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David Hone
Climate Change Adviser, Shell Group

David Hone

David Hone is the climate change adviser for the Shell Group and vice chairman of the International Emissions Trading Association. He also works closely with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. ALL POSTS

Understanding the risks

Q: As the controversy swirling around the IPCC deepens at the same time some are questioning the significance of global warming now that large portions of the U.S. are buried under record-breaking snow, what kind of information do policymakers need to make decisions about climate change?

There is little doubt that much is still to be learned about this great physics experiment we are undertaking in our atmosphere by changing its composition. Perhaps warming will proceed dramatically over the next few decades, but there is a chance other factors might just suppress everything for a while and leave us in a state of complacency. Either way, we can't actually be certain today, but we can go some way to quantify the risks that we are running. This is where much of today's scientific study is focused.

MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change undertakes such risk analysis. More to the point, the overriding complication with this issue is that we have to act before we can be absolutely sure of the outcome. If we don't act and it transpires that the outcome is not something the world likes, there is then no going back. This means that society needs to both understand the science and comes to terms with the risks that it shows we are collectively running. Trivializing the issue for short term gain is not a sound approach at all.

Although it may not be their field of interest, policymakers do need a better grasp of the science and the associated risks related to increasing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. They need to recognize that there are a range of possible outcomes, from benign to extreme and that this range and the associated chance of any particular outcome can be changed by taking action. American policy makers have the luxury of many learned institutions throughout the United States, such as MIT, to help with this process.

As for record breaking snow, it may just be that, but equally it is consistent with the much warmer ocean temperatures recorded in recent times leading to higher levels of moisture in the atmosphere. When this warm moist air hits the cold jet stream, the result is snow in vast abundance.

By David Hone  |  February 18, 2010; 5:20 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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This is, of course, the most sensible approach, which is probably why it doesn't inspire many comments. Climate change, can be compared to lung cancer; it is not something we can just wait and see about. If you keep smoking with the idea that as long as you don't actually see any lung cancer, then smoking is good- you are likely to end up with cancer. Likewise, if we keep spewing out greenhouse gasses until we see dire consequences, it will be too late to avoid dire consequences.

Shell and other smart companies are creating profitable lines of business that do not rely on green house gasses (right?). Policy needs to support the efforts of green companies instead of being held hostage by those that refuse to change their ways.

Posted by: eagle2roost | February 21, 2010 5:03 PM
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The very slight moderation in temperatures the last few years, is likely due to the prolonged solar minimum we are currently in.

While it has moderated the trend line somewhat in recent years, it has not halted the melting of the artic or the glacers. It has not reversed or cancelled out the warming trend.

Doubters will be able to get all the evidence they need, during the next solar max.

Posted by: fabco | February 21, 2010 10:36 AM
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