Climate Change in Everyday Language
Launched in August last year, The Science of Climate Change: Questions and Answers is a collaborative report authored by seventeen Australian scientists with internationally recognised expertise and genuine credentials in the field of climate science. Just twenty-four pages long, the report provides perhaps the clearest explanation presently available of the current global warming situation even as it takes into account the complexities and uncertainties of the science plus the lack of consensus within scientific communities.
Yet, in approaching their subject matter by using plain everyday language familiar to non-specialist readers, the authors of The Science of Climate Change clarify current understandings of the research into climate and weather systems and in so doing address the confusion created by contradictory information circulating in the public domain. The result is a concise (if rather terrifying) document which examines the fate of the world in simple, unsentimental, even devastating, terms. Should global warming continue on its current trajectory, the report’s findings are unambiguous and consequently a powerful call for immediate action. As an example, to quote a key statement:
Although climate varies from year to year and decade to decade, the overall upward trend of average global temperature over the last century is clear. Climate models, together with physical principles and knowledge of past variations, tell us that, unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are stabilised, global warming will continue.
Climate models estimate that, by 2100, the average global temperature will be between 2°C and 7°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures, depending on future greenhouse gas emissions and on the ways that models represent the sensitivity of climate to small disturbances. Models also estimate that this climate change will continue well after 2100.
A 2°C global warming would lead to a significantly different world from the one we now inhabit. Likely consequences would include more heat waves, fewer cold spells, changes to rainfall patterns and a higher global average rainfall, higher plant productivity in some places but decreases in others, disturbances to marine and terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity, disruption to food production in some regions, rising sea levels, and decreases in Arctic ice cover. While aspects of these changes may be beneficial in some regions, the overall impacts are likely to be negative under the present structure of global society.
A warming of 7°C would greatly transform the world from the one we now inhabit, with all of the above impacts being very much larger. Such a large and rapid change in climate would likely be beyond the adaptive capacity of many societies and species.
Bereft of the hyperbole, sensationalism, position taking and political colouring that is common to contemporary discussions of the subject, The Science of Climate Change is a critically important evidence-based report and essential reading. It can be freely downloaded from the Australian Academy of Science website as a PDF or read online through any flash-enabled browser.