Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Planet B

I've been holed up all week at the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting in Seattle.  I've attended a couple of interesting talks on climate change and communication, including one by Richard Sommerville in which he conducted an interesting thought experiment that went something like this.

Imagine you are living on a planet that is exactly like Earth, including the rate of fossil fuel consumption that has occurred since the industrial revolution.  What is different on this "Planet B" is that there are no weather observations for examining past and recent climate change, no satellite observations for observing sea level rise, sea-surface temperatures, and ice-sheet changes, and no supercomputers and Earth Systems models for understanding and attributing past climate change.

Planet B...almost the same as Earth
The citizens on such a planet would have no idea that the planet is warming, that the arctic is becoming ice free, that the Greenland ice sheet is shrinking, that sea level is rising, and that the preponderance of evidence suggests that humans activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels, is responsible for most of the warming in recent decades.

Remarkably, more and more people are opting to live on Planet B.  As shown in a recent Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans who believe that global warming is real has dwindled, with only 53% agreeing that global warming has begun or will do so in a few years.  The percentage of Americans who say that global warming will never happen or will not happen in their lifetime has increased to 19% and 16%, respectively, the former more than double the percentage in 1997.

Fascinating results given the observed changes to the climate system over the past decade.

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