Can Climate Change Skeptics Become Believers?


Expressing concern about what it views as stubborn public skepticism regarding the causes and risks of climate change, the world's largest scientific society said March 18 it is stepping more forcefully into the policy debate and will call directly for cuts in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

“Waiting to take action will inevitably increase costs,” the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which represents more than 100,000 scientists, said in a new report, “What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change.”

The AAAS said about 97 percent of scientists “have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.”

Those scientists are increasingly worried that debate over whether climate change is real may be distracting the public from the “real risk, however small” of unpredictable and potentially irreversible climate changes, from disruption of the Gulf Stream to melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

The AAAS also launched March 18 a “What We Know” campaign in hopes of convincing the American public that there is now a scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and that cutting emissions now can avert climate catastrophe.

The report was produced by an AAAS climate science panel headed by Mario Molina, a Nobel laureate and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California at San Diego; Diana Wall, professor of biology and director at Colorado State University's School of Global Environmental Sustainability; and James McCarthy, Harvard University's Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography.

'Real Chance of Abrupt, Unpredictable' Impacts

The three scientists, along with 10 others spanning various climate science areas, will launch a series of speaking engagements in the months ahead, including meetings with policymakers and work on a still-developing interactive Web site to disseminate climate knowledge.

“We're the largest general scientific society in the world, and therefore we believe we have an obligation to inform the public and policymakers about what science is showing about any issue in modern life, and climate is a particularly pressing one,” according to Alan Leshner, the science association's chief executive officer.

The report contends that broad agreement exists among climate scientists that the Earth is already warming and that humans face the potential for catastrophic changes to the planet.

While the public is “becoming aware that climate change is increasing the likelihood of certain local disasters, many people do not yet understand that there is a small, but real chance of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts on people in the United States and around the world,” according to the report.


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