Photo via My Greener Family
Scientists Convene to Explain Case for Climate Change
As many of you know, climate science has gotten something of a bad rap in recent days--the percentage of Americans who even believe that it's caused by man seems to be in a downward plunge. Perhaps it's related to the PR crises that have wracked some of the more venerable climate institutions as of late: the hacked emails at the East University of Anglia, the IPCC's errors in predicting Himalayan glacier melt, and the feeble non-scandal AmazonGate. Perhaps it's related to Americans being more concerned with the economy, or because they've wearied on all the apocalyptic messaging. One thing is certain, however--the chasm between overwhelming scientific evidence and public understanding is greater than perhaps ever before. And it's time to close the gap.
With this mission in mind, the Center for American Progress hosted a conference with two of the world's top climate scientists to issue a a debriefing on the current state of climate science. I attended--and here's what was revealed . . .
Global climate change is still happening.
That was pretty much the big story--and despite the intelligent, rational, thorough presentations on the unbelievably strong (and only growing stronger) case for climate change given by the climate scientists Christopher Field and Michael MacCracken (both who've worked closely with the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change), I left with a knot in my stomach.
You see, the scientists started from the beginning--noting that ever since the work of Arrhenius over a century ago, the physics behind the greenhouse effect have been unchallenged. Accepted. And it's accepted that CO2 is one such greenhouse gas.
They explained how carefully kept records of rising carbon concentration in the atmosphere ever since the industrial revolution has correlated remarkably with rising temperatures. They presented immaculate charts and graphs, citing the sources, and discussed the dangers of feedback loops like melting permafrost and vanishing tropical forests.
They explained the IPCC methodology, and noted how its more radical projections for sea level rise from 1990 have proven accurate. They noted how ice in the Arctic is retreating, and decreasing not only in size, but in quality. They noted how under business as usual scenarios, global temperature is likely to rise at least 3.5 C. In other words, they explained, step by step, the incredible, overwhelming evidence that human activity is causing global temperatures to rise.
Here you can see the human impact on the climate: the blue denotes how temps would have dropped had we not emitted the amount of greenhouse gases that we did.
And the levels of carbon in the atmosphere is rising fast, seen here in increase in parts per million. We're continuing to emit carbon at unprecedented levels.
So Much Evidence, And Yet . . .
But we know all this--likely as you, TreeHugger reader, are likely aware that this has long been the case made by the vast consensus of mainstream scientists and an even vaster majority of climate scientists..
The most interesting part of the talk was probably when Field discussed using a sort of risk management approach to argue in favor of acting to stop climate change. He noted that one of the main sources of confusion over climate predictions from, say, the IPCC, was simply that there were so many of them. The IPCC modeled its projections over different scenarios--business as usual, minor increases in voluntary action to curb emissions, major economic transformation to clean energy, and so on. So there are different predictions, different models. Again, this is all well known.
And there are many different climate models (NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies's model, NOAA, etc) used to predict such outcomes.
Climate Risk Management
But all of the projections have this in common: they hold that if we don't act at all to wean ourselves from carbon dependence, then there is a far higher probability that the global temperatures will rise 3, 4, or 5 degrees than, say, they will rise only 1.5 degrees. Look at it as though it were risk management, Field suggested. There's practically no debate over whether temps will rise, but there is plenty of debate as to how much they will. We need to learn to respect that uncertainty an gauge our level of response accordingly.
However, this interesting point aside, the rest of the talk was a rather depressing affair--many of the questions asked by the audience focused on how the scientists--and the IPCC--were planning on better conveying their ideas to the public. And they didn't inspire much confidence. And how could they? They're scientists, not PR whizzes. They must be more baffled than anyone on the extent to which their research is getting distorted and contorted.
They did say it would be useful to remind people that the technologies that make modern life possible were the products of the same scientific process that has arrived at the overwhelming consensus that the earth's climate is warming, which I think is a good point.
Climate Change's PR Problem
It left me depressed nonetheless--not because of the scientists in any way, their work has been admirable and impressive, to say the least. But the fact that Americans are growing less inclined to accept some of the most thorough scientific work ever done in history--all because it's either inconvenient or because misinformation has gripped them. Our climate is changing, ladies and gentlemen. But it seems more and more unlikely that this nation, which once embraced science so thoroughly, will be willing enough to face the facts.
So let this be a wake up call. Climate change is still happening--it's worse than most of the models had predicted. Let deniers whine about hacked emails, solar radiation, or whatever they'd like to whine about: facts are facts. And far enough facts have been collected over the decades to produce an overwhelming supply of evidence that global warming is happening, and happening now. Let the deniers whine--the rest of us have work to do.
Here's the full video of the event, via Climate Progress.
Find all the graphs and info from the presentation here.