How will climate change affect our planet and our people?
Being a Miami native, I have already seen some of the effects of climate change first hand –flooding, beach erosion and severe weather. I am worried not only about the future of my home town but about the many other areas that will be affected by rising seas. Sea level rise has the potential to trigger one of the largest human migrations in the world and can create mass geopolitical tensions.
It may seem that the future of climate change is already known, but these are all projections. The first attempts to understand climate date back to the Greeks with Eratosthenes and Ptolemy, and have evolved ever since, from conceptual to physical models. Since the 1960’s, the advent of computers has allowed for more calculations with more data. Today’s climate models can ingest hundreds of thousands of data points from around the world to help make short term and long term predictions. I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of these climate change models, but they are often similar to the models used to predict global weather and hurricanes.
It would seem that such models should be accurate, especially given their large data backing. Humans have been recording climate data, such as temperature, for hundreds of years. However, these models can be varied. Just like your weekly weather forecast isn’t always accurate, it is quite difficult to predict these global systems. Just this past week, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center had difficulty predicting the path of Hurricane Irma. As the storm neared Florida, even less than 96 hours before landfall, the path was shifting wildly as underlying models were quite skewed. If I can get a bit technical, the superior European models (ECMWF) was significantly more accurate in the actual path, but there was hesitance due to fluctuations in the American (GFS and NAM) models.
However, I think that these prediction models are often out of the reach of most people. These models are publicly available, but most people do not have the time or knowledge to interpret the results accurately. I feel that many are still in the dark about the future and if we would like the general public to take action, they must be able to comprehend possible futures and have faith in those predictions. I hope that as we improve forecasting models, add computational power, and collect more data, we will be able to improve these models and increase public trust.
Edwards, Paul N. “History of climate modeling.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, vol. 2, no. 1, 2010, pp. 128–139., doi:10.1002/wcc.95.