The most hated climate scientist in the US fights back
Neela Banerjee ’86 covers energy and the environment for the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Washington, DC.
State of the climate“Call me a converted skeptic,” declared Richard A. Muller in the New York Times last July. Muller, a physics professor at the University of California–Berkeley and a well-known critic of climate change science, had doubted “the very existence of global warming,” he wrote. But “last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: humans are almost entirely the cause.”
Muller has joined an overwhelming majority of scientists worldwide who are convinced by the evidence that global warming is under way. The average global temperature of the Earth has warmed almost 1.5 F over the last century, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a change driven by increased emissions of heat-trapping gases—foremost among them carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. The US National Academy of Sciences and the national academies of more than 30 other countries agree. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) concurs, as does the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Pentagon is preparing for the effects.
Although local temperatures vary constantly and widely, the average global temperature is fairly stable, making 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit a significant increase. Even small increases in global temperature can affect forces such as winds and ocean currents, generating weather extremes. “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” according to the draft Third National Climate Assessment, issued in January by a federal advisory committee of scientists and other experts. The day-to-day and year-to-year fluctuations will continue, but overall, “summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer.” And a hotter climate loads the atmospheric dice to bring about more-extreme storms and other weather events, more often.
The details of future weather patterns can be difficult to predict, as Hagit Affek, a Yale associate professor of geology and geophysics, has cautioned (“What We Know about the Climate,” July/August 2010). But she adds: “The general picture has never been more clear. Anthropogenic climate change is real; alleviating the cause is a pressing issue.”