We are in favour of changes that are acceptable to all people.

We believe in the power of constructive conversation.

Global Visions > Blog > The causes and consequences of climate change

The causes and consequences of climate change

Petri Lahtinen & Max Tallberg

Climate change refers to long-term shifts and changes in earth’s atmosphere. There are numerous factors affecting these changes and generally they are discerned and categorized through different dichotomies. First, there are internal and external factors; phenomena such as solar activity as well as earth’s orbit and axis belong to the latter category whereas the internal factors are further divided into natural and anthropogenic factors. Natural factors include volcanic activity (volcanic eruptions can both cool and warm the climate) and continental drifts. The industrial revolution and the discovery of fossil fuels at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries marked the transition to a phase where anthropogenic factors have become the most significant phenomena affecting climate change. Thus, the term anthropogenic climate change has been coined to mark one of the most central and topical challenges in the world that constitutes an existential threat to all life on earth. The changes caused by humankind in the climate and ecosystems are unparalleled in the history of earth and this progress will accelerate in the future without radical changes. The human effect is so extensive that some scientists use the term ‘Anthropocene’ to describe the current geological epoch. Yet, climate change is not solely a biological issue, but it relates to economy, politics, and culture. Thus, solving climate change requires significant changes in all these sectors. If humans are not able to collectively intervene with these problems, the living conditions on earth will weaken drastically.

One of the most significant causes of anthropogenic climate change is the energy consumption of people – especially that of fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas. The large-scale harnessing of these energy sources led to a sixteen- or seventeen-fold increase in commercial energy consumption during the 19th century, and currently most of modern societies are completely dependent on fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which results in the warming of the lower parts of the atmosphere. The short-wave radiation of the sun enters the atmosphere, but the long-wave radiation of the ground and atmosphere has no means of exiting. This physio-chemical process is called the greenhouse effect. There are different mechanisms and ecosystems on earth that collect and store carbon dioxide. These are referred to as carbon sinks. The forests and oceans of earth are the most important carbon sinks, but here as well human activities such as clear cutting and polluting the oceans constitute a major threat to carbon sinks and thus advance climate change. Third significant factor that advances climate change is industrial agriculture.

Many historical circumstances and processes have led to the present moment that is accelerating climate change. First, it should be noted that different environmental problems have been included in human existence all throughout the history of our species. This is largely due the fact that nature is not uniform and closely matched machinery. Instead, nature is in a continuous state of flux and many changes are excellent opportunities to some beings whereas they are problematic or even destructive to others. As time has gone on, there are factors in effect that limit the possibilities of future progress as well as factors that increase possibilities. Alongside with climate change, limiting factors include such phenomena as population growth, the use of energy resources, the degeneration of environmental common good and global injustice. These phenomena have for long created acute scarcity in certain parts of the world. Inequality makes it more difficult to find possibilities since the high standard of living in various areas is dependent on the unequal distribution of resources.

Climate change in its current form would not be possible without a type of society that is based on fossil capitalism. Humans did not invent fossil fuels, but humans have launched climate change by locating, extracting, and burning fossil fuels for two centuries. From the economic perspective fossil capitalist corporations constitute agent networks that share the purpose of making financial profit out of fossil fuels. In the political sphere, on the other hand, there are representatives in governments that are involved in the economics of the public sector; thus, fossil capitalists are able to campaign and have influence on politics. Fossil fuels have enabled fully mobilized society where everything is put to motion and is being utilized as the world is understood primarily as resources and usable raw materials. The history of growth and expansion has leaned on many ecological and social boundary conditions that have not remained unchanged. Despite all of this, environmental problems stemming from human activities cannot be viewed as morally insignificant. Humans must recognize their own unique responsibilities in the creation and restoration of ecological destruction.

