(A 15-minute read)

Galileo was correct when he wrote: “the universe is written in the language of mathematics”.  We need to use the  international language of mathematics more efficiently to fight climate change.  Using mathematics more will help us come up with more ideas, and those ideas can help us get things moving and keep them moving.  Ideas can trump nearly every crisis.  We can think of the following as an Idea Equation or Formula. The formula presented here can help the world’s fight with climate change move faster. 

All levels of government and businesses and industries across various sectors, rely on mathematics to solve practical problems, optimize processes, and make informed decisions. By understanding relationships, and quantifying uncertainties, we gain valuable insights into the world around us.   By embracing mathematics as a powerful tool, we can unlock the many doors of climate change and learn how best to move forward.

Mathematics holds many solutions for slowing down climate change as much as possible as fast as possible.  We need to use it more and combine it with two other needed ingredients for success.

Do we have an existential problem that is too big, too complicated, too costly, and too political to solve?  The answer we all want to hear to this question is NO, but many people would say YES.  It is clear, we have been  moving much slower than necessary, however we can, with the needed will, speed up the actions needed everywhere to fight climate change successfully.

William Paul Thurston – one of the greatest mathematicians of the twentieth century said – “Mathematics is not about numbers, equations, computations, or algorithms: it is about understanding.” He also said, “Mathematics is a process of staring hard enough with enough perseverance at the fog of muddle and confusion to eventually break through to improved clarity.”  He was right on both counts.  With accelerating climate change now upon us, it is a now or never moment for us to act and we need more of the understanding and improved clarity he is talking about. 

Governments and companies need accurate and credible data on their climate change impact and sustainability efforts and then they need monitor those efforts closely to meet their committed emissions reduction targets.

For this reason, I am suggesting we use the following formula to help speed up our fight with climate change.  It is a formula that the entire world can and must embrace if we hope to meet emission reduction targets and our commitments to the next generation .  It is a formula that will work – if we apply it.

CCM + (CA x CC) = SCER

            CCM    denotes Climate Change Mathematics

            CA        denotes Commitment Ability

            CC        denotes Communications Credibility

            SCER   denotes Successful Carbon Emissions Reduction

CCM (Climate Change Mathematics) must do more to guide policy makers and help public understanding. We do already use it of course, but we must use it more, in modelling to assess the consequences of global warming and predict future trends, and to calculate all forms of emissions and how best to address them quickly. It can be used by all of us, in many ways, to generate the knowledge we need to make better decisions.  We can also use it more effectively to bridge the gap between science and policy making. Businesses can use it more to help them meet their commitments and activists can use it more to make sure they do. To help us fight climate change more effectively it must be used more as a language of logic and expressed as a music of reason.

It does not matter that in the math there are hundreds of millions of variables that affect each other in non-linear feedback relationships, generating billions of degrees of freedom in possible outcomes.  We know enough about Greenhouse Gases already to calculate all forms of emissions and it may surprise many to know the mathematics is not difficult.  But generating the data needed to reach more informed decisions is only half of the battle.  Commitment Ability (CA) and Communications Credibility (CC) are equally necessary.

Commitment Ability (CA) is our capability to carry out the responsibility to achieve the results committed, through appropriate follow up and control to make things happen within the time agreed upon, or within a reasonable time if time is not discussed.  

Communications Credibility (CC) is the trustworthiness to communicate whenever complications arise, that the communicator cannot control, which jeopardize the committed results, to provide forewarning and allow time to shift priorities or find the alternative courses of action needed to keep the commitment on schedule.  Communications Credibility can also be defined as Personal Credibility and without it the level of our commitment ability is lowered and becomes questionable.

This formula tells us it is time to break the silence about our failures and to stop making excuses for not making the needed progress towards our emission reduction targets.  It is saying we need to end our wilful blindness about climate change, take our promises seriously and monitor our progress more.

To fight climate change successfully, we must use Climate Change Maths starting with the well-established emission factors that exist today and let the maths explode from there to calculate all of the Scopes 1,2 and 3 emissions from all sources.  At the same time, we must increase our Commitment Ability and  Communications Credibility to act. 

We know the best way to reduce carbon quickly is to do things more efficiently, do them less. or don’t do them at all – we must explore the alternatives – but we must act now.

From designing climate models and presenting results that can be understood by the public to guiding policy makers into achieving the most effective outcome, the mathematics involved in the climate crisis is endless.

