Climate scientist addresses misconceptions about climate change

Jul 10, 2013 by Mark Shwartz
Poorly developed cornstalks show the effects of prolonged hot, dry weather. Extreme temperatures year after year have an impact on the viability of corn farming in an area, Stanford scientist Chris Field says. Credit: Earl D. Walker / Shutterstock

(Phys.org) —The notion that we'll avoid serious damage to the world's climate if we limit the warming of the atmosphere to a 2-degree-Celsius rise in temperature is untrue, says Stanford climate scientist Chris Field.

A United Nations climate conference in Germany last month reaffirmed a global agreement to keep the Earth's temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.

But that "2C" target – widely adopted by environmental organizations worldwide – does not define a safe threshold for protecting the planet, says a leading climate expert at Stanford University. It's a misconception, one of several that cloud public understanding of .

"Politically, 2C might be a useful target to rally the around," said Chris Field, the director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford. "But the concept of a safe threshold is a myth and tends to distract attention from evidence that we are already seeing widespread and consequential ."

Scientists have determined that the average has risen about 0.8 degrees C (1.4 F) since the mid-1800s. The 2010 U.N. Cancun Agreement, signed by more than 120 countries and reaffirmed in May, recommended capping the at 2C to prevent dangerous human-caused interference with the climate.

But focusing too much on that target can undermine practical efforts to deal with the , said Field, a professor of interdisciplinary environmental studies at Stanford.

"We're already experiencing real impacts from climate change that we need to cope with today," he said. "But a frustratingly large amount of the dialogue on climate change risks pointing people away from smart solutions by making the problem seem either simpler or more complicated than it really is."

As a scientific leader of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Field has worked with hundreds of scientists around the world to develop a consensus on what is known, and not known, about the potential consequences of a warming climate. Last week he was named a co-recipient of the 2013 Max Planck Research Prize, one of Germany's top science awards, for having "significantly increased our knowledge of how life on Earth responds to climate change." Each prizewinner receives 750,000 euros ($969,000) to finance future research.

His own views on atmospheric warming:

Is the average rise in temperature the key thing to watch?

"People tend to ask, 'When will the average conditions cross a threshold that results in climate change?' But that's not really relevant. People and ecosystems can adapt to the average conditions, but where things fall apart is in the extremes. We experience damages from climate mainly at the extremes, and it's the extremes that can result in disasters.

"Farmers might have enough rain on average to grow corn in Illinois. But in a drought, as in 2012, yields get whacked. Corn yields decline rapidly when temperatures rise above 29 C (84 F). If temperatures are above that 29 C threshold once every 200 years, it may not be a big problem. But if it is every five years, farmers start seeing impacts on yield and, if the high temperatures occur too frequently, on the viability of corn farming in that area.

"We're already seeing evidence of climate-change impacts in the increased frequency of extreme events. We've seen record-setting temperatures almost every year, including a phenomenal number in the United States in 2012. Globally, nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. In the future, high-temperature episodes are very likely to become more frequent and more severe. For most areas on land, we are already seeing that, and expect a future with more of the rainfall coming in the heaviest events, the kind of events that can lead to floods.

"In the last century, sea level has risen an average of about 6 inches. Over the rest of the century, it could rise another 12 to 30 inches. If you're trying to manage risk and prevent disasters, it's important to recognize that the damages will continue to occur in the extremes. Not acting magnifies risk in the same way as not wearing a seat belt or not having insurance."

Who will be affected the most by climate change, the rich or the poor?

"There is a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of the vulnerability to climate change. Many people assume that it's concentrated somewhere else, especially in poor parts of the world. In reality, vulnerability has different dimensions in different places.

"If you look at global losses from climate-related disasters, it's clear that economic loss occurs overwhelmingly in the developed world, while mortality occurs overwhelmingly in the developing world. With Hurricane Sandy, the people of New York and New Jersey sustained massive economic losses. If that same hurricane were to hit a developing country, economic loss might be lower, but loss of life might be greater.

"Much of the discussion about vulnerability focuses appropriately on the individuals at risk as a consequence of poverty, weak institutions or poor infrastructure. But this focus, although appropriate, should not divert attention from the fact that individuals and property in wealthy communities are also at risk. The experience with Hurricane Sandy is a harsh reminder of economic and personal vulnerabilities in the developed world."

Will the world be OK if we limit the average temperature rise to 2C?

"The idea that we won't see meaningful impacts of climate change until we reach warming of 2C is demonstrably wrong. We've already experienced widespread and consequential impacts of climate change.

