Is the Science Too Uncertain to Justify Taking Action Now?


When it comes to climate change, uncertainty is not a reasonable barrier to action. Indeed, the very fact that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how climate change will play out in the future is ample motivation to take action to limit its unpredictability by limiting its extent. Too much is at stake to risk inaction.

There is strong scientific consensus that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal; warming since 1950 is very likely due to manmade greenhouse gases (GHGs) accumulating in the atmosphere; and unabated emissions of GHGs will very likely cause further warming in the range of 2-11°F by 2100. This wide range of projected temperatures is a careful expression of scientific uncertainty. Hence, uncertainty doesn’t mean we know nothing; just that we do not know precisely what the future may hold in a given place at a given time. But scientific uncertainty helps inform what the risks of climate change look like. Will the oceans rise by two feet or six? Will global average temperatures rise by two degrees or five?

The things that scientists are uncertain about, such as the timing and magnitude of future change in the climate, do not cast doubt on what scientists are certain about. What we do know about the science of climate change tells us we need to act now to manage the risks associated with it. Moreover, what we do not know CAN hurt us, and that is the best reason to limit how far much the climate will change in the future and to take measures to become more resilient to the changes that are already unavoidable.

Source: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions


This article is part of our educational series on Climate Change. See related articles below.