Mathematics is absolutely integral in every step towards preventing climate change.

If we let this formula be a spokesperson for climate action then we will have a better chance at preventing the worst parts about our future that many mathematicians have already predicted.

People know that counting all emissions from all sources, where we count them, and when we count them matters.  We should also be including military emissions that are not being counted from trucks, tanks, jets, bombers, rockets, Light Armoured Vehicles etc. People everywhere need to do more emissions math, to provide more data that can produce more findings that can lead to new conclusions and more and better recommendations to fight climate change.

People need to know more about emissions from all sources in order to participate in the debates and argue more effectively about the need to reduce them – (including military emissions) – and they want to be assured that everything possible is being done to reduce them – without delay. 

In January 2019, Greta Thunberg, then a 16-year-old school student from Sweden, addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  She told the assembled leaders of industry, nations, and billionaires. “I want you to panic.”  Her speech made headlines around the world.  The moral force of her speech was one of the reasons it went round the world.  Did her audience panic and respond as she had hoped?  No – they did not –  largely because they were more committed then to the status quo than they were committed to their desire to act in the best interest of the health of the planet and the next generation.  Now time is running out and that is why we need to ensure all commitments to reduce emissions are taken seriously and why we must demand that efforts and progress toward meeting those targets are monitored more closely and more often.

Canada says we are committed to addressing the problem. Yet today, Canada is failing.  Although we are a small country in population terms, we are the tenth largest GHG polluter.  Our per capita emissions are through the roof and our leaders are acting like they do not care about meeting our emission reduction targets.  Alberta and Ontario are the biggest obstacles. 

Premier Doug Ford and Premier Danielle Smith should hire a small army of young Climate Change Mathematicians to show them the emission numbers they need to see.  With the help of more and better data  the need to shift priorities or take different actions can then be recognized to ensure important target dates will be met.  This would help to raise Provincial Commitment Ability (CA) and Communications Credibility (CC) from the very low levels they are now, to a much higher level that is needed. 

Governments and large companies all over the world should do the same. They should do this not only to ensure they will succeed at meeting their commitments to reduce emissions but also to show many millions of young people around the world that they are acting responsibly on their behalf. 

My aim here has been to prompt more thinking about what a successful mathematical formula for fighting Climate Change might look like.  A formula that includes the important ingredients of raising our ability and  reliability to communicate with each other, as much as needed, to ensure we live up to our promises to the world.

More efforts to calculate and estimate all Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions are needed. Much more focus on all Upfront Embodied Carbon (defined as the carbon footprint of construction materials from its extraction, through manufacture, to installation, and the emissions associated with construction works) is also needed.


As Galileo said: “The universe is written in the language of mathematics.” 

It is time for us to use this language more and also raise our Commitment Ability and Communications Credibility to ensure we can fight Climate Change more effectively.

NASA says:   

Humans have caused major climate changes to happen already, and we have set in motion more  changes still. However, if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, the rise in global temperatures would begin to flatten within a few years. Temperatures would then plateau but remain well-elevated for many, many centuries. There is a time lag between what we do and when we feel it, but that lag is less than a decade.  Without major action to reduce emissions, global temperature is on track to rise by 2.5°C to 4.5 °C  (4.5 °F to 8 °F) by 2100.  But it may not be too late to avoid or limit some of the worst effects of climate change.”

            Source: The Earth Science Communications Team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory updated November 30, 2023

Due to the work done by scientists and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the world has lost its innocence and naivete. There are no longer any acceptable excuses or alibis for governments, businesses and industries everywhere not doing the math needed and doing whatever they can do to get climate change under control. 

The IPCC’s latest climate assessment says the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2035 compared with 2019 levels.  That is extraordinarily challenging.  This means things need to change more quickly than people everywhere thought they would.  We are behind schedule and the status quo must go.  We need national and individual commitments to be taken seriously and honest efforts to catch up.  This needs to be as much a social as it is an economic or business process. 

To help us succeed, everyone can use the formula: CCM + (CA x CC) = SCER (Successful Carbon Emissions Reduction)

Robert Hicks is a member of the Education Committee of Seniors for Climate Action Now! (SCAN!) and author of Our Future: Let’s Talk About the Climate Crisis. A story for attendees of COP26 and a few billion others. Amazon ISBN: 9798757601199 

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