Global Warming Explained in 52 Seconds

We are awash in the unseen, the unknown and the unexplained. Our Universe is enshrouded in mystery. Even what we do know — the complex physical laws that describe the planets, stars and galaxies — can seem just beyond any normal human being’s grasp. We can’t all be Einsteins, after all.

But excluding string theory, dark energy and quantum field theory most of science is remarkably within our grasp. And in less than a minute, a concept as culturally conflicted and misunderstood as global warming, can be explained. See above.

The motivation behind this video is simple. Research shows that virtually no Americans — roughly 0 percent — can explain the physical mechanisms of global warming at even a basic level. So Berkeley Professor Michael Ranney and colleagues created a total of five videos (with the longest clocking in at 656 words in under five minutes) with the hope of elucidating the basics of global warming.

Their initial study, completed in 2011, surveyed 270 people in San Diego parks in order to assess how well the average American understands global warming. San Diego was chosen because it draws tourists from across the United States, and would thus create a better rounded sample.

“The main concept we were hoping people would tell us, which is at the heart of understanding global warming, is that there is an asymmetry between stuff that’s coming in to our planet and stuff that’s heading out,” Ranney told Universe Today.

This asymmetry explains why sunlight (in the form of visible light) may enter the atmosphere unhindered but is later impeded by greenhouse gases (because it is no longer in the form of visible light — it has been absorbed by the Earth and emitted in the form of infrared light). But not a single person could explain global warming at this basic level.

“We were shocked at how few people knew this” Ranney said. “I thought it was a moral imperative to get the word out as fast as possible.”

So Ranney and his colleagues set out with their work in front of them, creating the videos in order to increase the average American’s understanding of global warming. Their goal is that any one of the five videos will change the lives of seven billion viewers.

“We hope that a video of 400 words or even 35 words will allow people to have a moment in time to which they fix that they knew what the mechanism of climate change was,” Ranney told Universe Today. For that single moment “their knowledge was obvious, valid, understandable and available.”

In order to drive this point home, Ranney used an analogy that began like this: “So a climate change acceptor walks into a bar.” But all jokes aside, if one who accepts anthropogenic global warming tries to convince the man sitting next to him that global warming is real, but cannot explain the physical mechanism behind global warming, then he’s in trouble. He’s likely not only lost his bar mate but encouraged a life-time of global warming denial.

We cannot expect to increase the public’s awareness and acceptance of climate change without a huge increase in scientific literacy. Even if every viewer can’t recall the exact mechanistic details of global warming they can at least say to the man sitting next to them at the bar: “Look, I can’t regurgitate it now but I did understand it then.”

This graph from NOAA shows the annual trend in average global air temperature in degrees Celsius, through December 2012. For each year, the range of uncertainty is indicated by the gray vertical bars. The blue line tracks the changes in the trend over time. Click here or on the image to enlarge. (Image courtesy NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.)
This graph from NOAA shows the annual trend in average global air temperature in degrees Celsius, through December 2012. For each year, the range of uncertainty is indicated by the gray vertical bars. The blue line tracks the changes in the trend over time. Click here or on the image to enlarge. (Image courtesy NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.)

A second study provided college students with an explanation akin to the one found in the five-minute video.  After reading it, the students not only understood global warming better but they were also more likely to accept global warming as a reality — suggesting these videos have the power to change people’s minds.

“Eventually people come to appreciate salient evidence,” Ranney told Universe Today. “Let’s say you think you’re in a fantastic monogamous relationship. If you come home and find your partner with someone else, it only takes that one moment in time to change your belief.”

Helping people to understand the basic physics behind global warming is a vital tool in convincing them that global warming is as real as it gets. Once someone clicks on the video, the next 52 seconds alone might leave a pretty big impact.

You can view all the videos on

Ranney emphasized help from graduate student Lee Nevo Lamprey, undergraduate student Kimberly Le and other collaborators (including Dav Clark, Daniel Reinholz, Lloyd Goldwasser, Sarah Cohen and Rachel Ranney).

