Global warming is unequivocally happening, according to the IPCC, and is caused by human activities, mostly the burning of fossil fuels. The evidence is now widespread from many variables including global and regional temperatures, sea temperatures, sea level rise, melting ice, changes in precipitation patterns, intensity, and rain versus snow, accompanied by changes in storms and atmospheric circulation and drought. Climate models forced with observed changes in atmospheric composition show that the human influence on climate has exceeded the natural variability since about 1970, and the ability to simulate the changes provides confidence in future projections. The long lifetime of carbon dioxide and the energy infrastructure guarantee future increases in emissions for several decades and thus substantial further global warming. Efforts to control emissions through a carbon tax, imposed limits and penalties along with market place cap and trade solutions are important and promising but unlikely to make adequate inroads to slow the problem unless there is a major change in attitudes and the political will to implement changes. Consequently, adaptation to the coming changes must occur and the question is how much of the climate change impact will lead to loss of life and strife and how much will be planned and managed? Individuals can do a lot. But the problem is global, and building consensus and political will, along with the needed institutions and international governmental mechanisms in a framework of cooperation will become essential.
Our planet is potentially changing into one that will not be recognizable in 50 years and beyond. We must build a more sustainable way of life; we owe it to the future generations.
Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth is Head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. From New Zealand originally, he obtained his Sc. D. in meteorology in 1972 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a lead author of the 1995, 2001 and 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Scientific Assessment of Climate Change. He recently served on the Scientific Steering Group for the Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) program and was co-Chair from 1995 to1999. He also served from 1999 to 2006 on the Joint Scientific Committee of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and he chairs the WCRP Observation and Assimilation Panel. He has also served on many national committees. He is a fellow of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), the American Association for Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, and an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. In 2000 he received the Jule G. Charney award from the AMS and in 2003 he was given the NCAR Distinguished Achievement Award. He edited a 788 page book Climate System Modeling, published in 1992 by Cambridge University Press. He has published over 400 scientific articles or papers, including 40 books or book chapters, and over 175 refereed journal articles and has given many invited scientific talks as well as appearing in a number of television, radio programs and newspaper articles. He is listed among the top 20 authors in highest citations in all of geophysics.
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