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Dana's 50th: Why I Blog

Posted on 28 March 2011 by dana1981

This is my 50th Skeptical Science blog post, and John has given me free reign to try and write something "epic".  I want to start out by thanking John for making Skeptical Science (SkS) into such a great resource (the best climate science blog on the planet!), and allowing me to contribute to it.  Thanks to the other SkS authors for giving me such good feedback on my articles, and thanks to the readers for the valuable comments and discussions on the posts.

As I'm sure was the case for a lot of people, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth first piqued my interest in climate science.  After seeing the film, I decided to research the subject for myself to determine whether the situation was really as dire as it was portrayed.  I started reading mainstream media articles, then climate blogs, then books and peer-reviewed papers.  Over the past 5 years, the more I've learned about the climate, the more concerned I've become.

My first SkS blog post was about quantifying the human contribution to global warming.  That, combined with the human fingerprints of global warming create a pretty airtight case that humans are driving the current warming trend.  When we say "the science is settled", that's what we're talking about.

There are of course significant uncertainties remaining.  For example, the cloud feedback, and sensitivity of the climate to increasing CO2.  And climate sensitivity is the major key to determining the threat posed by climate change.  That being said, climate sensitivity to a doubling of atmospheric CO2, which we are on pace to reach in about 50 years, is very likely between 1.5 and 4.5°C.  I've always been impressed about the agreement between numerous different estimates of climate sensitivity, from empirical data from recent changes, to paeloclimate measurements, to climate model runs.

If this wide body of evidence is correct, then we're headed for the 2°C "danger limit" within about 50 years.  This is where I become very concerned.  I'm an environmental scientist and risk assessor, and when it comes to public health and welfare, we don't mess around.  If there's a chance a site is contaminated and poses a threat to the public, the site owner has to either prove that it's safe or clean it up.  With the climate, we're not holding ourselves to this same conservative standard.  We're taking a very cavalier approach, failing to heed the warnings of the scientific experts, and putting public health and welfare at great risk.

It's true that there is a chance that the "skeptics" are right and the consequences of human greenhouse gas emissions won't be dire, but the probability is very low.  I've examined the claims of a number of "skeptic" climate scientists, including Lindzen, Spencer, and Christy, and I do not find them very compelling.  There's a slim possibility that they are correct, that climate sensitivity is low and there is some internal radaitive forcing driving the climate.  But to act on this improbable hypothesis, ignoring the much more compelling case which is supported by a consensus of scientific experts, that we are driving the climate towards potentially catastrophic consequences for much of life on Earth, is downright foolish.

I convinced John to expand SkS to address climate solutions in addition to the fundamental science.  I examined economic studies, and found that carbon pricing has a small economic impact, and in fact its benefits outweigh its costs several times over, as we've seen in real-world examples.  And I've recently blogged about two plans to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources in a timely manner.

When you put together the immense risks posed by greenhouse gas-driven climate change, the minimal economic impacts of carbon pricing, and the roadmaps to use the carbon revenues to transition to a low-carbon economy, it just makes me think "what the heck are we waiting for?".  And then recently watching Republicans in U.S. Congress regurgitate the same myths we've debunked on SkS, while trying to justify some very anti-science legislation rather than trying to actually address the problem, was very frustrating.

I always come back to the risk assessment and management perspective.  Climate change poses one of the greatest potential risks the human race has ever faced.  From a risk management standpoint, even if you're personally unconvinced by the scientific evidence, it just makes no sense to risk the future of human society and a great many of the species on Earth on the slim probability that the scientific experts are wrong and you're right.  The risks and consequences are just too great.  We're on track for a potential mass extinction event for goodness sakes.

I think a lot of people are in denial about the magnitude of this threat, but many others are simply unaware of it.  And that's why I blog.  I think those of us who understand the potential threat have a duty to try and communicate it to those who don't, and convince them to try and do something about it.  The magnitude of the problem is so large that we can't solve it without having majorities in every country on board.

Ultimately it's not about proving which "side" is right, because we can't know that until future events play out.  It's all about mitigating risk.  As Lonnie Thompson put it, we're committed to a certain amount of climate change, and "The only question is how much we will mitigate, adapt, and suffer".  Personally, I'd like to reduce the risk of suffering as much as possible.  I don't want to bet public health and welfare on the off chance that the "skeptics" are right.  And I think those who are actively trying to prevent us from taking the steps to reduce that risk of suffering are doing our country, human society, and the world a great disservice.  To those who are doing what they can to communicate the risk and threat to the public, thanks, and keep up the good work!

The only question is how much we will mitigate, adapt, and suffer

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Comments 51 to 60 out of 60:

  1. Gilles@48.
    Glad you mentioned that you're a scientist.
    For some inexplicable reason (clearly no reason at all) I was certain you were a teacher. Must have mixed you up with someone on another site who's a teacher in France.

    SNRatio@49. That's a handy exposition. I'll read it again in a day or so.
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  2. adelady : actually I teach as a professor and do research at university - i didn't mean teacher in a high school.
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  3. SNRratio : are you claiming that a "distribution of probability" of an unknown, but a priori definite quantity like the climate sensitivity (if you assume it's a definite quantity...) is itself an objective quantity, external to mankind, and that several different methods should converge towards the same distribution?

    that's a very, very surprising assertion ...
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  4. #53 Gilles:
    You still haven't got it? How could you say sensitivity is "a priori definite quantity"? For all practical purposes, it is not-deterministic, and maybe it is even in principle. It is one of the best examples of a "real" random variable that I can think of, because it follows the chaotic aspects of weather.

