Climate in the Future

Climate in the Future

There is no doubt that the world’s climate is changing: it has changed in the past and will in the future.  What makes today different is people: our impact on climate; the public discussion about climate; and the human consequences of all the aspects of climate change.  Observed increases in greenhouse gases are responsible for almost all of the recent measured warming of the surface and the atmosphere and for disturbing the global hydrological cycle.  Longer timescale astronomical and geological forcing adds a variety of contrasting and competing disturbances that probably have little effect on the timescales of human-caused climate change but are very important to understand since they are frequently invoked in the mass media and in public policy fora. Overlapping these climate changes are the internal dynamics of biology, oceanography, geochemistry and very many additional ‘ologies’ and ‘istries’.  The complexity, immensity and inter-connectedness of these systems are such that many of us fear the rapid approach to thresholds and tipping points whose consequences we cannot, or do not fully, foresee.

The complexity of the systems we are studying is so immense that only great leaders manage to research, describe results and communicate their implications: one such was Stephen H. Schneider.  A new book, The Future of the World’s Climate’ edited by Ann Henderson-Sellers & Kendal McGuffie, has just been published by Elsevier Science (ISBN 978-0-2-386917-3).  This book is dedicated to Steve’s triumph as a climate futurologist and to his wish that we continue to explain our research findings urgently and also as clearly as possible.

The study of climate, once a minor province of those augmenting the description of an apparently constant and benign ‘background’ climatology, has metamorphosed into a politically charged arena replete with contestants and commentators.  Among the most coherent of those of us who champion clarity about the future of the world’s climate was Stephen H. Schneider (1945–2010).  Steve offered leadership in many aspects of climate including preparedness to interact with journalists and fluency in describing the findings of science in the mass media discussions with climate contrarians.

The book comprises eighteen up-to-the-minute reviews of current literature that follow this introductory chapter and differs very significantly from two other types of collections on climate: it avoids the consensus constraint demanded in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments being the peer-reviewed views of individual authors.  Perhaps more importantly, through its dedication to Stephen Schneider and links to his life’s work, we hope this book offers direction for these challenging times i.e. it is not only policy-relevant (as is IPCC) but may also be read as indicative of preferred policy directions.

The study of climate seems today to be dominated by anthropogenic global warming but these predictions must be placed in their geological, palaeo-climatic and astronomical context to create a complete picture of the Earth’s future climate. All these topics are discussed in this book so that the integrated implications of individual effects and their interactions on the Earth's future climate can be fully understood. The authors are drawn from all over the world and from the highest regarded peer-reviewed groups. The tools we employ in our attempts to predict future climates are the same as those used by everyone attempting to understand the complexities of our world: observation, reconstruction of past events, interpretation (often in process studies) and then extrapolation (i.e. model use). In the case of climate, observations comprise surface and satellite data retrievals; past events can be reconstructed from the geological record and also from the historical record (both of observations and of proxy information); extrapolation can take many forms but is increasingly being synthesized with simulations from computer-based models, themselves derived from interpretation of past events and studies of current climatic and weather processes.

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