Climate Change Is Very Real. But So Much of It Is Uncertain

WIRED | 7/17/2019 | Matt Simon
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One of the more terrifying elements of climate change is the uncertainty of it all. You start with the big picture of a warming planet, but as you zoom in you find ever more climatic and geological and biological systems interacting with one another—a complexity unfathomable for the human mind. We’re talking about a crisis that is affecting every organism and every square inch of this planet.

That makes calculating the carbon budget—the amount of greenhouse gases humanity can emit globally while adhering to certain goals—an unenviable task. (The goal of the Paris Agreement was 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels; we’re already at 1 degree.) Different teams of researchers have reached wildly diverging conclusions, from “We can emit 1,000 gigatonnes more CO2 before we reach 1.5 degrees” to “Sorry, but we’ve already spent our carbon budget for 1.5.” There is simply too much uncertainty in the models.

Today - Nature - Researchers - Framework - Clarity

But today in the journal Nature, researchers are proposing a new framework that aims to bring clarity to this kind of work, first by reconciling differences in carbon budgets and second by reducing uncertainty going forward. That’s critical, because climate policy hinges on the budget, and it’s climate policy that’ll help us stave off global disaster.

Matt Simon covers cannabis, robots, and climate science for WIRED.

Years - Challenge - Carbon - Budget - Instance

For the past few years, the main challenge with formulating a carbon budget has been definitional. Do you, for instance, only incorporate global air temperatures, or should ocean temperatures be part of the mix too? Also, what greenhouses gases are we even talking about here? The two main warming culprits, CO2 and methane, are very different beasts: Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas, but it dissipates much faster in the atmosphere, so is CO2 ultimately of greater concern?

And as the models improve, they grow ever more complex by...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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