Dust in the Air
Q: Recently, a U.N. scientific report was found to have included a false conclusion about the melting of Himalayan glaciers. That followed the release of stolen emails last year, which showed climate scientists commiserating over problems with their data. Is there a broader meaning in these two incidents, and should they cause the public to be more skeptical about the underlying science of climate change?
Climate science is as complex and intricate as the world itself. It combines findings from many different disciplines that study the Earth's water, land and air. The straightforward response to any question about regional climate impacts in the mid to long term is that we simply do not know enough to make a definitive prediction.
What is undeniable, however, is that humanity is carrying out a vast experiment with the climate system - a system we understand with confidence only in its broadest outlines at global scale.
This is a very dangerous game. Our current trajectory, according to the best estimates available, puts the world at risk of heating more in this century than it has since the last ice age -- a change that will cause irreversible effects, including the gradual inundation of coastal civilization. What's worse, history shows that the climate system can shift abruptly. The only prudent course is to minimize the risk by reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
If in fact the Himalayan glaciers were going to disappear by 2035, as is still expected of summertime Arctic ice, it would have been practically impossible for the world to respond in time. The revised estimate provides a chance to take action before the damage is done.