WHAT WE KNOW: Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change AAASLeave a Comment
MARCH 18, 2014 Justin Gillis NY Times
Early in his career, a scientist named Mario J. Molina was pulled into seemingly obscure research about strange chemicals being spewed into the atmosphere. Within a year, he had helped discover a global environmental emergency, work that would ultimately win a Nobel Prize. Now, at 70, Dr. Molina is trying to awaken the public to an even bigger risk. He spearheaded a committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, which released a stark report Tuesday on global warming. The report warns that the effects of human emissions of heat-trapping gases are already being felt, that the ultimate consequences could be dire, and that the window to do something about it is closing. “The evidence is overwhelming: Levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising,” says the report. “Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heat waves are getting worse, as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying.”….. In a sense, this is just one more report about global warming in a string going back decades. For anybody who was already paying attention, the report contains no new science. But the language in the 18-page report, called “What We Know,” is sharper, clearer and more accessible than perhaps anything the scientific community has put out to date. And the association does not plan to stop with the report. The group, with a membership of 121,200 scientists and science supporters around the world, plans a broad outreach campaign to put forward accurate information in simple language…..
By Joe Romm on March 20, 2014 climateprogress.org
The world’s largest general scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has issued an uncharacteristically blunt call to action on climate change. The must-read new report by the AAAS’s Climate Science Panel, “What We Know” has several simple messages [see below]…. Kudos to the AAAS for this report. They join the US National Academy of Sciences and the U.K. Royal Society in producing a new, highly readable climate report, though the AAAS has done a better job of bluntly laying out the risks.
Bottom line: If a generally staid, consensus-oriented body like the AAAS is alarmed, then we all should be. As climatologist Lonnie Thompson explained back in 2010: Climatologists, like other scientists, tend to be a stolid group. We are not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies. Most of us are far more comfortable in our laboratories or gathering data in the field than we are giving interviews to journalists or speaking before Congressional committees. Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.
What we know:
THE REALITY, RISKS AND RESPONSE TO CLIMATE CHANGE
American Association for the Advancement of Science
The overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change documents both current impacts with significant costs and extraordinary future risks to society and natural systems. The scientific community has convened conferences, published reports, spoken out at forums and proclaimed, through statements by virtually every national scientific academy and relevant major scientific organization — including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — that climate change puts the well-being of people of all nations at risk.
Surveys show that many Americans think climate change is still a topic of significant scientific disagreement.[i] Thus, it is important and increasingly urgent for the public to know there is now a high degree of agreement among climate scientists that human-caused climate change is real. Moreover, while the public is becoming aware that climate change is increasing the likelihood of certain local disasters, many people do not yet understand that there is a small, but real chance of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts on people in the United States and around the world.
It is not the purpose of this paper to explain why this disconnect between scientific knowledge and public perception has occurred. Nor are we seeking to provide yet another extensive review of the scientific evidence for climate change. Instead, we present key messages for every American about climate change:
1. Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now. Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening. This agreement is documented not just by a single study, but by a converging stream of evidence over the past two decades from surveys of scientists, content analyses of peer-reviewed studies, and public statements issued by virtually every membership organization of experts in this field. Average global temperature has increased by about 1.4˚ F over the last 100 years. Sea level is rising, and some types of extreme events – such as heat waves and heavy precipitation events – are happening more frequently. Recent scientific findings indicate that climate change is likely responsible for the increase in the intensity of many of these events in recent years.
2. We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts. Earth’s climate is on a path to warm beyond the range of what has been experienced over the past millions of years.[ii] The range of uncertainty for the warming along the current emissions path is wide enough to encompass massively disruptive consequences to societies and ecosystems: as global temperatures rise, there is a real risk, however small, that one or more critical parts of the Earth’s climate system will experience abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes. Disturbingly, scientists do not know how much warming is required to trigger such changes to the climate system.
3. The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do.
Waiting to take action will inevitably increase costs, escalate risk, and foreclose options to address the risk. The CO2 we produce accumulates in Earth’s atmosphere for decades, centuries, and longer. It is not like pollution from smog or wastes in our lakes and rivers, where levels respond quickly to the effects of targeted policies. The effects of CO2 emissions cannot be reversed from one generation to the next until there is a large- scale, cost-effective way to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Moreover, as emissions continue and warming increases, the risk increases.
By making informed choices now, we can reduce risks for future generations and ourselves, and help communities adapt to climate change. People have responded successfully to other major environmental challenges such as acid rain and the ozone hole with benefits greater than costs, and scientists working with economists believe there are ways to manage the risks of climate change while balancing current and future economic prosperity.
As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do or must believe about the rising threat of climate change. But we consider it to be our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.