Global Warming

Is it happening and if so why?
And what should we do? 

Charlie Nelson
director foreseechange
March 2003

Australia is in the grip of a severe drought, the worst in 50 to 100 years.  And its not over yet.  The value of lost agricultural production is about 1% of GDP and there have been heavy losses in tragic bushfires.

While Australia is no stranger to drought and bushfire, there is evidence that this episode is more extreme than most.  A study by meteorologists, sponsored by WWF, released on 14 January 2003 has found that this drought has had a more severe impact than any other drought since at least 1950, because the temperatures in 2002 have been significantly higher than in other drought years.  The higher temperatures caused an increase in evaporation rates, which sped up the loss of soil moisture and the drying of vegetation and watercourses.  The evidence in this report is compelling, although it remains uncertain as to the reasons for the high temperatures associated with this drought.

Ironically, much of the USA, the other developed country that has failed to ratify the Kyoto protocol, is also in severe drought (The Economist, January 25th 2003).  In 2002, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming had the driest or near-driest summer since meteorologists began taking records more than a century ago.

The odds against Australia and USA both having such severe droughts within a year of each other is about 10,000 to one unless there is a common cause.  Of course, it may be possible to find two regions of the earth in severe drought in the same year more often than every 10,000 years but clearly this is a rare event.

But add to that the devastating floods in Europe in August 2002 that have been described by some as the worst floods in 1,000 years.  European records go back much further than Australia or the USA so it was clearly a very rare event.

And the odds that all three rare events should occur within a year of each other, or even in the same decade, without a common cause are astronomical.

Global warming is one such potential cause, but there are sceptics.  Some claim that temperatures are not rising and others claim that they may be rising but that natural, rather than human, causes are driving the warming.  Yet others accept that human burning of fossil fuels are a major cause of global warming, but argue that we should not ratify the Kyoto protocol because it is flawed or too costly.

The end result of these doubts is that carbon dioxide levels seem doomed to rise for the foreseeable future. Scientists have calculated that a reduction in carbon dioxide levels due to human activity needs to be reduced by 60% or more to stem the tide of global warming.  The Kyoto protocol is a small step towards that end, but it is a start. 

Questions and Issues for Global Action

Some of the questions that need to be addressed in relation to global warming include: 

Australia is a heavy greenhouse gas emitter on a per-capita basis but a small emitter relative to USA due to our small population.  Issues for Australia include: 

We will progressively use the data analysis and forecasting skills possessed by foreseechange to address these questions.


Our first papers evaluate the evidence for rising global temperatures and are available at