Why climate scientists are right about how hot the planet is going to get

Why climate scientists are right about how hot the planet is going to get

One key concept that climate scientists and policymakers use to forecast future global warming — and estimate how much we should reduce greenhouse-gas emissions — is known as “climate sensitivity.” In a nutshell, it’s the amount of warming that will occur each time carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere double. The United Nations’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s best estimate right now for this quantity is roughly 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius for a doubling of carbon dioxide.

Right now, humans are well on pace to at least double carbon dioxide concentrations from preindustrial levels by the middle of the century.

But given how complex the climate system is, how do we know that the IPCC’s sensitivity estimate holds true? There’s a lot at stake — if the scientists are overestimating the climate sensitivity then global warming might be less worrying. No wonder that climate “skeptics” have often cast doubt on the matter.

To study climate sensitivity, researchers rely on basic physics and chemistry. But they also look at past climates to see how they responded when carbon dioxide levels changed.

Source: The Washington Post

Date: February 2015

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