86 Replies to “Global Warming Explained in 52 Seconds”

  1. Just the tiny little detail that the global temperature actually has not increased during the past 16 years. Global warming without warming, climate change without change. Otherwise that CO2 theory is qualitatively convincing, but maybe that 0.04% of CO2 in the atmpospehere is negligible in magnitude compared to many other more important climate factors. Yeah, that would explain what actually happens in reality, But anyone is free to either believe in a falsified simplified theory, or instead take a look at the real world.

    1. Due to your comment, we’ve added the graph above showing the global mean temperatures over the past 100 years, which clearly shows the temperature rise. You can read more about that graph here:

      but, here’s a quote from the article from the UCAR: “Because oceans tend to warm and cool more slowly than land areas,
      continents have warmed the most. In the Northern Hemisphere, where most
      of Earth’s land mass is located, the three decades from 1983 to 2012
      were likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years, according
      to the IPCC.”

      1. Nancy: From your reference it says “there is just too much (other) natural variability” to expect the temperature to continue to climb (over the last ten years) in accordance with the human caused global warming model. Funny, but that’s exactly the skeptical argument in general. PS – Happy New Year – Hope you didn’t spend too much time outside today in your shorts and tee shirt!

      2. Caw, The part that I think is being missed here is that the other forcers are not “ever-rising” like GHGs. They are temporary, like La Nina. So temps will eventually go up.

      3. Christopher, of course you’re right, but there are some very large periodic influences involved when looking at long term data. The prospect of a pending ice age makes one wonder if the currently man-induced CO2 problems are really so dire.

      4. That would be interesting to investigate — thousands of years from now. In the meantime…

      5. Your beautiful graph shows that temperature rose in the 1980’s and 90’s, much like they did almost a century earlier. But not since. It is not convincing, especially considering the accelerating CO2 emissions. Maybe there isn’t much of a problem after all, if warming can suddenly stop for several decades?

        The idea that the warming goes into the ocean, is that actually measured, or is it just modelled based on a row of assumptions (the same which failed to explain atmospheric temperature)? Was it predicted by IPCC, or was it made up now recently as a makeshift answer to the apparent failure? I think we need to think sceptically about all of this AGW thing, It has gotten so very political. And I don’t believe in warming without warming. I just don’t see the famous disaster coming.

      6. Kapitalist is either paid troll working for some tea party group or an ignoramus. My guess is the first based on the style language used. The ocean has a lot of thermal inertia, and scientists are finding an steady increase in temperature through measurement by argo floats. When this increase is combined with atmospheric temperature date and graphed it is extremely clear that the earth is still warming. Physics doesn’t give a rats patootie about politics Kapitalist.

      7. Let’s get one thing straight, disagreeing with climate change has nothing to do with being a believer in the principles of limited government and limiting government spending, which are the tenets of what the Tea Party believes. Frankly, with the mountain of debt and overreach of government that we have, these are things everyone should support. Now, I believe in these things but I also believe in science being able to answer many questions we have, and the science does seem to support a human role in climate change. So please, rather than attempting to discredit and pigeonhole people because of their beliefs of membership in a particular party, keep on topic.

      8. Are you a professional troll?

        No one cares what politicians say and do.

        Humans fucked up the planet with garbage, pollution, land fills, killed off the rain forest, destroyed most animals, acid rain, created deserts, drained the water supply and destroyed nature everywhere. Everywhere the humans come they fuck up the place.

      9. Is he right about the graph? You don’t address that, and it hurts your case. Remember, you are trying to sound more “scientific” than he, and he is the one referring to data and you aren’t.

        These videos represent what I’ve been waiting for: somebody is taking seriously the major credibility gap that climate science has built for itself and trying to remedy it with science instead of ad hominem attacks and name calling (“Trolls!”). I will watch them at home tonight.

        And by the way, isn’t the point of convincing people that AGW is real is in order to get politicians to do something about it? So somebody obviously cares what politicians say and do.

      10. This guy is not interesting in discussions.
        He already has al his pre-written answers ready to copy and paste. I bet that he probably has his pre-written answer about Antartica ice breaker that got stuck and the ice age the US is now in, to prove his point. Using local weather over a short period instead of understanding what climate change means: Average temperature trend WORLD WIDE over a LONG period of times.