"The 2C threshold may be a useful policy target, but that's different from recognizing it as some kind of guardrail where we know we're safe if we don't pass it. There are almost certainly tipping points in the climate system, levels of warming beyond which Earth experiences really major impacts. One of these would be the threshold for eventual melting of a major continental-scale ice sheet like Greenland, which has an ice volume representing more than 20 feet of sea-level rise. It is possible that the threshold for commitment to melting of the Greenland ice sheet is close to 2C, but it might be substantially lower or higher. We really don't know what that temperature threshold is."

Should we wait for more research before acting?

"We want to be sure that we don't fall into the trap of delaying action based on the hope that a few more years of research will provide scientific clarity. The scientific community has made and continues to make tremendous progress on understanding climate change. There is still a great deal to learn. But it is not likely that additional research will eliminate uncertainty about the severity, timing and spatial patterns of future impacts.

"The challenge of dealing with climate change is, at its essence, a challenge in making smart decisions under uncertainty. We have enough information now to understand the value of action on climate change, including the value of early action."

Field presented his ideas in more detail during a recent talk at Stanford University.

Explore further: Weather service storm forecasts get more localized

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mememine69
2 / 5 (40) Jul 10, 2013
"Scientific Consensus" means they agree it MIGHT not WILL be a crisis and it's been 28 years!

"Climate change is real and is happening and could cause unstoppable warming." -Science

NEVER have they said anything beyond "could" and "maybe" and "likely" and not one single scientific paper has ever said their crisis was as inevitable as they say comet hits are. A climate crisis "IS" a comet hit of an emergency so why won't they give us a real warning for a real crisis? Because it's not a crime to say a crisis might happen but 28 years of a "maybe" crisis proves 100% that it absolutely "won't be" a real crisis.

You doomers want this misery to be real so who's the neocon again here?

And get up to date:
*Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians.
*Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).
*Julian Assange is of course a climate change denier.
*Obama had not mentioned the crisis in two State of the Unions addresses.
axemaster
4.2 / 5 (25) Jul 10, 2013
Scientists typically feel very uncomfortable saying "definitely" or "never" because we have an intimate understanding of the facts that the world runs on probability, and more importantly, we have a better feel for the limits of our knowledge. Laypeople frequently notice that and complain about it (including my own brothers).

It's actually sort of interesting. My parents and other people not in the science community have frequently referred to "my people". There's a clear cultural and intellectual divide between science and the rest of the public, something beyond simply who we work with and what we do. It's a fundamental difference in how we see the world.

The unfortunate consequence is that most scientists can't communicate effectively with the public, because they simply can't understand how the public thinks. And as a result we get disasters like the global warming crisis, where the better public outreach of corporations is able to control the public mind and conceal reality.
antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (23) Jul 10, 2013
Scientists typically feel very uncomfortable saying "definitely" or "never" because we have an intimate understanding of the facts that the world runs on probability,... There's a clear cultural and intellectual divide between science and the rest of the public

It's the difference between people saying
"Chances of winning the lotter are small"
and others saying
"But you can't say that I DEFINITELY won't win, so I'll spend all my money on lottery tickets"
VendicarE
4 / 5 (28) Jul 10, 2013
"not one single scientific paper has ever said their crisis was as inevitable" - YouYouYouTard

Correct. By reducing yearly CO2 emissions by 90 percent of their current value, the problem can be mitigated almost entirely and the final maximum temperature achieved will be only around .8'C above current levels.

Scientists can not predict if people like yourself are so stupid that they will refuse to react to their warnings.

You are the weakest link.
Gammakozy
1.9 / 5 (31) Jul 10, 2013
Climate change has always been, and will continue to be, a reality of this earth. This fact is not disputed by anybody. The disagreement is about how much humans contribute to the change. Most of the public believes that the eco-left are nothing but gaia worshiping anti-capitalists who will say, and do, anything to gain power and turn the earth into a stone age socialist pagan paradise. They are delusioal and cannot be trusted. And sadly, the scientific community has been duped to spread the false message. That is why the public rejects not only their assessment of climate change but even moreso their taxing solutions to the the non-crisis.
VendicarE
3.6 / 5 (22) Jul 10, 2013
"Like Climate change, death has always been, and will continue to be, a reality of this earth." - GammaKappaFry

Hence according to denialist logic murder can never be a crime.

gregor1
1.8 / 5 (32) Jul 10, 2013
Once more they repeat the lie that global warming is linked to extreme weather events....Groan
VendicarE
3.8 / 5 (25) Jul 10, 2013
GregorTard remains blissfully and willfully ignorant of the increase in extreme weather events over the last century.

Willful ignorance is the worst kind of ignorance.
antigoracle
1.7 / 5 (27) Jul 12, 2013
GregorTard remains blissfully and willfully ignorant of the increase in extreme weather events over the last century.

Willful ignorance is the worst kind of ignorance.

And your ignorance is absolutely the best.
Neinsense99
3.4 / 5 (25) Jul 13, 2013
GregorTard remains blissfully and willfully ignorant of the increase in extreme weather events over the last century.