Fossil fuels have led us to the situation where humankind increases the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by approximately 58 gigatons annually. If the current progress is to continue, this amount will only increase in the future. To secure the viability of earth in the future, the greenhouse emissions must be radically reduced – and fast. It is clear that this poses a significant global challenge to politics, economy as well as individuals. At the same time, it is evident that currently climate change threatens not only humans but all life: aridity, desertification, wildfires, heatwaves, floods, storms such as cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes and tornados, rainstorms and sea level rise due to the melting of ice in the polar regions are all phenomena accelerated by climate change that first change areas into uncultivable, then inhabitable and finally unviable. Historically, we can view the states of the Global North (as they are identified by socio-economic characteristics) being behind this phenomenon. The development of these states has been dependent on the growth in both production and consumption that exploits the resources and raw materials of the Global South. Similarly, the Global South has been subjected to the negative effects of climate change to a much larger degree than the Global North. In the future, this juxtaposition will culminate even further, and the pressure will grow as migration from the south to the north will increase. Thus, it is evident that in the face of an existential crisis such as climate change unparalleled global solidarity, justice, and equality are required.

It should be noted that so far human activities have been most harmful to non-human species. In the context of the Anthropocene there are often mentions of the sixth mass extinction that begun already during the previous geological epoch, the Holocene. The human impact on nature has resulted in the extinction of numerous species and biodiversity loss i.e. the significant decrease in the surviving population. Similar to climate change, this process is in the state of continuous acceleration. The effects of mass extinction are not limited to biology, but the decrease in biodiversity has also significant ecological, economic, and social impacts. Mass extinction is also a problematic phenomenon since from a human perspective it advances rather insidiously. Biodiversity loss constitutes a major problem to humans as well since it threats food production and water supplies.

Not only does climate action demand international cooperation, but it must be implemented urgently. Even though various climate conferences and treaties have brought together different nation states of the world, concrete actions to contain climate change have proven to be insufficient thus far. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated in its report released in April 2022 that the international goals of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees and halving the emissions are still possible to reach by 2030. When evaluating the urgency of the current crisis factors such as planetary boundaries and tipping points in the climate system should be taken into account. Planetary boundaries indicate the threshold values that depict those conditions that must be respected in order to avoid a climate catastrophe. Commonly these are divided into nine parts that include alongside with climate change phenomena such as ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone, biogeochemical flows in the nitrogen cycle, global freshwater use, land system change, the erosion of biosphere integrity, chemical pollution, and atmospheric aerosol loading. A tipping point, on the other hand, refers to a threshold that once crossed even a small disruption can significantly change an ecosystem and its development. It should be noted that many of these thresholds are soon crossed.

Despite doomsday scenarios, the climate catastrophe can still be avoided; the next couple of decades provide a small window of an opportunity where to minimalize widespread and catastrophic climate change that otherwise will extend further than the present history of humankind. As mentioned, this requires significant, perhaps even radical actions in many areas of human activity. The most central issues are production, consumption, use of resources, and energy consumption. One of the greatest challenges while solving ecological crises is reaching a sufficient global consensus on the necessary actions and approaches. This would mean, for example, a significant ideological shift in international politics; cooperation between states and reaching mutual understanding play a decisive role here. However, so far political action has demonstrated the difficulty of politicizing such a serious, acute, and non-human threat. The blame – or at least the responsibility – has been continuously shifted onto others. For example, in small countries there are people who question any climate action that has an effect on the individual by pleading populous and more polluting countries such as China or India. The current atmosphere is characterized by strong fatalism according to which nothing should be done unless others are onboard. Whatever the direction might be regarding climate change, it is clear that the changes will lead to a large-scale adaptation to a different kind of reality. During the process, it is important that the adaptation happens according to the principles of global justice and equality. Further, it is crucial to highlight that all climate action is important: a world warmer by 2 degrees could turn out to be twice as bad as 1.5 degrees warmer.

