Clarke Forum: Uncertainty in Climate Change

Dr. Linda O’Mearns, the winner of the Glover Metal, spoke during her forum on how uncertainties play a role in climate change. It is impossible to measure anything for sure, but luck creates motivation to find the closest correct answer. She is a regional climate modeler and participated in work that won a Nobel Peace Prize. Her work has significantly impacted regional, national, and international climate research. She is focused on more minor scales. The talk was rescheduled to a day later because she had an unfortunate fall. I could not attend in person, but I watched the live stream the second I was available!

The IPCC is one of the most credible and official climate resources, and Linda and her colleagues were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for their work in the IPCC. Linda has a lot of reasons for going to work like this. She could go into a director’s meeting at Encar during Hurricane Katrina. She was disgusted with how her colleagues were so focused on their excellent job of predicting the storm accurately. That’s what they were thinking about, while the reality is that 1500 people died, and there was 100 billion dollars worth of damage.

So now she wondered how we integrate social science into our weather disaster predictions. While informative and conducted by scientists, the research was limited and not written for the general public. NSF offers a program on convergence research for a more integrated scientific approach. 

Uncertainty is defined as a state of lack of knowledge or incomplete knowledge. Linda’s favorite quote is, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition; uncertainty is an absurd one.” It is unbelievable to be 100% certain about anything. When it comes to the problems we are facing today, it is dangerous, even to be specific, because with certainty comes a lack of further exploration. For example, the IPCC updates its evidence every few years so the general public can always be up to date. It has been years, and only now have they said climate change is indisputable. 

Linda needed more time in her talk but was very interested in many uncertainties, including uncertainties in future climate, impacts of climate change, and decision-making. 


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