Willful ignorance is the worst kind of ignorance.

And your ignorance is absolutely the best.

Fourth-grade retorts are fashionable in your social circle?
antigoracle
1.5 / 5 (24) Jul 14, 2013
GregorTard remains blissfully and willfully ignorant of the increase in extreme weather events over the last century.

Willful ignorance is the worst kind of ignorance.

And your ignorance is absolutely the best.

Fourth-grade retorts are fashionable in your social circle?

Fourth-grade being your highest level of education, you could not know better.
So, I must excuse your ignorance.
VENDItardE
1.3 / 5 (25) Jul 14, 2013
just love it when the sockpuppeteer gets mixed up and responds from the wrong account. nein,deep,vendicarE,maggnus (who ,by the way, hasn't been in use lately)
Neinsense99
3.7 / 5 (22) Jul 14, 2013
GregorTard remains blissfully and willfully ignorant of the increase in extreme weather events over the last century.

Willful ignorance is the worst kind of ignorance.

And your ignorance is absolutely the best.

Fourth-grade retorts are fashionable in your social circle?

Fourth-grade being your highest level of education, you could not know better.
So, I must excuse your ignorance.

But sensei, he just keeps on throwing himself!

just love it when the sockpuppeteer gets mixed up and responds from the wrong account. nein,deep,vendicarE,maggnus (who ,by the way, hasn't been in use lately)

Like the sockpuppeteer who votes his paranoid delusion up with the first vote a 5/5 for crap? Projection on others may let you pretend there aren't so many with more sense than you, but it's a mental dodge that doesn't work outside of your head.
Neinsense99
3.7 / 5 (21) Jul 14, 2013
Public Service Announcement: registered readers who are tired of the garbage that comprises most of the commentary on environment, evolution and energy subjects can set their account preferences to hide comments by default.
Moebius
3.9 / 5 (15) Jul 14, 2013
The greatest misconception is that it isn't happening. The second greatest is that we aren't doing it.

And who bothers to set that filter? I know the user name 'open', who does nothing but vote my comments down so they are hidden, thinks people do. But then how intelligent can someone be that does that? lol You won't recognize the name 'open' because he doesn't comment with that name, just votes my comments a one. What a moron.
Moebius
3.9 / 5 (16) Jul 15, 2013
open, is it possible there is a lower form of life than you? I don't think so. What name do you use to actually comment? If I really cared about my ratings I would just change my user name, ROFL. And by the way, the admins of this site are morons too for allowing user names that don't comment and only vote comments a one, do you hear that morons?
Neinsense99
3.6 / 5 (20) Jul 15, 2013
open, is it possible there is a lower form of life than you? I don't think so. What name do you use to actually comment? If I really cared about my ratings I would just change my user name, ROFL. And by the way, the admins of this site are morons too for allowing user names that don't comment and only vote comments a one, do you hear that morons?

They also allow user names that contain insults directed at others. Not that it looks good on them, but it should not be permitted.

Irritated readers, get registered, sign in, and change your settings to hide the comments by default.
antigoracle
1.2 / 5 (23) Jul 15, 2013
Not listed, their LIES and GREED, but then those are not misconceptions.
deepsand
3.5 / 5 (22) Jul 16, 2013
just love it when the sockpuppeteer gets mixed up and responds from the wrong account. nein,deep,vendicarE,maggnus (who ,by the way, hasn't been in use lately)

We would love to add VENDItardE to the list of those gone and forgotten.
DruidDrudge
1.7 / 5 (15) Jul 16, 2013
Public Service Announcement: registered readers who are tired of the garbage that comprises most of the commentary on environment, evolution and energy subjects can set their account preferences to hide comments by default.

thankyou so much
Sinister1811
3.7 / 5 (19) Jul 16, 2013
open, is it possible there is a lower form of life than you?


Nah, there isn't. After I gave you 5 for that comment, he attacked me through the ranking system. Apparently, whenever open/toot gives you 1/5s for your comments, it makes him feel better and less self-conscious about his micro penis.
_ilbud
5 / 5 (14) Jul 16, 2013
It's always amusing when the climate change deniers think chemtrails are real, HAARP is causing monsoons and Niburu is affecting their star sign.
Neinsense99
3.6 / 5 (20) Jul 16, 2013
GregorTard remains blissfully and willfully ignorant of the increase in extreme weather events over the last century.

Willful ignorance is the worst kind of ignorance.

And your ignorance is absolutely the best.

Fourth-grade retorts are fashionable in your social circle?

Fourth-grade being your highest level of education, you could not know better.
So, I must excuse your ignorance.

