Climate: Models Underestimate Effect

Earth from Space – San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive (Catalog # 08_01773)


Things are getting interesting … as in the purported ancient Chinese curse: “may you live in interesting times.”

A recent essay in the NY Times, titled “How Scientists Got Climate Change So Wrong“, noted that because of the perceived need for consensus when proposing new theorems or predictions, scientists “tend to underestimate the severity of threats and the rapidity with which they might unfold”.

This cautious approach resulted in scientific consensus significantly understating the challenges faced from climate change. What originally appeared as fringe worst-case scenarios in the modeling are now looming on our event horizon. An unexpected factor was the rapidity of change. Feedback mechanisms such as ice sheet melting on land, decomposition of organic matter on thawing land, changing cloud cover, fires, and thermohaline circulation are accelerating effects. The rapid nature of this change is creating systemic instability, intensifying the challenges of adaptation and dislocation. Interesting times indeed.

The kicker is economists relied on scientific consensus in developing models of the cost of climate change. Oops. Not only will things get more interesting, they will be a lot more expensive.