What do the world's leading experts on climate science have to say about the controversies surrounding global warming? And what are they doing personally to help combat climate change and go green?
The Financial Times decided to find out. They've assembled a list of the top 10 climate scientists in the world, sat each of them down for an interview, and let the sparks fly.
The A-team list included scientists with particular expertise in a variety of fields related to climate change, such as oceanography, climate modeling, energy, Earth science, hurricanes and extreme weather, and atmospheric science.
Furthermore, the criteria for inclusion on the list was original research, influence on peers and 'sound' judgment — which basically narrows the list down to experts whose arguments are backed up by peer-reviewed research. Although The Financial Times found that no global warming 'deniers' qualified for the top 10, they decided to include one skeptic, Richard Lindzen, for the sake of prudence.
Overwhelmingly, the interviews revealed that much of what the public misconstrues as controversy about the reality of global warming is actually debate among the experts about the details of climate change. In other words, there is comprehensive agreement that global warming is happening and that humans shoulder much of the blame, but there is widespread disagreement about what climate change's ultimate consequences will be.
For instance, one of the interviewed, Stefan Rahmstorf, head of Earth System Analysis at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, argues that sea level rise as a result of global warming could happen 50 percent faster (1.8mm per year) than IPCC models had predicted it would (1.2mm).
Tim Lenton, professor of Earth Systems Science at University of East Anglia, disagrees with the apocalyptic cynicism that some climate scientists have concerning the speed with which ecological changes can be expected to take place. While he acknowledges that changes are on the way, he has "agreed to disagree about the level of hope we should have for the future."
There was also a lot of disagreement expressed over the accuracy of current computer-generated climate models, and also about how close the Earth's climate is to a metaphorical 'tipping point' — a point when catastrophic warming is inevitable no matter how diligently human-produced carbon emissions are lessened.
But perhaps the most telling part of the interviews came when each of the experts were asked about what they were doing — personally — to lower their carbon footprints.
Susan Solomon, senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, says she tries to eat vegetarian twice a week, cycles, and drives a Prius. Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum, says he wanders around the museum switching off lights. Isaac Held, senior research scientist, also at NOAA, claims that he and his wife have set up a local farmers market.
And in sure-fire, contrarian fashion, global warming skeptic Lindzen of MIT contends that he probably uses less energy than "the climate change activists in Washington with their Mercedes."
"We all have to ’fess up to the fact that we’re deeply hypocritical and contradictory beings," admitted Tim Lenton. Indeed, as complicated as working through the details of climate science can be, the personal fortitude to genuinely go green might be these scientists' biggest challenge.
For more information: Check out The Financial Times' article on the interviews here.