Most of us are familiar with the terms climate change and global warming, but not too many of us understand the science behind them. Below, Joseph F. C. DiMento, Pamela Doughman, and Suzanne Levesque discuss the scientific knowledge about global climate change, describe how it will affect all of us, and suggest how government, businesses, and citizens can take action against it.
Climate change is a complex challenge, perhaps one of the largest the world has ever faced. It poses challenges for local, national, and international governments and the private sector. Further changes in average temperature, precipitation, and weather events will affect human health and global and regional economies. Ecosystems will change, and some species will be made extinct. Many ice sheets will melt or shrink, many glaciers will recede or disappear, and oceans will continue to rise.
Climate change will be different across regions. Agriculture will be more productive in some zones and jeopardized in others. Changes in weather, water availability, crop yields, heat waves, and public health — and the associated demands for energy — will be significant in some places at even small temperature increases. At the high level of 5.8oC (10.5oF), the impacts will be severe.
There exists an impressive record of climate change research, from the work of individual laboratories and the compilations and assessments of existing knowledge by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other major scientific bodies. Even so, there continues to be a mistaken view among some of the public that 1) there is no consensus on whether climate change exists; and 2) some scientists have self-interested reasons for viewing the situation with alarm.