Climate change as an intergenerational problem
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Predicting climate change is a high priority for society, but such forecasts are notoriously uncertain. Why? Even should climate prove theoretically predictable---by no means certain---the near-absence of adequate observations will preclude its understanding and hence even the hope of useful predictions. Geological and cryospheric records of climate change and our brief recent record of instrumental observations show that the climate system is changeable on all time scales---from a few years out to the age of the earth. Major physical, chemical, and biological processes influence the climate system on decades, centuries, and millennia. Glaciers fluctuate on time scales of years to centuries and beyond. Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide has been emitted through fossil fuel burning, and it will be absorbed, recycled, and transferred amongst the atmosphere, ocean, and biosphere over decades to thousands of years.
Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2012. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of National Academy of Sciences for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 110 (2013): 4435-4436, doi:10.1073/pnas.1302536110.