AAAS Publishes Report on Climate Change

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Publication date: 
28 March 2014

The AAAS announced its What We Know initiative in mid-March and recently published a report on climate change to contribute to a larger discussion on climate change issues.  This topic was addressed in President Obama’s State of the Union though its existence is heavily debated in Congress, with many people unsure about it.  In January, the President announced ways that the Administration would pursue action on climate change.  “Changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods,” Obama noted as he called on the administration to work to set standards for carbon pollution.  Oil, natural gas production and energy policy were also mentioned in the speech. 

The What We Know initiative is aimed at communicating to the public that:

  • “97 percent of climate experts have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.”
  • “The reality of climate change means that there are climate change impacts we can expect, but we also must consider what might happen, especially the small but real, chance that we may face abrupt changes with massively disruptive impacts.”
  • “There is much we can do and that the sooner we respond, the better off we will be.”

AAAS convened a group of thirteen climate science experts chaired by Mario Molina of the University of California, San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  The experts are seeking to address the problem that many people “erroneously believe that the scientific community is divided on the issue and that Americans are largely unaware of the full spectrum of climate risks.”  The group published a 28-page report aimed at the general public addressing the reality, risks, and response to climate change.  The report provides an overview of infrastructure and economical concerns relevant to climate change in an effort to address results from “surveys [that] show that many Americans think climate change is still a topic of significant disagreement.”

The report describes how the climate is on a warming path and that the Earth’s climate system is at risk of “abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.”  It further notes that waiting to take action will increase the risks and associated costs of the effects of climate change. 

Regarding climate risks, the report outlines high-risk scenarios including global temperature changes, floods, heat waves, and drought, sea level projections.   It cites recent reports from the Department of Defense and National Academy of Science that call attention to the implications that climate change has on national security. It also provides an overview of abrupt climate change events and potential climate change scenarios including ecosystem collapse, arctic sea ice collapse, and large-scale ice sheet collapse. 

The report authors believe that it is the responsibility of the scientific community to ensure that everyone understands climate risks.  The report concludes that “responding effectively to the challenge of climate change requires a full understanding that there is now a high degree of agreement among climate scientists about the fact that climate science is happening now, because of human activities, and that the risks – including the possibility for abrupt and disruptive changes – will increase the longer greenhouse gas emissions continue.”