Our planet faces a grave challenge in the coming years as we deal with the consequences of rapid warming. How will we respond?
Ice sheets and glaciers are shrinking. Ocean rise is accelerating. Storms grow more intense. Drought dries out fields and forests, while heat waves and fires threaten human health directly.
There is no longer a serious question that these things are happening, but there is plenty of debate over details.
How fast are they happening and why? What factors make them more dangerous? What can we do to slow them down? What tipping points threaten to speed the process beyond our control?
These questions and many more deserve rigorous study. That’s why we strongly urge the U.S. Department of Energy to strengthen its support for the climate program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).
Few places are better able to delve deeply into the complexities of climate change. The laboratory has been a leader in atmospheric research for decades, ever since it developed the world’s first model of general atmospheric circulation more than half a century ago.
The move of a prominent laboratory climate scientist, Ben Santer, to Colorado reveals something of how this research is carried out in the age of the internet.
Santer is known for developing methods that identify the fingerprints of human influence on climate change and analyzing data shared over the internet. Working from home in recent months, as most LLNL staff have had to do during the pandemic, meant dialing up LLNL’s powerful computers. He will do that from a distance of 1,000 miles as readily as from his former home in San Ramon.
That will only be true if the Department of Energy continues its support for the laboratory’s climate research efforts, however. Over the past two years, across the federal government, from the Department of Agriculture to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Trump Administration has taken steps to discourage climate scientists from reporting legitimate findings.
The administration has removed climate warnings from websites and appointed climate change deniers to positions of authority. Some established climate scientists have become discouraged, wondering whether their field of research has a future. For talented young people starting out, the question arises: Why move into climate research at all?
The politically motivated repression of science must stop for the sake of the nation and the world. The future health of our children and grandchildren, generations into the future, is at stake. The U.S. has long been an international leader in the effort to understand and limit climate change. And the world needs it to return to that role.