What next for climate change?

Oct 07 2013, 02:28 IST
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SummaryThe serious manifestation of man-made climate change can only be solved by cost effective, reliable renewable energy technologies as well as emerging, safer nuclear technology

earth’s heating would resume once the sun reverts to a more active phase. However, once again, the fact that the sun would be relatively quiet over this period should have been factored in by the climate modelers.

The explanation, that to my mind is the most plausible, is as follows: The direct warming effect of carbon dioxide which results from burning fossil fuels, and other man-made greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as methane is actually quite modest. However, water vapour is a strong GHG in itself, and accounts for the natural greenhouse effect which is what, after all, gives the earth its hospitable climate. An initial warming due to carbon dioxide and other man-made GHGs would increase evaporation of water from the oceans, and this would, at first blush, increase the initial warming due to man-made GHGs. However, the increased water vapour in the atmosphere may also induce increased cloud cover which reflects solar radiation back into space. The net effect may thus be either increased heating or cooling, and neither is inconsistent with thermodynamics. It is possible that the parameter capturing the positive feedback from water vapour in the atmosphere was incorrectly estimated by earlier researchers, and in a startling demonstration of ‘groupthink’ most modelers adopted these incorrect estimates. The result is forecasts of the earth’s future temperature that are significantly higher than actually recorded. However, this is but one candidate explanation, and the true explanations may lie elsewhere. The problem with all the explanations on offer is that they are ex post, and beg the question of why the modelers did not take them into account before publishing their models’ forecasts.

What is to be done? First, the IPCC. The scientific method involves not ignoring uncertainty, but in being explicit about it. Climate scientists need to acknowledge that there is a great deal about the mechanisms of the global climate that they do not yet sufficiently understand, and perhaps that they do not yet know what they do not know. The basic physics of climate change is not at dispute, but knowledge about how all the complex factors influencing the global climate work together is still sketchy. Much further research is called for, and in particular, the future research must involve partnerships among institutions between developed and developing countries in order to enhance its credibility. As of now, far too much of the published climate research originates in developed countries.


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