New York Times op-ed: Inconvenient Uncertainties

posted on October 10th 2013 | 0 comments

By Gernot Wagner & Martin L. Weitzman

The headline in The New York Times yesterday was succinct. “By 2047, Coldest Years May Be Warmer Than Hottest in Past, Scientists Say.” Not, say, “around 2050” or “within our lifetime.” The specificity makes the crisis feel real, imminent and terrible. Call it a convenient truth.

The story was about a new study published this week in the journal Nature that calculated that by 2047, the average temperature will be hotter across most parts of the planet than it had been at those locations in any year between 1860 and 2005.

In truth, attention to the year 2047 is misguided. Climate around the world has already changed to a point where we can perceive humanity’s fingerprint. Extreme weather events like the two hurricanes that hit New York City in the past two years are going to be only more intense in the future.

The study’s authors acknowledged the uncertainties, adding a margin of error of five years to the 2047 estimate. The date will occur at different times in different places, with the tropics being the most immediately vulnerable.

Their caveats underscored the uncertainties inherent in making predictions about our climate future.

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