The Fire Through the Smoke: Working for Transparency in Climate Projections

Morgan Kelly, Office of Communications ・ Princeton Environmental Institute

The government of a low-lying island nation is considering the construction of a seawall to protect its capital and economic hub from the rising seas brought on by climate change. The length and expense of the project depends on how high the wall needs to be — 3 feet? Four?

A wall that’s too high would be needlessly expensive and intrusive. One that is too low would make the effort to protect the soon-to-be inundated city in vain, sapping resources that could have been put toward other preventative measures. Doing nothing could be disastrous.

Policymakers such as those in that island nation have little room for error when it comes to responding to the climate crisis. Yet they must take specific measures based on numerous projections of the Earth’s future climate that are drawn from the work of thousands of researchers around the world. Political leaders may be left to wonder how all that work was vetted and condensed — and who exactly put in the work, in order to have confidence in the result.

For that reason, a group of preeminent climate scientists have evaluated the consequences of the most recent projections from the world’s foremost climate-science organization, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as to how the impact of climate change would be felt if Earth’s temperature rises to more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. Their aim was to elucidate the inevitable expert judgments that go into an assessment of such a sprawling and uncertain aspect of science.