Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

IT, Resource Productivity, Environmental Preservation, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

How To Learn More About the Science of Climate Change?

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Students sometimes ask me:

There’s a lot of confusing stuff online about climate change. How can I learn more about the science of climate change?

I respond with something like:

I’m not a climate scientist, so I’m not an expert on climate science. But you can read what leading climate scientists from Stanford, Columbia, Berkeley, Michigan, and other major universities concluded in a 2010 review of hundreds of peer-reviewed articles entitled “Advancing the Science of Climate Change.

Here’s a summary passage from pages 3-4 (with my emphasis in bold except for conclusion 1, which is bold in the original).

Conclusion 1: Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.

This conclusion is based on a substantial array of scientific evidence, including recent work, and is consistent with the conclusions of recent assessments by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (e.g., USGCRP, 2009a), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC, 2007a-d), and other assessments of the state of scientific knowledge on climate change. Both our assessment—the details of which can be found in Chapter 2 and Part II (Chapters 617) of this report—and these previous assessments place high or very high confidence1 in the following findings:

  • Earth is warming. Detailed observations of surface temperature assembled and analyzed by several different research groups show that the planet’s average surface temperature was 1.4°F (0.8°C) warmer during the first decade of the 21st century than during the first decade of the 20th century, with the most pronounced warming over the past three decades. These data are corroborated by a variety of independent observations that indicate warming in other parts of the Earth system, including the cryosphere (snow- and ice-covered regions), the lower atmosphere, and the oceans.
  • Most of the warming over the last several decades can be attributed to human activities that release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—for energy is the single largest human driver of climate change, but agriculture, forest clearing, and certain industrial activities also make significant contributions.
  • Natural climate variability leads to year-to-year and decade-to-decade fluctuations in temperature and other climate variables, as well as substantial regional differences, but cannot explain or offset the long-term warming trend.
  • Global warming is closely associated with a broad spectrum of other changes, such as increases in the frequency of intense rainfall, decreases in Northern Hemisphere snow cover and Arctice sea ice, warmer and more frequent hot days and nights, rising sea levels, and widespread ocean acidification.
  • Human-induced climate change and its impacts will continue for many decades, and in some cases for many centuries. Individually and collectively, these changes pose risks for a wide range of human and environmental systems, including freshwater resources, the coastal environment, ecosystems, agriculture, fisheries, human health, and national security, among others.
  • The ultimate magnitude of climate change and the severity of its impacts depend strongly on the actions that human societies take to respond to these risks.
1 As discussed in Appendix D, high confidence indicates an estimated 8 out of 10 or better chance of a statement being correct, while very high confidence (or a statement than an ourcome is “very likely”) indicates a 9 out of 10 or better chance.

I also tell my students:

if you find any other compelling reviews of the scientific literature undertaken by climate scientists please send me a link so I can learn from those as well.

I only pay attention to what the whole of the peer-reviewed scientific literature says (as analyzed, reviewed, and described by climate scientists). After all, life is short and as Herb Simon cogently described:

“…a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it” (Simon 1971, pp. 40–41).


Author: nigelpm

Associate Professor of Information Systems, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan - Helping organizations to navigate digital transformation.

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