Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren
BY J. F. C. DIMENTO, P. DOUGHMAN AND S. LEVESQUE
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 selfinterested reasons for viewing the situation with alarm.
Climate scientists — like scientific experts in other disciplines — do not always have expertise when it comes to communicating their findings to the public. Nonetheless, no matter what some people believe and contrarians assert, the reality of climate change and its effects stands up well to the generally accepted standards of scientific inquiry. Denying that global warming is real is simply a refusal to look at the evidence.
The localized effects of climate change will vary. Not everyone will be hurt, and some will likely benefit. But, some regions are extremely vulnerable to ongoing changes in climate, and their populations, their resources, and their environments will be damaged in significant ways. Effects in the truly poorest communities may well be felt worldwide through the economic networks that have evolved in a globalized world.
Changing Knowledge Our understandings of the challenges, risks, and opportunities of climate change evolve daily as new scientific information becomes available for society to
50 The World Financial Review September – October 2014