Adaptation to Global Warming: Do Climate Models Tell Us What We Need to Know?

Philosophy of Science 77 (5):1012-1028 (2010)
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Abstract

Scientific experts have confirmed that anthropogenic warming is underway, and some degree of adaptation is now unavoidable. However, the details of impacts on the scale of climate change at which humans would have to prepare for and adjust to them are still the subject of considerable research, inquiry, and debate. Planning for adaptation requires information on the scale over which human organizations and institutions have authority and capacity, yet the general circulation models lack forecasting skill at these scales, and attempts to “downscale” climate models are still in the early stages of development. Because we do not know what adaptations will be required, we cannot say whether they will be harder or easier—more expensive or less—than emissions control. Whatever improvements in regional predictive capacity may come about in the future, the lack of current predictive capacity on the relevant scale is a strong argument for why we must both control greenhouse gas emissions and prepare to adapt.

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