    And even "deterministic" things like a digital camera exposure is by no means "apriori definite" when you go down to pixel level. Because of the quantum nature of light, it is not "a priori definite".

    Whether it is "objective" or not, is a philosophical question that I don't think we have to answer in order to work with it, and reproducibility is a basic feature of natural science. When e.g. random effects make complete reproducibility im,possible, we turn to things like statistical distributions.

    If different methods do not converge to the same distribution, we usually consider the entity as ill-defined, or our methods as inadequate.

    This is rather basic natural science, as I normally work with it.
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  5. SNRatio : are you really stating that the climate sensitivity is a "real" random variable, comparable to the Poisson noise of a quantum detector, that is, there is absolutely no chance of determining it more precisely that the current uncertainty ?

    sorry but you're still confusing me even more...
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  6. Hi Dana, congradulations on you 50th article and you will have many more to come. As we do not agree on the causes of the warming, i will not get into that, but the economics of mitigation IMO will be greater than most estimates from any person on the planet.

    Knowing that most parts of the world were warmer than today as evidenced by Greenland glacier melting and finding viking settlements there and glacial retreat in Swiss mountains and finding whole villages that were swallowed by the glacier is very compelling evidence to me in that respect. (off-topic)

    Adaption will be easier than anybody can really understand. The biggest cost to any of it will be moving the millions of people away from the coasts of the continents with sea level rise, which even with a 3c rise in temps would take many 100s of years if not 1000 years.

    Rob, how are you? I agree that the chinese are starting to do what they can about the working conditions of the people but IMO thier biggest problem is the pollution that they are creating just like us and Europe in the past 100 to 2oo yrs. The USA came up with the EPA to combat this problem and they have done a very good job of cleaning up the smokestacks and enviroment of this land and we all know we have just strached the surface in that repect, Right Dana.

    Personally i see a revolt in the future, all over the world just like the middle east because of the same things they have, ie, corruption, no employment, more corruption, more have nots than haves. Carbon pricing or trading will put untold billions or trillions in the bankers pockets with no real impact on the climate IMO. We can study it till we are blue in the face, but face, greed is a human condition that can not be stopped much less legeslated out of the globe.

    I am know scientist as Dana and Rob know just a man with good common sense who has travelled the world and seen all this thru out the world. Again congrats on the 50th article Dana, look forward to more.
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    Moderator Response:

    Welcome to Skeptical Science! There is an immense amount of reference material discussed here and it can be a bit difficult at first to find an answer to your questions. That's why we recommend that Newcomers, Start Here and then learn The Big Picture.

    I also recommend watching this video on why CO2 is the biggest climate control knob in Earth's history.

    Further general questions can usually be be answered by first using the Search function in the upper left of every Skeptical Science page to see if there is already a post on it (odds are, there is). If you still have questions, use the Search function located in the upper left of every page here at Skeptical Science and post your question on the most pertinent thread.

    Remember to frame your questions in compliance with the Comments Policy and lastly, to use the Preview function below the comment box to ensure that any html tags you're using work properly.

    Some of your comment is off-topic on this thread; you can find other threads here at Skeptical Science to better discuss them there (Search thingy).

  7. hi grayman, and thanks. Please see Greenland used to be green. I agree with you on the EPA, they've done a good job.
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  8. Hey back Dana, I will read the post you recommend but first to the moderator, that section you crossed out was not a question or being off topic for the thread, just a lead in to the comment below it. Thank you for putting it in paragraph form, i will try to be more mindful of that in the future.
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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] First and foremost, as a first-time poster here we all definitely want you to feel at home here. And Dana's post does indeed touch upon a variety of topics. The part struck-out, in and of itself, is contrary to the current understanding of things (without a source citation for others to follow). I didn't then want other commenters here to follow those bits up with further questions that might then detract from the topic of this thread. That was my point.

    Feel free to disagree with the thread posts, but please use source citations and/or links to help others understand the substance behind why you're disagreeing. Tips on composing comments can be found here.

  9. grayman... Note that I believe your comment was crossed out as much for being off topic as it was for being wrong. I highly suggest you take more time to read up on the science before applying common sense. Our human instincts can sometimes lead us astray when it comes to scientific issues. And this issue (climate change) has many whom wish to divert our eyes from the preponderance of evidence at hand.

    Read carefully. Be skeptical. Look at all the evidence before you decide.
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  10. Moderator, thank you for the reply. I understand your concern for more questions and comments to it leading the to really being off topic, i was not trying for that just for the lead in and when i reread before submitting it looked good to me. I like the moderation stlye so far, good job and i will try to stick to adding citations , thanks again
    Rob, wrong, no but that is another topic for another day. I do try to look at all the evidence i can, and as any scientist or layman, with good common sense can attest to science can somtimes make things more complicated than they need to be. Engineers and designers are good about that. Moderator my apologies again.
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  11. grayman... If you're interested in discussing that particular subject (it being warmer in the past) we can post on the appropriate thread here.
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