right: climate change, globalization, civil society, and governance.

These labels are shorthand for the physical world, the economic sphere, the public sphere, and the political spheres, each one a central pillar of institutionalized human activities that combined embody the colonizing culture of western modernity.  In our perspective, this system of modern everyday life is driving the climate crisis, indicating that any adequate, solutions-oriented understanding is going to require a profound rethinking of modernity itself.

More explicitly: the planet is a physical, geographic space defined by the constant circulation and interaction of energetic physical forces; the economic sphere is defined by the constant circulation interested economic actions; the public sphere is defined by the constant circulation of interested opinions, a space in which actors of every stripe go about discussing and educating themselves and everyone else in the pressing problems of their times, in the process shaping their own attitudes and political beliefs as well as those of the masses; and finally, the political sphere is defined by the constant circulation of power, a space where governing decisions are made and carried out, often with the most extraordinary consequences.

Each item here is what we call a concrete particular expression of the entire field of struggle that we name the international climate wars.  Choose any element and start reading—we expect you will find yourself led or drawn back to the overarching questions challenging the UNFCCC’s mandate to facilitate cooperation between nations in the effort to reduce future emissions and thus future global warming and to mitigate the negative consequences of the warming that has already registered and that already in the pipeline (due to the residency period of gasses already released into the atmosphere).

The US Energy Information Administration‘s (USEIA) Environment page is another great source of information on CO2 emissions and all things related to energy production and consumption. For example, we suggest taking a look at USEIA’s Environment page, where you will find the Administration’s report titled “Emissions of Greenhouse Gasses in the United States 2009.”

An important public source of basic climate science, and a good place to augment your own encounter with climate science, is the monthly State of the Climate Global Analysis published online by the US National Climatic Data Center, which is itself a project of the US National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), under the auspice of the US Department of Commerce‘s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s (NOAA). The monthly report for May 2012, for example, provides data showing that the month of May 2012 was the second warmest May on record, behind that of May 2010. In the pages of these reports you will encounter a level of scientific complexity well poised to reveal the daunting problem facing lay people as well as climate action professionals and activists from every sector of the global climate justice movement (of movements)—the complexity of the science and the labyrinth of sources purporting to document global warming.

As social historians ourselves, we also suggest taking an historical approach to the science of global warming, a journey for which we know no better starting point than the justly recognized work of Spencer Weart—The Discovery of Global Warming. By following this link you can embark upon an extraordinary and disturbing path to discovering the truly collective scientific effort of understanding the transformation of planet earth by industrial use of fossil fuels.

Weart has also created an interactive timeline of global warming science and a page of annotated links to additional information that we hope you will find as useful and informative as we have. In addition to Weart’s historical approach, we also find it very useful to keep abreast of new developments in climate science. We suggest the following paths of entry into this most consequential sector of scientific knowledge production.

Please watch this 2011 lecture by NASA scientist James Hansen:

In further investigating the UNFOLDING SCIENCE of GLOBAL WARMING, we invite you to explore the following sites:

CLIMATE CENTRAL — Mission: “Communicate the science and effects of climate change to the public and decision-makers, and inspire Americans to support action to stabilize the climate, prepare for impacts of climate change, or some combination of the two.”  Further: “Climate Central conducts scientific research on climate change and informs the public of key findings. Our public outreach is informed by our own scientific research and that of other leading climate scientists…”

NATURE CLIMATE CHANGE — The premiere science journal NATURE page on climate change research.

TYNDALL CENTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE RESEARCH — This interesting research center, located in the United Kingdom, describes itself as follows: “We bring together scientists, economists, engineers and social scientists who are working to develop sustainable responses to climate change. We work not just within the research community, but also with business leaders, policy advisors, the media and the public in general” (

CLIMATE CODE RED — Australian David Spratt keeps abreast of climate change news (and science) at this excellent site.

REALClimate — This organization, founded by US climate Scientist Michael E. Mann, describes itself as follows: “RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science. All posts are signed by the author(s), except ‘group’ posts which are collective efforts from the whole team. This is a moderated forum.”