        Politicians have no interest in climate change unless it it fits their agenda. Both the pro and anti climate change politicians only want gain from that topic and should be left out of the discussion.

      11. You should know that in order to highlight accelerated change, the IPCC chooses very short periods of time.
        The point is, that true or untrue, if AGW is not scientifically vetted, then it needs to be questioned until it is proven or disproven. I choose to say that AGW is not out of the question, but is far from being proven.
        Merging science and philosophy, being by definition impossible, is a very dangerous thing to apply to the future of humankind, and economic decisions- especially in our age of populism.

      12. Howard, you must be firgging color blind because all I see is red. Can you show me a point since 1998 where temperatures were below the global mean?

        If indeed the greenhouse effect was not happening, about 50% of the years since 1998 would be above, and 50% below.

        And, it’s not even close. Not one year, Howard, not one.

      13. Actually all the graph proves is that the “peak” was hit around 1998-2000 and since then there has been a downward trend. Which indicates that the only factor in “global warming” is the biggest thermonuclear reactor in the sky , the closest star located about 8 light minutes from Earth , i.e the SUN .
        When the Sun sneezes , the Earth catches a cold and when the Earth gets a million miles closer , it heats up more. IMO , Piers Corbyn’s forecasts are orders of magnitude more accurate than anything these graph makers come up with.

      14. According to the IPCC. Also, the PDF that is cited is no longer available, so the source cannot be verified. I cannot see how the UCAR article is anything more than an assertion.

      15. Nancy, I’m curious, how did the mile of ice over the northern third of North America melt after the last ice age that occurred only about 10,000 years ago, a blip relative to the age of the planet.

        Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think there were automobiles back then, factories burning coal, airplanes flying around, etc. I’m just at a loss how that much warming could occur without humans.

      16. Lucky, those kinds of changes were caused by orbit changes. The Milankovitch Cycles.

      17. You made my point. The tilt of the earth and eccentricity of the earth’s orbit are the real drivers of climate change, not the weakest greenhouse gas of them all, CO2. Heck, water vapor is the most abundant and powerful greenhouse gas and no one is fussing about that.

      18. They have been ruled out in this instance. And, water vapor is not a driver of climate change but a feedback.

      19. I believe that they were never included in the research as the IPCC was focussed only on man – made CO2 for their research. They have stated that they have excluded natural variations (variables like the sun, oceans, volcanos, forest fires) – you know the stuff that accounts for about 98% of the CO2 in the atmosphere.

      20. The Milankovitch Cycles have ALWAYS been looked at. The reason we know about them is because of climate and geology sciences. The same people.

      1. Just by eyesight, it seems to me that temperature has fallen before the CO2 concentration has fallen, if you look at the 4 steepest drops. Those who are sceptic towards AGW can make such easy points, and the AGW defenders dig them selves down in ever more complex and unproven new theories of how we somehow have warming without warming. I think that we need to accept the good news about the climate now, and cancel the doomsday.

      2. On the internet you can find more detailed graphs like this one. If you study those closely, CO2 and temperature variations seem to coincide. Variations within just a few decades are not visible in these charts. So it is quite possible that the very recent CO2 surge is/will be followed by a serious rise of temperatures. Not certain of course, but I think humanity is playing with fire.

      3. CH4 concentrations are accelerating, and they are even more closely tied to temperatures.

      4. So, CH4 increased. But temperature didn’t…
        I’d say that might need a reconsidering of the idea that CH4 are “closely tied to temperature”, because obviously, they aren’t in our time. Maybe something else is going on which is more important for the climate?

      5. Methane is a very strong greenhouse gas, but concentrations are (still) so low that it’s role is not so big, at least not in a direct way yet.
        Once temperatures rise enough to release huge amounts of CH4 from permafrost and ocean floors, temperatures might rise even more quickly, etc.
        Because CH4 converts to CO2 within decades, it will indirectly show up as CO2 in long-term records.

