Climate Change

Mark Twain once said “A great, great deal has been said about the weather, but very little has ever been done.” If he were alive today, it is unlikely that Mr. Twain would amend his statement – especially in the context of the global climate change discussion.

It is said: “The global climate is becoming warmer.” Few such simple statements have more complexity, more potential impact, and more controversy. Changes in global climate – warmer, colder, highly variable – can have vast impact on our environment. Ice ages come to mind, or the melting of the polar ice caps, which raises the level of the oceans. The potential impact of significant changes in global climate is immense. Therefore, how the word ‘significant’ is defined is the crux of the problem, where the debate lies, even within the scientific community.

Is there a debate? Of course, there is debate, a well-funded debate with high stakes. On the other hand there is also consensus, in fact a very large consensus among the scientists and specialists who observe and analyze the information about global climate. Unanimity should not be expected; science doesn’t work that way – ever. This is especially true with extremely complex and important issues. That’s why the overwhelming consensus is significant – the global climate is getting warmer. This does not mean the issue is completely settled. For one thing, scientists are still gathering information.

It is science that can tell us whether the global climate is changing and by how much. Climatologists pour over the weather records, prehistoric, historic, and current. Computer models are constructed to test hypotheses about future climate. Measurements are constantly taken of the atmosphere, the land, and the seas. The world’s ice-caps are probed and monitored. Almost by definition this vast effort to monitor and understand our climate is multi-disciplinary, besides climatologists and meteorologists the list of active participants is long, for example: zoologists, geologists, paleontologists, historians, economists, oceanographers, and biologists. Scientific reports and studies about the various aspects of climate change and its causes appear almost weekly.

Scientists also study and report on the causes of global climate change. Again, there is consensus, the global warming the planet is now experiencing is significantly man-made. As a simplified description, human beings are causing the current global warming by producing too much carbon-dioxide. Pointing the finger at ourselves is bound to raise objections, and it has. “Anthropogenic Global Warming” (AGW) has become a battle-phrase for the early 21st century. Politics, commercial interests, and even culture enter the debate at this point, because if we are the source of the problem, then it is we who must try to solve the problem.

It is technology that can – perhaps – provide solutions. And, of course, it is argued that technology is the cause, or one of the causes, of climate change, which means that some solutions may involve less technology, or at least technology of different kinds. So the role of technology in the area of climate change is important, if not pivotal. Here too there are numerous articles, studies, reports, and media coverage of almost all aspects of global warming – most especially the controversy.

The din of conflicting opinion is depressing. On the one hand the subject is quite technical; on the other hand its impact will be felt by virtually all of us. Unfortunately the effects of global warming will unfold in fits and starts, unevenly, over a period of many years – decades. This means that, at least for now, we humans are not confronted by the issue on a daily basis, which makes it difficult for most of us to understand at a gut level.

As a SciTechStory impact area, Climate Change is one of the most difficult to present. The flood of information is overwhelming. As with all impact areas, SciTechStory does not compete with specialized sources of information. For non-specialists, what we hope to do is provide ongoing glimpses of the most significant scientific information, and occasionally analytical or descriptive pieces about the subject.