The 'tard confuses the fourth grade with four years of university education and responds to a fair comment on behaviour and expression with an ill-conceived personal attack. It's no wonder his posts are completely lacking in genuine critical analysis.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (20) Jul 16, 2013
GregorTard remains blissfully and willfully ignorant of the increase in extreme weather events over the last century.

Willful ignorance is the worst kind of ignorance.

And your ignorance is absolutely the best.

Fourth-grade retorts are fashionable in your social circle?

Fourth-grade being your highest level of education, you could not know better.
So, I must excuse your ignorance.

The 'tard confuses the fourth grade with four years of university education and responds to a fair comment on behaviour and expression with an ill-conceived personal attack. It's no wonder his posts are completely lacking in genuine critical analysis.

Yes..yes... TURD University, where after 4 years you read at a fourth grade level and your comprehension is even lower. As stated before, I must excuse your ignorance.
Maggnus
4.7 / 5 (13) Jul 17, 2013
just love it when the sockpuppeteer gets mixed up and responds from the wrong account. nein,deep,vendicarE,maggnus (who ,by the way, hasn't been in use lately)


That's because your stupidity is so painfully obvious, no retort is necessary.
Neinsense99
3.4 / 5 (17) Jul 18, 2013
GregorTard remains blissfully and willfully ignorant of the increase in extreme weather events over the last century.

Willful ignorance is the worst kind of ignorance.

And your ignorance is absolutely the best.

Fourth-grade retorts are fashionable in your social circle?

Fourth-grade being your highest level of education, you could not know better.
So, I must excuse your ignorance.

The 'tard confuses the fourth grade with four years of university education and responds to a fair comment on behaviour and expression with an ill-conceived personal attack. It's no wonder his posts are completely lacking in genuine critical analysis.

Yes..yes... TURD University, where after 4 years you read at a fourth grade level and your comprehension is even lower. As stated before, I must excuse your ignorance.

Dig yourself deeper. I can always get a longer measuring tape at the hardware store around the corner.
antigoracle
1.1 / 5 (18) Jul 18, 2013
Dig yourself deeper. I can always get a longer measuring tape at the hardware store around the corner.

A lot of good that's going to do you, when you can't even count pass 20, and that's with your pants down.
Neinsense99
3.3 / 5 (16) Jul 19, 2013
Dig yourself deeper. I can always get a longer measuring tape at the hardware store around the corner.

A lot of good that's going to do you, when you can't even count pass 20, and that's with your pants down.

I've count much more than 20 links in the many pages of results for a search for you and the word 'turd' on just this site alone. More than 50, actually. You fool only yourself. http://www.google...cle+turd
Neinsense99
3.3 / 5 (16) Jul 19, 2013
Dig yourself deeper. I can always get a longer measuring tape at the hardware store around the corner.

A lot of good that's going to do you, when you can't even count pass 20, and that's with your pants down.

I've count much more than 20 links in the many pages of results for a search for you and the word 'turd' on just this site alone. More than 50, actually. You fool only yourself. http://www.google...cle+turd
Are you trying to support the theory of a human-dung beetle hybrid?
antigoracle
1 / 5 (18) Jul 20, 2013
Dig yourself deeper. I can always get a longer measuring tape at the hardware store around the corner.

A lot of good that's going to do you, when you can't even count pass 20, and that's with your pants down.

I've count much more than 20 links in the many pages of results for a search for you and the word 'turd' on just this site alone. More than 50, actually. You fool only yourself. http://www.google...cle+turd
Are you trying to support the theory of a human-dung beetle hybrid?

Your existence confirms it's no longer just a theory.
Neinsense99
3.1 / 5 (15) Jul 21, 2013
Dig yourself deeper. I can always get a longer measuring tape at the hardware store around the corner.

A lot of good that's going to do you, when you can't even count pass 20, and that's with your pants down.

I've count much more than 20 links in the many pages of results for a search for you and the word 'turd' on just this site alone. More than 50, actually. You fool only yourself. http://www.google...cle+turd
Are you trying to support the theory of a human-dung beetle hybrid?

Your existence confirms it's no longer just a theory.

More evidence that you don't know what theory is. Or rational discussion.
deepsand
3.1 / 5 (15) Jul 26, 2013
GregorTard remains blissfully and willfully ignorant of the increase in extreme weather events over the last century.

Willful ignorance is the worst kind of ignorance.

And your ignorance is absolutely the best.

Fourth-grade retorts are fashionable in your social circle?

Fourth-grade being your highest level of education, you could not know better.
So, I must excuse your ignorance.

The 'tard confuses the fourth grade with four years of university education and responds to a fair comment on behaviour and expression with an ill-conceived personal attack. It's no wonder his posts are completely lacking in genuine critical analysis.

Yes..yes... TURD University, where after 4 years you read at a fourth grade level and your comprehension is even lower.

Thank you for disclosing your alma mater.