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The (Unclear) Case for Climate Impacts

By Keith Kloor
Jul 14, 2010 8:21 PMNov 19, 2019 10:50 PM


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An extraordinary op-ed by four climate scientists, headlined "The Science Behind Climate Science," asserts:

The urgent need to act cannot be overstated. Climate change caused by humans is already affecting our lives and livelihoods "” with extreme storms, unusual floods and droughts, intense heat waves, rising seas and many changes in biological systems "” as climate scientists have projected.

This is nectar to Joe Romm, "problematic" to Roger Pielke, Jr., who has written an email to one of the op-ed authors, asking:

I am unaware of research that shows either detection or attribution of human-caused changes in extreme storms or floods, much less detection or attribution of such changes "affecting lives and livelihoods". Can you point me to the scientific basis for such claims?

This is really the nub of the big debate over climate change, not whether the science is established, but what are the detectable impacts. I think if it was incontestable that man-made climate change is causing the kind of extreme climatic changes and weather disasters that the op-ed asserts, we would have had a global treaty on carbon emissions by now. But the present-day impacts are not at all clear, though I'm open to persuasion--I really am. Which is why I'm anxious to see the reply that Roger gets. No one should mistake my skepticism on this matter as an argument for inaction on climate change. As long-time readers of this blog know, I tend to favor decoupling climate change from the larger energy debate. I recognize that to some, this dilutes the "urgency" for action; I just happen to think you can get broader buy-in for decarbonisation with the approach laid out by the Hartwell group. But it seems that the climate debate will continue to pivot on the contention that man-made climate catastrophe is not only inevitable--if no serious action is taken--but that, in fact, such catastrophe is already upon us. At least that's how I interpret the Politico op-ed. [Update:

A commenter says that I've mischaracterized the views of the op-ed authors with my "catastrophe" connotation, and I agree.

] If this is where the policy debate is destined to be decided, then we should vigorously engage it. To that end, I'd like to see Real Climate take up the science behind the assertions made in the Politico op-ed. RC is where controversial matters of climate science are most comprehensively aired out. Let's air this one out.

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