Climate change debate draws differing views among scientists
Posted May 6, 2015
More than 300 miles above the Arctic Circle, Ross Burgener opens the roof of a small observatory in Barrow, Alaska, to the cold blue sky.
The sun is shining, but the temperature is more than a dozen degrees south of zero.
“We do ozone observations three times a day,” said Matt Martinsen, lead technician at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most northern research station in the United States.
It’s just one place where raw climate data is gathered and handed off to scientists so they can study conditions and see if manmade greenhouse gasses are heating up the planet.
Martinsen said after understanding all the science, there’s no doubt in his mind that humans are having an impact on climate change.
But climate scientist John Christy believes humans are having little impact on the planet. His view on climate change is in the scientific minority when it comes to man-made global warming.
“Having different views is hopefully the way science progresses,” he said. “The one that wins is the one that is backed up by the most evidence.”
That evidence – global climate temperatures, greenhouse gas concentrations, melting sea ice and sea level rise – is why so many climate scientists believe humans are having a real impact.
“There are thousands of scientists looking at this problem,” climate researcher Pieter Tans said. “If I could find a way to explain we’re all wrong, I would jump on it. That’s a guaranteed Nobel prize.”
Christy adds, “There won’t be a Nobel prize in it because there is no Nobel prize in atmospheric science.”
There are no guarantees in atmospheric science either.
“We can’t run the climate models at the kind of resolution we run the weather models, so we know we’re short-changing ourselves when we do that kind of thing,” said climate scientist Kevin Trenberth.
Even the best climate scientists admit the best computer models still have problems..
“The models are getting a lot better, but they are not perfect by any means,” Trenberth said. “They are tools in this regard. They are the best tools that we have as what we expect to happen when we run these models, but we do need to be aware of the fact that they are not perfect.”
While computer models try to explain it and scientists debate it, the public is left to witness the weather and wonder if power, politics and personality play a larger role in the debate than simple civility should allow.
“Humility is not a word that people ascribe to the world of climate scientist,” Christy said. “I think you find very few that are willing to say, ‘I don’t know. You could be right; I could be wrong.’ That’s a human dimension that ought to be looked into more.”