A flow chart showing the interrelated concepts around human activity, global warming, and climate change.
Global warming, climate change, and the climate emergency.

If the Climate Change Crisis were World War II, it’s 1939

but everyone is acting as if it’s the Roaring Twenties

Dave Sag
Age of Awareness
Published in
16 min readAug 24, 2019

A standard trope of the climate change denier is that “they”, some unnamed shadowy cabal, stopped referring to “global warming”, and instead rebranded it as “climate change”. While there is some evidence to suggest that this rebadging was attempted by elements of the fossil fuel lobby, the fact is that global warming is not the same thing as climate change; global warming is a driver of climate change.

Climate Change 101

It’s been understood for over a hundred years now that Earth’s atmosphere traps heat by what’s known as “The Greenhouse Effect”. While the physics are not exactly the same as in an actual greenhouse —Earth is not shrouded in a layer of glass after all— the analogy is sound. Certain atmospheric gases, primarily carbon dioxide, but also methane, various nitrogen molecules, and others, trap heat. If you add more greenhouse gases, you trap more heat.

By burning fossil fuels, we release energy that took many millions of years to store, and with that energy we release a lot of greenhouse gases. For every tonne of carbon we burn we release approximately three and a half tonnes of CO₂. Why? By burning the carbon we cause it to combine with oxygen. CO₂ is literally one atom of carbon combined with two atoms of oxygen. And oxygen is a bigger, and heavier atom than carbon. There are many other greenhouse gases, such as methane, and while we don’t emit anywhere near as much methane as we do CO₂, methane hangs around in the air much longer, and is more effective at trapping heat. Methane is around 20 to 30 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO₂ is, so it’s a really good thing we don’t emit as much of it. Nitrous oxide is around 250 to 300 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO₂. This potency is called a gas’s “global warming potential”, and it’s baselined against CO₂ because CO₂ is the most common greenhouse gas emitted by human activity, and it’s ultimately the biggest contributor to global warming.

Human activities such as power generation, deforestation and land-use change, transport, shipping, and so forth, all cause the equivalent of over 40 billion additional tonnes of CO₂ (equivalent) to enter the…