A Quick Guide to the Science of Climate Change? Check!

Royal Society Report

This week, Britain’s Royal Society released a short guide on the science of climate change. Compared to the average 3,000 page opus from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that is released every six years, this new report has been distilled to just 20 pages.

It’s been nearly a year since some members of the climate science community were accused of falsifying information about climate change. Although those scientists (and the science itself) have since been exonerated, some seeds of doubt were sown so deep for the public that there remains some misunderstanding about what climate research has shown concretely. This new short guide succinctly packages the current state of climate science into an easily digestible package. It certainly won't replace the IPCC reports, but this new travel-sized document is a good reference piece. 

According to the report, a specific climate science conclusion can be categorized in one of three ways: it is either widely accepted by the research community, generally accepted but still subject to some discussion, or in a few cases it is not yet well understood.

Keep in mind that conclusions listed as “well accepted” (including the facts that the Earth has warmed by nearly a degree Celsius since the 1850s and that human activity is largely responsible for the significant increases in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere) have been subject to detailed and constant scrutiny amongst researchers from around the world, many times over. Even the ideas that are not well understood or are broadly accepted but still undergoing some debate have all been examined by hundreds (or in some cases, thousands) of researchers.

The report makes clear that there are still a number of important research areas that need a lot of attention, such as the melting and retreat of the ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica, but it also demonstrates how much scientists can confidently say about how the planet’s climate is changing.