Climate change is a cancer to life on earth that threatens our very existence.  The apathy of society towards this threat compounds the problem.   Human activities are significantly contributing to the destructive imact of global climate change.  This observation is strongly supported by an overwhelming amount of very convincing evidence.  A verdict of guilty in a criminal trial can only be found if there is no reasonable doubt.  The evidence for human caused climate change leaves no reasonable doubt.  Despite the evidence, a substantial percentage of the population remains skeptical or even in denial.  As a result, society and especially American citizens are not taking sufficient appropriate steps to mitigate the climate changes that result from the burning of fossil fuels.  97% of climatologists agree that the earth is on a pathway towards environmental degradation and a declining quality of life. Substantial detrimental effects are already being observed.   If society does not begin a phase out of fossil fuels, life on earth including our grandchildren will be faced with an ever increasing list of damages.  This narrative strives to present in an understandable way, a summary of the science behind global climate change, the evidence that indicates the negative changes are already being observed and the consequences if society fails to adequately confront the challenge.  This article has evolved in several stages and began with a climate change directory .  The present web site is derived from material that was designed to accompany a chemistry exhibit called Exploring Matter: An Interactive, Inexpensive Chemistry Exhibit for Museums (see:  The exhibit was installed (09/13/16) in Modesto Junior College’s Great Valley Museum.  

     Doctors report that rising temperatures have increased the length of the allergy season.  In addition, people are suffering and even dying from abnormally long periods of high temperatures.  Terrible droughts and floods are becoming much more common. Destructive hurricanes are becoming more intense.  Climate change is enabling the pine beetle and wildfires as well as substantially extending the wildfire season.  As a result, homes and forrests are being destroyed with the future of our forests in severe jeopardy.  While not directly attributed to climate change, the increased destruction wielded by these disasters is consistent with results predicted by climate change science. 


    Sea levels are only in the early stages of expected rises but with even the small changes that have occurred, high tides and storms are causing much more coastal damage. There is a tendency for societies to take appropriate action only in the time of a crisis. Unfortunately, action to minimize the effects of fossil fuel combustion will take decades to implement and even more time to be effective. Everyday that we wait exacerbates the problem.   Waiting for the climate change crisis is an unacceptable pathway and a route to disaster. 

      Even for deniers of human caused climate change, there are many other reasons that fossil fuels need to be phased out.  Air and water pollution, oil rig, mining and transportation accidents and war as well as ocean acidification should be reasons enough for society to make a rapid transition to the use of renewables and other alternate energy sources.  The very reputable journal, The Lancet, reports that millions die annually from air and water pollution including over 155,000 in the U.S. (see ). 

      For the latest U.S. government (ignored by the EPA and the present administration), please visit: .

  ozone.jpg     The best historical analogy to the climate change problem would be the ozone issue that was first predicted in the early 1970's by two Univ. of Calif. at Irvine scientists.  Based on very preliminary data, Sherwood and Molina predicted that the continued release of chloroflorocarbons into the atmosphere would diminish the concentration of ozone in the stratosphere.  Ozone is quite toxic to life at sea level and fortunately has a very low concentration in the lower atmosphere.  However, ozone plays a vital role in the upper atmosphere by filtering out damaging UV rays that cause significant damage if they impact living species including a significant increase in skin cancer in humans.  Chloroflorocarbons (freons) were used extensively as refrigerants and propellants in spray cans because of several desirable properties such as boiling point and stability.  Unfortunately the high stability resulted in the compounds peroclating up in the atmosphere where they enter into a photochemical cycle that destroys ozone.  Not only were scientists observing that the ozone concentration was decreasing exactly as predicted by Sherwood and Molina, an ozone hole was opening up over the Anarctic that threatened the beginning of food chains.  Fortunately, the world heeded the warnings and began a phase out of the worst chloroflorocarbons as required by the Montreal Protocol of 1989.  Ozone is very slowly recovering after decreasing several percent and the hole shows signs of decreasing in size (See Addendum 3).  Notice that the time scale for correcting the problems created by freon emissions is taking decades to fix.  Like the ozone problem, global climate change has been going on for decades and will take decades to fix.  Gobal climate change poses an even more dangerous threat than ozone depletion.  But primarily for economic reasons, the countries of the earth are responding all too slow to the threat.  The Paris Climate Accord of 2015 was a significant first step towards at least limiting Greenhouse gas emissions but the U.S. in 2017 has apparently decided to withdraw from the Accord. 

