(This blog was written as an op-ed for the Sunday Times) Tens of thousands of scientific papers, thousands of top scientists, decades of research, and summarized in one newspaper article? I think not. The challenge is to ask you to suspend your opinion for a moment. Forget “It’s a hoax” or “we’re all going to starve.” Do you really think the climate system cares about your or my opinion? Instead consider the facts. Unfortunately, to get at the facts you have to listen to people. So first let’s briefly talk about people. On one side is a small vocal community, called denialists, “true” skeptics, or other more impolite terms. Mostly they are non-specialists not engaged in active climate research. With diverse motivations their approach is trial by opinion; assuming a nefarious intent from scientists, building on unsupported assumptions, selectively picking data to support a position, and using accusation, mockery and distorted statements of “fact”. It’s nearly impossible to debate a denialist – they simply ignore your answer and make a new assertion. Then there are the world’s active climate scientists (1000s of them). Science is inherently self-correcting. The research is tested, repeatable, providing a consistent, coherent, and overwhelming body of evidence from decades of work. Skeptics sometimes imply conspiracy, but good grief, if scientists could carry out such a conspiracy we’d be ruling the world. So, what are the robust facts?
- Climate is changing. Most of it can only be explained by our increased greenhouse gasses. It’s not (just) about air temperature which is actually a weak measure. It’s really about global energy which influences temperature, rainfall, wind, storms, oceans, ice, and extreme events. Global energy continues to rise unabated and is seen in deep ocean temperature, arctic melting, storm intensities, or unusual seasonal behavior. We are undeniably changing the energy of our planet and the climate is responding.
- It is about long term shifts in the behavior of the weather. We’ll continue to have a range of weather events, but the range is shifting, and therein lays the problem. In any region the society, agriculture, and industry are adapted to a range of climate variability. Change the range and we’re out of equilibrium … too many dry years, too much rain, too intense storms, too little wind, it all stresses our society. Too much stress and a sector will degrade or even fail … a crop, a water supply, a storm water system, an ecosystem.
- The physics is robust. From the late 1800s we’ve known the physics of climate change. All the research confirms it. We know how increases in greenhouse gasses manifest in warmer oceans, ice melt, shifting seasons, snow cover decrease, humidity increase, species migration. All are what you’d expect with climate change, and we see all these and more.
- We’re already committed. Last week we passed 400ppm of CO2 for the first time in at least 800,000 years. We show no progress in controlling this, yet the impacts are evident, increasing, and will continue for centuries. All we can do is try to manage the problem.
- This is an ethical problem. Will we be honest, face the facts, and put our selfishness aside to stop borrowing from our children’s future. I’ll be dead before the really serious changes occur, but my children will inherit our legacy.
To conclude, I can’t convince you here. All I ask is that you have the courage to put aside personal preference and consider the bigger picture. Learn to read the language of denialism. Learn to recognize scientific tested facts. Perhaps the best starting point is Skeptical Science. Check their resources, look at the science arguments, and consider the weakness of the skeptic’s arguments (which are so very weak). Then consider how we can adapt, become resilient, and contribute to a local solution for a global problem.