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Climate Science Discussed Rationally

The House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment held what it called a “rational discussion” of climate science this morning (video available via C-Span). In total, 12 top names in climate science presented their research and ideas with the goal of briefing the committee on the "basic science underlying how climate change happens, the evidence and the current impacts of climate change, and the actions that diverse sectors are taking today to respond to and prepare for a changing climate," according to the subcommittee website

Climate Central CEO and Director of Communications Heidi Cullen testified on one of the three panels, along with Gerald Meehl from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Ralph Cicerone, who heads up the National Academy of Sciences, and Richard Lindzen, a meteorology professor at MIT. 

Topics of discussion ranged from sea-level rise to the sensitivity of the climate system to increasing levels of greenhouse gases, to the scientific process of peer review and how people should decide what information to trust. 

Cullen's testimony focused on the basic science and physics of climate change. She drew some important distinctions between the realms of meteorology and climatology, noting, "Meteorologists focus on the atmosphere, whereas climatologists focus on everything that influences the atmosphere."

"The weather forecast is so ingrained in our existence that we know very well how to make it actionable. If we hear on the radio in the morning that it’s going to rain, we bring an umbrella. If we hear that the temperature is going to be unseasonably cool, then we pack a sweater," she stated in her written testimony. "By definition, weather is a timescale we can’t stop. With a weather forecast, we’re strictly working on our defense. However, with the climate forecast, the necessary actions are not as straightforward, and this highlights some of the basic philosophical differences between weather and climate."

More from her testimony....

I’ve come to view long-range climate projections as an “anti-forecast” in the sense that it’s a forecast you want to prevent from happening. Until now, we’ve been able to view extreme weather like flooding as an act of God. But the science tells us that due to climate change these floods will happen more often and we need to be prepared for them. I say that a climate forecast is an “anti-forecast” because it is in our power to prevent it from happening. It represents only a possible future, if we continue to burn fossil fuels business as usual. The future is ultimately in our hands. And the urgency is that the longer we wait, the further down the pipeline climate travels and works its way into weather, and once it’s in the weather, it’s there for good.

Climate Central live-tweeted much of the hearing, and Science Magazine provided innovative live, interactive coverage as well.


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