 climatechangecriticality13.gif     While far from an good model, we should pay attention to the plight of the planet Venus.  Because of an atomsphere of dangerous Greenhouse gases, the temperature on Venus is several hundred  degrees above the boiling point of water making it very inhospitable for life.  Although it is closer to the sun than the earth, the temperature differences can be attributed to the Greenhouse effect and not the distance difference.   


The article is divided into several sections:  the increase in the concentration of Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the response of our environment to the increase in gases including global air and water temperature increase, loss of ice mass and sea level rise and the consequences that result from these environmental changes.  In addition, the increased carbon dioxide concentration in the oceans increases the acidity of the oceans with more consequences. 

Apathy = Disaster



The figures above demonstrate unacceptable behavior that will lead to a much lower quality of life. Corrective action is needed now.




         The science behind global climate change starts with indisputable and reproducible measurements of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

CARBON DIOXIDE. The graphs above clearly and definitively show that the carbon dioxide (CO2) content of our atmosphere has increased from a value of 278 ppm (or 0.0278 %) in preindustrial time to a current value over 400 ppm (or 0.04% and rising) or a 44% increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. How is it possible that human activity has been able to change the content of such a significant part of the earth’s environment? Although most people have an opinion about climate change, most have little understanding of the science and the potential impacts of atmospheric changes. To illustrate this point, the atmosphere plays a major role in the science of climate change but most people cannot name the most abundant gases in our atmosphere. Can you name them without peeking below?



Gas Formula % ppm
nitrogen N2 78.082   780,820
oxygen  O2 20.946  209,946
argon Ar   0.934       9,340
carbon dioxide CO2   0.040        400 and increasing
neon Ne   0.0018           18
helium He   0.0005           5
methane CH4    0.0002           2
krypton Kr   0.0001           1
hydrogen H2    0.00005             0.05 








       Most people cannot name the top two and extremely few can name the top three. Most important to note is that CO2 ranks only 4th and has the very low current value of 0.04%. As a result of the low amount, human burning of fossil fuels produces amounts of CO2 comparable to the total amount in the atmosphere and has caused the 44% increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. In addition to CO2, other Greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4) are also increasing in atmospheric concentration.

        Do measurements of global temperatures, sea levels and global ice mass provide evidence that the increase in CO2, CH4 and other Greenhouse gases is causing the global temperature to increase? The graph to the right, the one below and the charts in Addendum 2 demonstrate that global warming is occurring and correlates strongly with the increase in Greenhouse gas concentrations. The observed increase in temperature cannot be explained using natural astronomical variations but is completely consistent with scientific modeling that takes into account human contributions to atmospheric changes. As a direct result of global temperature increases, sea levels are rising (combined result of increasing water temperatures resulting in lower density and larger volumes and ice mass melting) and the global ice mass balance is seriously decreasing.  These observed changes are degrading our environment.


    What are the consequences of global warming? Coastal communities are facing higher than ever damaging sea surges.  Some low lying islands are facing immediate evacuations.  Bangledesh communities are being flooded.  Miami is constructing sea walls and installing pumps to keep the water out.  Warmer temperatures are already severely affecting the health of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people. Deaths from heat waves are on the rise. The allergy season has been extended an estimated 3 weeks/yr. Agriculture is adversely affected and rain patterns are changing with very damaging drought a common problem.

