Keith Mountain

Associate Professor and Chair (Emeritus), Geography & Geosciences

Keith Mountain

"The need is to foster a dialogue that looks at the consequences of climate change in a pragmatic, factual (traceable), broadly interpretable and meaningful manner."

Over the past decade the science of climate and environmental change has entered the social, political and economic arenas in force. Among climate scientists and connected researchers, the overarching statement that the “science is settled” is agreed upon (how much evidence do you really need?). This includes not just the transition in the “normal” or “natural” global time-dependent change, but a human impact that has led to the recognized acceleration of global environmental change (although one that is regionally unequal).

Perhaps the focus is now shifting from the quantification of climate variability (i.e. through ice cores analysis, lake sediments, plants, ocean sediments, atmospheric chemistry, and the like) to the timing, magnitude and rates of change which have been unprecedented in the last 50 years. For example, in the 1950’s levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (C02) were at or near 280 parts per million, and now exceed 400 ppm – levels not seen in the “natural” atmospheric cycles for the last 800,000 years; methane, the other major greenhouse gas, exhibits similar time dependent trends.

The correlation between the rise of the so-called greenhouse gasses, fossil fuel consumption, environmental and climate change, population and resource consumption simply cannot be dismissed.

Although there will always be some uncertainties as to exactly how the climate system shifts, the convergence of evidence indicates that the current state of the global climate is entering new levels of extremes. So the focus at this point should be more towards assessment of the impacts of climate change on human populations (for example water resources, food scarcity), the ecosystem in general and the realities of dealing with this change from the perspective of current and future human occupancy at the local, regional and global scale.

And we will have to deal with it. Decisions have to be made and directions agreed upon and implemented. With this in mind, the need is to foster a dialogue that looks at the consequences of climate change in a pragmatic, factual (traceable), broadly interpretable and meaningful manner such that the realities and consequences of this change (natural and human induced) can be appreciated. The goal here would be to reaffirm the public confidence in science and of climate science, to develop a blueprint for providing a reliable and accurate public information base as to climate change, to work with the political structure to enact responsible long-term measures, and to work towards creating an environment where non-climate change advocates are required to be held to the same standard of proof for their case as that of the climate research community.

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