      6. ETI_searcher: Looking at your graph it appears the CO2 levels lag the temperature swings. Could it be as the climate warms, plants grow better and produce more CO2 and vice versa? Since a greenhouse effect is to be expected from increased CO2, its abundance acts as a positive (but small) feedback to the global temperature? With humans currently creating an excess of CO2 near the end of the graph, one might conclude, that through pure dumb luck, humans may actually be abating the onslaught of a pending ice age. That would be an ironic twist to AGW arguments to drastically reduce such “harmful” emissions.

      7. Caw, please read my respond to Kapitalist, it’s for you as well.

        Could be that somehow CO2 follows temperature. The extra CO2 expelled by humans would indeed accellerate the positive feedback mechanism of temperature and greenhouse gasses.

        There could be some delay of temperature rise now, e.g. because of heat being absorbed by melting ice on greenland, north pole cap etc.. Once the arctic cap is gone, things could get out of hand.

        I hope your hypothesis of us just abating a pending ice age is right. Then, it would still be wiser to leave more fossil fuels in earth’s crust now, so we can use them when temperatures would start to actually fall. Cheers!

      8. Good points. Also today we are truly wasting fossil fuels – we should not burn them. They are much too valuable as a resource for making things (which could be recycled).

      9. For kicks, I Googled Milankovitch cycles to see what might be said about the obvious 100,000 year cycles on the temperature charts shown previously.

        Sure enough, it mentions our current natural temperature trend (downward) being countered by green house gas
        effects (upward).

        “We are currently in a decreasing phase [Obliquity Cycle (Axial Tilt)], which under normal circumstances, without the excess GHG’s, would cool the climate system.”

        So my earlier speculation about our dumb-luck abating a coming ice age, was not far off. Our problem now is that we have strayed so far from the natural cycle, we can’t easily predict what’s next.

      1. Where did you get that number? CO2 went up from 270ppm to 390ppm over the last century. That’s an increase of over 40%

  2. We all want a healthy planet. If there’s a way to keep it healthy, then no sane person would be against it

    When I see someone say they want to mix science and philosophy, the first thing I think of is Lysenkoism. I can’t help but wonder if that is what is happening now, and wonder how many idealic young people are being manipulated without their knowing. The selective extortion of certain industries, government funded green initiatives going to nepotic interests, Beale, and IPCC weather models that cannot predict what is happening without outside manipulation are alarming. That it is all presented as settled science in the face of actuality by an institution that is corrupt at the highest levels (Beale) is devastating to any notion of credibility.

    Here’s some stuff for folks that may want to know more. let’s see if it flies:

    There has been no measurable atmospheric global warming for 17+ years.

    Total global polar sea ice is largely unchanged over the past 35 years. Antarctic sea ice set records for size in September 2013!!

    Ocean temperatures as recorded by Argo are decreasing.

    The list goes on and on as to why the scientific debate is raging everywhere except where it needs to rage most. Here’s a decent link that will help the intrepid anti-Lysenkoist understand another side of the coin:

      1. What makes you say that? Source?
        Anywho, what part does politics play in science? If we are talking facts, please specify one that you have a problem with.

  3. Pretty predictable responses. Universe Today should take a hint from the LA Times and just stop letting the denialists run rampant in the comments to every article that even remotely touches on the subject of climate change.

    1. Have you ever thought that “denialists” may be scientists that are outraged at the lack of science coming from the AGW crowd?

      Censorship is not proof of righteousness. Why would one chose to censor differing viewpoints unless one knew that their viewpoint cannot stand up to questioning?

      Perhaps you should present data/evidence that supports your position for AGW. As it stands now, just about everything the IPCC presents has been refuted either by the scientific community, IPCC self-contradiction, or outright IPCC

      Censorship is Lysenkoism, and is reprehensible.

  4. Evaluate the sources. Which ones are based on published and peer reviewed science that is open to challenge by other climate scientists in a critical respected forum. And which are not.

    1. Vetted? do you mean others have conducted an examination of the results and concluded that given the assumptions the conclusions appear accurate? Retesting is rare, as there is no money to fund it; which is what draws the political into these discussions.

      I’d like to see a debate, where the assumptions are plainly stated and the reasons for them before conclusions. Unfortunately, every web page I’ve found appears to be biased for or against with unfortunate assertions of fact vice the presenting of them addressing “everyman” issues or concerns as they are raised.

