2004: The Year Global Warming Got Respect

December 29, 2004

In 2004 global warming made the covers of National Geographic and Business Week magazines, was the subject of a blockbuster movie, and was a theme in a Michael Crichton's best-selling novel State of Fear—all signs that the issue has captured widespread media attention.

"It is hard to imagine that any person who is aware of environmental issues today would not have some appreciation of the global warming issue," said Jorge Sarmiento, a professor of atmospheric and ocean sciences at Princeton University.

But media accounts of climate change frequently assert that climate science is uncertain, according to Naomi Oreskes, an associate history professor and science-studies program director at the University of California, San Diego.

"This is not the case," she writes in a Science essay, "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change," published earlier this month.

Scientific Consensus

To prove a scientific consensus on global climate change, Oreskes searched the scientific literature for papers published between 1993 and 2003 with the words "global climate change" in their abstracts. She found 928.

"Not one of the papers refuted the claim that human activities are affecting Earth's climate," she said.

According to her review, the scientific literature indisputably links greenhouse gas emissions from human activities—such as driving cars and burning oil and coal to generate electricity—with a rise in surface-air and subsurface-ocean temperatures.

However, Oreskes goes on to write that "many details about climate interactions are not well understood, and there are ample grounds for continued research to provide a better basis for understanding climate dynamics."

Research Gaps

Sarmiento, the Princeton University atmospheric and ocean scientist, agrees that "anthropogenic climate change is indeed real" and that scientists have yet to fully understand climate dynamics.

An expert on the global carbon cycle, Sarmiento aims to learn more about a circulation pattern in the ocean surrounding Antarctica. Of particular interest: How will the pattern respond to global climate change caused by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide?

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