     Habitat change.  Wild animals are being forced to change their habitat locations. There are limitations to habitat changes with reduction in the populations of many animals all too common.  Wildfires and freaky weather have become much more common and both are wreaking havoc and mayhem around the globe.


climatechangecriticality9.gif     SEA LEVEL RISE. Increasing atmospheric temperatures cause the temperature of the oceans to rise and the glaciers and ice masses of the earth to melt. An increase in ocean temperature causes a decrease in the density of water and an expansion of volume. Ice melting also causes an increase of ocean volume. Combined, the increase of volume is a severe threat to all coastal communities. (For sea level rise maps, see: ).  The maps to the right show the devastating effects of 20 feet of sea level rise in a few locations on the earth.    

         ICE MASS LOSS. The graph above on ice mass and the image to the right show that the ice masses of the earth are undergoing a rapid melting that poses many more threats.  Glacier melting raises sea levels and many people will lose their source of fresh water if the glaciers disappear.  ole.gif









OCEAN ACIDIFICATION. The atmospheric CO2 increase would be much bigger were it not for CO2 absorption into the ocean. CO2 is absorbed by the oceans and converted into carbonic acid. This results in an increase in the acidity of the ocean and a decrease in the pH. Already, the pH has dropped from about 8.2 to 8.07. A pH decrease is a direct threat to all shell fish and coral reefs. Observations indicate that the Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is disappearing and will be gone in a few decades.




Both draught and increased temperatures are connected with the increasing number and severity of wildfires.  The graph above for drought conditions for the contiguous states does not demonstrate any significant trends.  However, on regional scales, the Southwestern U.S. and parts of the Midwest are experiencing a mild increase in drought conditions that could eventually have very negative influences on agriculture.  In addition, increased draught coupled with increasing temperatures are resulting in an increase and severity of wildfires.  In 2017, California, Oregon and Montana were covered with smoke for extended periods of time while forests and many homes went up in flames.  Destruction of the forests leads to severe subsequent environmental problems such as errosion and mud slides and endangers and kills countless numbers of wildlife.


The year 2017 was an especially bad year for devasting hurricanes.  Increasing ocean temperatures correlate with atmospheric global warming.  Warmer oceans intensify storms. 

     Human caused climate change is already causing significant and very troubling health effects.  The impact will worsen with time until many years after there has been a big reduction in the use of fossil fuels.  For more information, please refer to the the web sites below.  The graph on asthma incidence, although only for a ten year period, shows an alarming trend.

A trend graph showing asthma rates by age and sex in the US from 2001-2009.


The images speak for themselves.  These incidents are much more common that most people think with thousands dying in mining accidents every year in China.  The map of pipe explosions illustrates how common pipeline accidents are and some are extremely damaging with loss of life.

  The use of fossil fuels has rapidly changed the world and in many ways has improved the quality of life. On the other hand,
continued use of fossil fuels severely threatens the quality of life for our grandchildren. Considering all the evidence, a jury would have to find humans guilty of endangering the future of life on earth. If we continue down our present path, countless unnecessary deaths will result and more animals will become extinct. We are already experiencing many disturbing consequences of fossil fuel use. There is still time to minimize the negative effects and avoid an economic downturn and eventual calamity. However, action is needed now as the remedies take decades to implement. Every day lost without action increases the long term severity of the negative impacts of fossil fuels.


SOLUTIONS. Steps must be taken to phase out the use of fossil fuels rapidly.

1. One step towards achieving this goal is to initiate a carbon neutral fee and dividend on the use of carbon based energy sources (investigate the Citizen's Climate Lobby).

2. Strongly encourage conservation.

3. Strongly encourage development and use of more solar, wind and tidal energy sources. Require that new construction include solar panels for at least 80% of their energy use.

4. Strongly encourage the use of electric and hybrid vehicles.

5. Invest significantly in energy research to improve solar panel efficiency and to develop new energy sources such as nuclear fusion, artificial photosynthesis.and carbon sequestrasian.