  5. How extremely touchy this subject is! The emperor really has no clothes, and he knows it. BTW, are you enjoying a mild winter in North America now? Or is the cold weather maybe… a sign of climate warming!?
    I wonder whatever could happen which would make an AGW’er reconsider.

  6. Well, this cartoon is hardly convincing.
    Many people visiting this site will have an education in quantum and radiation physics. The cartoon is nowhere close to what is really happening at the photon/molecular level.
    That is the issue. The theory is at a cartoon level while the real world operates at the quantum level. Does increased CO2 really do what the theory says in the real physical world?

    1. This is the truth, and why UT should be very careful about what is said here. Faulty science is not a way to gain credibility; especially when scientists are looking for input they can trust.
      Theories need to stand the test of observation and experiment. In this, the AGW crusade has failed.

      1. Wrong , there is no crusade . The average global temperature continues to increase no matter what the Daily Mail claims. The theory has not been challenged in any meaningful way ,certainly not by anyone with accreditation in the field of climate studies. If there is faulty science point out where the fault is . Include your Bone Fides .

      2. For faulty science, I would say check the Summary For Policy Makers from the NIPCC. These guys are the real deal. The actual report is very good too. Here’s the link to the Summary For Policy Makers:

        This guy is pretty level-headed, and his site is excellent for the average Joe. At the bottom of the page, his (very easy to read) report shines some light on things we don’t always think about. For example, how in 1990 60% of weather reporting stations (mostly in the Colder Climes) shut down, causing a huge increase of temperature numbers.

        Here you go. Reports at bottom of page:

  7. And, who do you speak for? Are you a scientist, and if so, what kind?
    Even the Supreme Court ruled that not all speech was free, especially when it is clearly detrimental to society.
    And, if these purported scientists have proof that the Greenhouse Effect is incorrect, they should publish in the science journals. If indeed they are scientists, and have evidence contrary to over 100 years of evidence and attack on the theory, let them go through the process just like everyone else.

    1. What I do should not concern you. What you do does not concern me. I will assume that you have an intellect capable of critical thought and can translate the though into constructive dialogue; you should extend the same respect to me.
      I offer you the same challenge I’ve been giving everyone. Choose a specific thing you would like to show re: what makes you believe in AGW. Be specific.

    2. btw, you’ll have to put up your sources for the Supreme Court Decision or it will look absurd.
      Jeepers, my gut-feel on Lysenkoism is seeming more and more to be spot-on.

  8. You are assuming that the Sun’s output is not in flex. What are the other contributors to green house gases? Rotting vegetation, volcanic activity, living bugs, dead and rotting bugs, etc.

  9. Even if abrupt global cooling were to occur, adaptation measures would be similar to abrupt warming, including retreat from the coasts, energy efficiency, a new grid, a weather ready public, and protecting our food and water sources.

    So, put your money where your mouth is: What’s your adaptation plan for the public?

    All the denialists do is throw out arguments without any meat then expect the public to follow even without a plan for their protection during the ravages of abrupt cooling.

    And, pretty much everything you cite is disputed by evidence and scientific papers to the contrary. It’s time you come up with some new stuff – at least it would make it more interesting for us that know that all you say is misinformed and perhaps deliberate.

    1. Adaptation is reactionary. One can prepare for a certain type of adaptation, but their prophesy had better be right, or they will be wasting their time. I have no plan for the public for two reasons: 1: I don’t believe in controlling people, 2: I don’t believe that there is any crisis to prepare the public for.
      My argument has plenty of meat. I provided several contrary sources that are loaded with science and investigation. Have you read any of it? Please do; let’s talk about something specific.
      The things that I have cited are produced by scientists. Respected science forums won’t even allow mention of AGW from either side. And herein lies the rub. Why are so many scientists so divided on it? Again, let’s take a look at specifics. Choose something! I am happy to begin dialogue with the item of your choosing.

  10. Here is something from a skeptical scientist:

    Berkeley Earth compared the shape of the gradual rise over 250 years to simple math functions (exponentials, polynomials) and to solar activity (known through historical records of sunspot mumbers), and even to rising functions such as world population.

