Climate Change

“I first became interested in the possibility of human-caused global warming in 1968, when a small group of scientists—mainly ecologists, meteorologists and climatologists–became aware of the excellent measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere measured on Mauna Loa Mountain on the big island of Hawaii, as I have mentioned elsewhere. During the first six months in 1968, I began my research on this possibility; I tried to understand how a trace gas, one-thousandth’s the concentration of Earth’s major greenhouse gas, water vapor, could have any significant effect on the climate. I read up on the physics and chemistry of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and concluded there were two ways it was possible for CO2 to have an effect, despite its small concentration.

The possibility of a global warming became one of my major research interests. My computer model of forests, which I discussed elsewhere, became one of the major methods that could be used to take the output from the global climate models and look at the effects on any major life forms, in my case on forests and some of their endangered species. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funded some of our most important research, including forecasting the effects of global warming on Kirtland’s Warbler, an endangered species. One of my publications won the 1991 George and Cynthia Mitchell International Prize Competition. 

 My research on climate change then expanded to a much broader range of topics, and in this new century, I led a conference which resulted in a publication about the differences between actual extinctions during past climate changes and modern computer-based forecasts of the likely amount of extinctions from a global warming today. One of my graduate students, Jon Bergengren, was the first to add world vegetation to a global climate model.

Although the evidence through the 1980s seemed to support the conclusion that human release of greenhouse gases would likely lead to global warming, new research starting in the 1990s has led to the opposite conclusion, which I have written about. I have always sought to do the best possible science, but in the 21st Century, many environmental issues, including climate change, have become dominated by politicians, nonscientific pundits, media that often lacked the appropriate understanding, and public debates that are political and ideological. So the best science has been put in second place, and the climate change debate is now largely not dominated by science.

In my most recent book, Twenty-five Myths that are Destroying the Environment, I have written a number of chapters on what the new research has told us about the more present climate, past climate changes, and forecasts of the future. I can provide this book if it would be helpful. 

ROBERT REDFORD’S GREENHOUSE GLASNOST, 1989

I was one of four invited scientists participating in this event, another being Carl Sagan. The other participants included media and Hollywood people, such as Jane Pauley and Tom Brokaw; representatives from the Soviet Union; and an American Indian who gave his culture’s blessing. Robert Redford’s staff called me, saying that Redford wanted something like a project between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to come out of the Sundance Symposium; they asked if I could think of one. “Sure,” I said, “I have this forest model and we are using it to forecast the possible effects of global warming on major forests. This forest mode applied current climate, so that the output from climate models–forecasting global warming climates–could be used as input into my forest model.”

I suggested that we could have seven Americans and seven Russians work together to gather forestry data in Siberia, Minnesota, and Alaska. Redford liked this idea and it led to a several-year project, beginning with meetings in which the Russian Forestry Department and the U.S. Forest Service were able to meet for the first-time, both in Washington, D.C. and Moscow. Then, seven of my graduate students and post-doctoral students did summer research in a very remote part of Siberian forests, working with seven leading Russian forest scientists. This group then came to the U.S. and did the same measurements in Minnesota and Alaska, after which the data from the three sites was applied to my forest model.

An important point of my participation in Redford’s conference and leading the research that followed, which he requested, is that, at the time, I had concluded that the research done suggested that we were likely to cause global warming. As has always been my practice, I stayed active at that time, and I have remained active today in seeking what the best research tells us about climate change and its biology and ecological effects.

In 2014, I was asked to testify before both houses of the U.S. Congress on climate change and did so.”

– Dan Botkin

New York Times
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