Addendum 1.  Spectroscopy: A Powerful Tool for Scientists

          Scientists take advantage of a huge range of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum (often referred to as light even though only a small portion is detectable by the human eye) to probe matter. Gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet, visible, infrared, microwave and radio wavelengths enable detection and determinations of concentrations, structures and properties. Health related fields rely on spectroscopy to analyze a myriad of tests. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is invaluable for determining the cause of health problems. In the kitchen, the microwave oven uses electromagnetic radiation to heat and cook food. Astronomers analyze the composition of stars using spectroscopy. One of the questions raised above asks for the composition of our atmosphere. One method to determine the composition is by analyzing the emission spectrum of air.


wave type                        wavelength (nm)       energy (kJ/mol)             energy (cm-1)             transition
gamma                            10-1 - 10-3               1.2x106 - 1.2x108       108 - 1010                   electronic
X-rays                            10 - 10-1                  1.2x104 - 1.2x106       106 - 108                     electronic (ionization)
far ultraviolet                   2x102 - 10               6x102 - 1.2x104          5x104 - 106                 electronic (ioniz., promotion)
ultraviolet                       4x102 - 2x102          3x102 - 6x102             2.5x104 - 5x104           electronic (promotion)
   bond energies                                              1.5x102 - 5.6x102
visible                             7x102 - 4x102         1.7x102 - 3x102           1.4x104 - 2.5x104       electronic (promotion)
infrared                          105 - 7x102             1.2 - 1.7x102               104 - 1.4x104              vibrational, rotational
infrared (fundamental)  2.5x104 - 2.5x103    4.8 - 48                       400 - 4000                  vibrational
microwaves, radar         108 - 105                 1.2x10-3 - 1.2              10-1 - 104                     rotational
radio, mag. res., TV      1012 - 108                1.2x10-7 - 1.2x10-3      10-5 - 10-1                    nuclear spin

Electromagnetic radiation can be characterized by its wavelength, frequency or energy. If one is known, the other two parameters can be easily calculated. As intuitively expected, the frequency and energy are proportional so the higher the frequency, the higher the energy. On the other hand, the wavelength is inversely related to energy so the longer the wavelength, the lower the energy. Radio and microwaves have very long wavelengths and are very low energy. Contrary to occasional lay language, a microwave oven does not “nuke” food. In reality, each microwave photon has a very low energy compared to the rest of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum used for analysis and other applications. The microwave oven functions by having a high volume of low energy waves absorbed that result in the heating of the sample.

          Spectroscopy provides the scientific evidence that some gases trap infrared energy that otherwise would escape from the earth. Because of these Greenhouse gases led by water vapor, the earth is substantially warmer than it would be without these gases. As a result, the earth is a very hospitable place for life. However, human activities are changing the atmospheric composition and in particular have caused substantial increases in the amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and other infrared absorbing gases. As a result, the earth is warming in a way that poses many serious threats to life on earth. The science behind these comments is derivable from the chart below.


          The chart above shows that water vapor absorbs a significant amount of the infrared radiation that ultimately results from energy conversions following the impact of solar radiation (uv, visible and ir) on the earth. Because CO2 was a very small percentage (0.028% preindustrial) of the atmosphere, the prolific combustion of fossil fuels has raised the CO2 content some 44% to 0.040% (current). While CO2 remains a minor atmospheric constituent, the 44% increase is causing more escaping radiation to be trapped with a result that the earth is warming. The green curves above show that CO2 absorbs in regions where water has low absorption. By increasing the CO2, the amount of absorbed outgoing ir radiation is increased. To minimize the damage, it is incumbent upon humans to begin an immediate and rapid phase out of fossil fuel combustion.


Addendum 2. THERMAL MAPS - Evidence of global warming.

     Accompanying thermal projections of the earth for four two year periods between 1972 and 2016 show that the earth is experiencing substantial warming.

For global warming maps, see:

 Average global temperatures from May, 1972 - 1974,

 compared to a baseline average for the years,1890 - 1920.

 Average global temperatures from May, 1986 - 1988,

 compared to a baseline average for the years,1890 - 1920.

 Average global temperatures from May, 2000 - 2002,

 compared to a baseline average for the years,1890 - 1920.


 Average global temperatures from May, 2014 - 2016,

 compared to a baseline average for the years,1890 - 1920.






Addendum 3 - Stratospheric Ozone Amounts






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