Fortnightly logo

Global Warming: Neglecting the Complexities

Each year, more and more carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, industrial processes, land use practices, and deforestation. The long-range effects are unknown, but already the earth has seen an increase in average global temperature, rising sea levels, and melting glaciers in the arctic. Climate scientists predict an increase in extreme weather events and changing global climate, although exactly how this will play out is uncertain. Global climate models are utilized to make such predictions, and attempts are made to minimize uncertainties. In addition, the world is attempting to come to terms with climate change through implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. Although many signatories have already ratified the treaty, the United States elected to not participate and has set its own climate-change agenda. The United States currently contributes 25% of the global greenhouse-gas emissions. What will the earth look like in 200 years and how will we cope with the unknown impacts of climate change? Stephen Schneider's interdisciplinary research focuses on atmospheric science and global climate, especially linking biological systems to global climate change. One of his main research goals is to limit uncertainties within global climate models. Before his current appointment at Stanford University in the department of biological sciences, he spent many years as a staff scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Schneider is the editor of the journal Climate Change, has authored and edited numerous books (most recently Climate Change Policy: A Survey (2002)), and is the lead author of several Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chapters and the IPCC guidance paper on uncertainties. In addition, Schneider has served as a consultant to federal agencies and/or the White House staff for the Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton Administrations. His honors include the Macarthur Fellowship in 1992 and election to the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year. Schneider's lecture is the second talk in the series The Environment in Crisis, sponsored by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Roberts Environmental Center.