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This board has Risk in its title, so presumably we are here to help us think about risk. There is a lot about the climate system and climate change that is uncertain. Most of the big hullabaloo is arguing about whether this result is right or wrong, or whether that conclusion is supported by the majority of scientists. But I almost never see a serious discussion of risk that concludes there is no risk of climate change. The risk is almost always swept under the rug by those who want to minimize the impact of climate change.

There are some basic facts that have been tested countless times in laboratories and observations that lead to the inescapable conclusion that we are at risk of serious human caused climate change. Maybe it won’t happen, climate change itself may not be certain. But the risk of climate change is certain.

The specific amount of warming, the regional character of the warming, and its impact on drought, floods, sea-level rise, and hurricanes are all uncertain. The best guess we have about the details of the warming comes from models, with all their warts.

A crucial point about uncertainty is that it makes the problem worse. Uncertainty cuts both ways, maybe climate will change less than projected but maybe it will change more. The costs of climate change grow steeply with the amount of warming. Any potential cost savings from the chance of smaller climate change is swamped by the increased costs of the chance of larger warming.

So those who argue that the science is less certain than advertised, that scientists are pretending they know more than they truly do, are in fact arguing that the risk is greater than the scientists claim.

My personal view is that if we stopped arguing about the reality of the risk, there are relatively cheap things we can do that mitigate the climate change risk and at the same time help the U.S. and the world in other ways.
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