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letters | consensus clear on climate change

Climate risk is real, and we should protect against its threats

In his Dec. 4 op-ed column “Majority rules on climate science?” Jeff Jacoby describes climate science as polarized between “true believers” (also known as “alarmists”) and “skeptics” (also known as “deniers”). The truth is that all scientists are, by nature, deeply skeptical, and are aware that all that science can do is produce a best estimate of the curve of probable outcomes. In this case, those outcomes range from benign to catastrophic.

Climate risk is real. The evidence, from warming oceans to retreating glaciers to thinning arctic sea ice, is compelling. The general warming of the planet was predicted more than a century ago based on elementary physics, and the greenhouse gas content of our atmosphere is now higher than it has been in at least 3 million years.

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People with political mind-sets can always cherry-pick the evidence. Sure, the atmosphere since 1998 has not warmed as fast as models predicted, even as it rose faster than earlier predictions. The fact is, 97 percent of climate science professionals agree that we are putting our children at risk. Jacoby is right that science is not settled by majority vote, but developing policy based on 3 percent of the experts is foolish.

In recognizing that the high side of the risk curve presents an existential threat to our descendants, we can take reasonable actions today to mitigate that risk. Or we can gamble that the outcome will be on the benign side of the curve. True conservatives don’t gamble with their children.

Kerry Emanuel

Cambridge

The writer is a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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