2011 has been marked by extreme weather. In the U.S. alone, a record dozen disasters caused more than $1 billion in damage. This, and the release last month of a special UN report on extreme weather, was the backdrop for this Climate One panel featuring three leading climate scientists.
Chris Field, Professor of Environmental Earth Sciences, Stanford University, is Co-Chair of the IPCC working group that produced the extreme weather report. He says the report reached three main conclusions: that extreme weather events are increasing; that losses are increasing; and that there’s a lot we can do about it: “smart things that don’t necessarily cost a lot that can be protective of assets and protective of lives.
” What the extreme weather events tell us, says Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Princeton University, is that “the climate is changing, and we have to learn how to deal with that. The good news, as Chris said, is that there are a lot of specific examples where we have been successful. We’re falling behind right now. But, at certain places, at certain times, people have done a very good job.”
One area acutely threatened by climate change is food production, where decades of steady gains could be reversed. Chris Field notes that global food production has increased by a predictable 1% to 2% per year over the past 50 years. But, he warns, “I see food security at the heart of a perfect storm.”
One proven hedge against this uncertainty is resiliency, says Karen O'Brien, Professor of Sociology and Human Geology, University of Oslo. “A lot of people think of resilience as going back to what it was before, but it’s also about being adaptive, being able to deal with these changes that are coming in a way that has a short- and long-term perspective.”
The reality of extreme weather is forcing impacted individuals – whatever their personal beliefs about climate change – to acknowledge that something is amiss. “What we hear a lot from farmers, for example, is that they don’t really think about climate change by reading headlines about climate change forecasts,” says Dave Friedberg, Founder and CEO, The Climate Corporation. “They think about climate change when they’ve had a significant loss two, three years in a row. I think the psychology of risk and the psychology of loss is such that you don’t necessarily think about it unless it is something you can relate to, or there’s an experience you’ve had associated with it.”
Director, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science
Founder & CEO, The Climate Corporation
Professor of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo
Michael Oppenheimer is a Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University. He was the Lead Author on the third and fourth assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2001 and 2007 respectively.
Before joining the faculty at Princeton, he spent 20 years as chief scientist at The Environmental Defense Fund.