Even though the scientific community is unanimous on climate change and the threat posed by it, there is an alarming number of so-called climate denialists. The majority of these pseudoscientists, media commentators, think tank mouthpieces and right-wing populists are conservative white men. Additionally, the approval and support of current hierarchies and capitalism correlate strongly with climate denialism. It is even more alarming that the warmer the temperatures, the more convincing the science, the more radical the claims for mitigation, the more confident and aggressive climate denialism seems to be. Therefore, one of the most significant challenges in the battle against climate change is the struggle against populism. Climate denialists utilize the common tools of populism and aim at painting a simplified and unambiguous picture of climate change. Often their rhetoric leans heavily on already an outdated idea of global warming. It is important to emphasize here once again that the effects of climate change are diverse, and they touch upon the boundary conditions of human life and ecosystems in numerous ways. Furthermore, climate change is only one factor in a network of simultaneous ecological crises where many issues intermingle and affect one another. 

Climate change raises the multidimensional question about the relationship between nature and society. Defining this relationship is also crucial when choosing the approach to fight against a threat such as climate change. Via crude division, there are two distinct approaches to ecological crises. In certain context, these are termed as environmental and ecological approaches. The first approach is confident in technology and scientific innovations as solutions to solve the threat posed by climate change without thorough changes in current models of growth, production, and consumption. An ecological approach, on the other hand, is sceptical about whether science and technology are able to respond fast enough to the current crises. Instead, the approach demands radical changes in our world-views as well as in economic and political structures. These would include mitigations and transformation towards a scarcer way of life in the Global North. Whatever approach we choose, it cannot be stressed enough that we do not have the luxury of hesitation; we must act, and we must act now.


Aaron M. McCright and Riley E. Dunlap, ‘Cool Dudes: The Denial of Climate Change Among Conservative White Males in the United States’, Global Environmental Change 21 (2011): 1165.

Aaron M. McCright, Sandra T. Marquart-Pyatt, Rachael L. Shwom et al., ‘Ideology, Capitalism, and Climate: Explaining Views about Climate Change in the United States’, Energy Research and Social Science 21 (2016): 180-9.

Dixson-Decleve, Sandrine et al. Earth for All. A survival guide for Humanity. New Society Publishers 2022.

Dobson, A. (2007): Green political thought. London and New York: Routledge.

Gates, Bill. Kuinka välttää ilmastokatastrofi. Nykyiset ratkaisut ja läpimurrot joita vielä tarvitsemme. WSOY 2021.

Gustavsson, Joonas: Tutkimus vahvistaa: Kuudes joukkosukupuutto on parhaillaan käynnissä – ”Tuhoamme maailmankaikkeuden ainoaa tunnettua elämää” Tekniikan Maailma. 13.7.2017.

Linn Persson, Bethanie M. Carney Almroth, Christopher D. Collins, Sarah Cornell, Cynthia A. de Wit, Miriam L. Diamond: Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities. Environmental Science & Technology, 1.2.2022, 56. vsk, nro 3, s. 1510–1521.

Lähde, Ville: Niukkuuden maailmassa. niin & näin -kirjat, Tampere. 2013.

Malm, Andreas: The Progress of This Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World. New York: Verso 2018.

Salminen, Antti & Váden, Tero: Energia ja kokemus – naftologinen essee. niin & näin -kirjat, Tampere. 2013.

Vince, Gaia: Nomad Century. How to survive the climate upheaval. Penguin Books 2022.

IPCC:n raportti: Nykyiset toimet eivät riitä ilmaston lämpenemisen rajaamiseen 1,5 asteeseen – tehokkaat päästövähennykset välttämättömiä jo seuraavan vuosikymmenen aikana


Tutkijoiden mukaan kuudes joukkosukupuutto etenee vauhdilla ja uhkaa koko ihmiskuntaa – Lajikatoa on kuitenkin vielä mahdollista hidastaa. 24.8.2022



Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp

You might also like

Reflections on climate change

Max Tallberg We have addressed climate change in our four previous blog posts. In the first text, we investigated the question of what physio-chemical as

Are you a person who thinks it's important to strive to improve the state of the world?

If this is the case, then Citizen of the New Age: A Vision for a Better World is a book you should read. In the book, Max Tallberg presents a concrete political vision of a better world. The book is available for free download.