    Richard Muller, Founder and Scientific Director of Berkeley Earth, notes “Much to my surprise, by far the best match was to the record of atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured from atmospheric samples and air trapped in polar ice.”

  11. Heres how global warming really works the left wing lunatics in the white house and our communist press tell people over and over their is global warming and all the low information voters believe the nonsense

  12. Shouldn’t we leave political issues like Global Warming off of a science website?
    What’s next, abortion? immigration? Keynesian Economics?
    With mental gymnastics, they can all be “spun” into a scientific discussions.

    1. This article is about the science of how global warming works.
      With mental gymnastics, all scientific subjects can be spun into politics.
      With lots of oil money, all scientific facts can be denied.

      1. Let’s say: Global temperatures have been varying since earth’s formation. That’s a fact.
        Some lunatic comes along and says: No, global temperatures have not at all been varying.
        I call that denying a fact. English is not my mother language, perhaps I should use another word.
        But like you say, we should have scientific discussions here, not political or linguistic ones.

      2. The politicizing of such an important question is what really makes me sad. Lines are often drawn by political motive, and this issue has been eviscerated by politics.
        Take a look at the cartoon offered up that started our talks. Is it designed for an educated person? No. It is designed to create alarmism in people that are honestly concerned, but don’t know much. WTF does “get the word out” have to do with science? It doesn’t. I’m amazed that a person with multiple degrees can’t present something with more meat…unless their isn’t, and the true intent is to profit on alarmist info-omission.
        Well, I can say I’m insulted, and alarmed. If UT sees us as low-info peasants that will light our hair on fire because of a lame video, then I don’t belong here. I won’t be coming back to this site.

  13. Sea levels are rising a few millimeters every year. That’s because of
    1. water warming up is expanding
    2. melting land ice, mainly on Greenland.
    How else can you explain the sea level rising?

    1. I remember when the AGW thing first came out. I was pleased that we had found another man-made threat to the Earth. Afterall, we have found bad stuff before, and it only made sense given our emissions. Then, I started looking at the science. Scandals aside, theories die when the observations don’t jibe. No theory is immune from the eye of the scientific method.
      A guy much smarter than me says the Ocean’s levels regularly oscillate:

      As may be expected in a cyclic system, the rate of sealevel rise is declining:

      One quote from the reports I’ve found will always stick with me: “The principal SLR data have come from tidal gauges, which measure not only tides but storms and everything else.” This is similar to temperature gauges being placed in urban heat islands, and then the “cooked” data being plugged into temperature trending programs.

      Regarding the loss of Ice, in September 2013, Antartic Sea Ice was at an all-time high:

      There’s also a neat graph in this one showing how drastically cyclic polar ice mass is.

      If your speaking of the newly discovered Greenland meltwater, yes, amazing! Impact? Remains to be seen. AGW? Probably not, given Greenland’s temperature cycles:

      1. I hope you’re right.

        It’s still a real possibility that humans are causing a future catastrophe. Untill we know more, I’d say better safe then sorry.

        A (temporary?) decrease of SLR suits the recent (temporary?) hold in temperature increase.

        Melting or growing of sea ice has almost no influence on the sea level. Let’s hope the west-Antarctic ice sheet will stay on land.

      2. Ironically, I hope I’m wrong. 🙂 It can’t be doubted that humans are capable of creating massive damage, and we need to face up to it.
        Thing is we need to do it right; with science, and not political motive. When AGW is subjected to the scientific process, it breaks down, and that is a huge problem when we consider the economic impact of AGW mitigation policies (not to mention a very dangerous precedent leading away from the scientific process).
        I’m pretty sure the growth/melting of ice sheets affects sea level. If not, then the land bridges of the past ice ages would not have been exposed. What we need to be careful about (IMO) is what we attach changes to the climate to; normal earth/cosmic cycles, or an all-out assault on our ecology by modern industry.

  14. This thread proves Churchill’s quote:
    “Nothing discourages one more about democracy than a five minute conversation with the average citizen.”

  15. Now I know why I was afraid to watch the video. It doesn’t’ say anything! Wow… I am speechless. Is UT really going this way?

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