In Praise of Climate Scientists

This blog was written by John D. Wilson, former Deputy Director for Regulatory Policy at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | September 28, 2015 | Climate Change

“We once saw planets as nothing more than wanderers in the night sky,” writes Adam Frank, but today we have “learned to read entire worlds.”

What beautiful writing.

I still remember how wonderful and exciting it was to understand how just a few simple equations could describe our planet’s atmosphere with surprising detail and, yes, beauty. It was a class on Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, and I was auditing it as a graduate student. As an undergraduate, almost all of my classes – except materials science – kept the world of physics and chemistry separate. And here was a class in which chemical equations supplied inputs for wave functions, illustrating how the ozone layer is transformed by pollution, and how it affects ultraviolet light.

Sometimes, in my work on global warming issues, the news about Greenland melting and sea level rise can make science feel like a real bummer. Thanks Adam Frank for reminding me of the amazement of it all.

Source: Original data: Hansen et al 1981 and Science; New data: NASA GISS Land-Ocean Temperature Index. Credit: Geert Jan van Oldenborgh/Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and Alyson Hurt/NPR

For those who don’t follow the link, here’s the punch line (click the graphic for the entire story): a reminder that in 1981, James Hansen and colleagues made a pretty good prediction about what might happen with the climate. The prediction missed the mark, though: Our planet’s climate is even more sensitive to our carbon pollution than they estimated over 30 years ago.

Climate Theory Ca. 1981 Vs. Climate Reality Now

Global temperature variations compared with a paper published by climate scientist James Hansen and collaborators in 1981. The Hansen model used computer simulations that were crude by today’s standards but, as this figure shows, did a pretty good job of predicting the increase in global temperatures over the next 34 years. Note that the Hansen et al predictions actually underestimate the amount of global warming. From the abstract of the paper: “It is shown that the anthropogenic carbon dioxide warming should emerge from the noise level of natural climate variability by the end of the century, and there is a high probability of warming in the 1980s.”

HT: Peter Saundry

Guest Blog
My Profile