Gavin A. Schmidt is a climatologist and climate modeller at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). He works on the variability of the ocean circulation and climate and how changes related to varying forcings relate to variations due to intrinsic (unforced) climate variability, using general circulation models. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us on the subject of climate change.
MT Do you think we’re going to have to change our lifestyles to adapt to or mitigate against climate change?
GS That may well be part of the mix – however, all the cycling and recycling in the world isn’t going to deal with the industrial, transportation or power generation sources of emissions. It seems to me that once the cost of emitting carbon gets included in economic decisions then people, companies and governments will try and reduce that cost as much as they can. At that point it will become clearer how emissions can be reduced most efficiently. That may involve cleaner sources of power, carbon sequestration and, yes, some lifestyle changes (taking the light rail rather than a car), but this is not a problem that can be solved solely by individual actions. Just as the ozone depletion problem was not solved by consumers choosing non-CFC aerosol cans….
MT Do you see any major changes in the way we humans move from point A to point b over the next 30 years?
GS It will be different in different places. Europe and European cities already function well using efficient public transport. In the US, there is a lot more potential for improvement. In India and China, there is the possibility of avoiding some of the worst urban planning mistakes associated with car transport, but it is inevitable that car use will increase there. I would hope that more cars will become electric/gas hybirds, but I doubt that there will be a noticeable switch to either
ethanol or hydrogen. Congestion Charges (as in London) and improvements to public transport (especially new light rail systems) may make it easier to leave the car at home.
MT There’s been reports of permafrost thawing in Siberia (link). Have the potential effects of methane being released from this region been taken into account in forecasts of global warming or are those going to have to be rethought?
GS Most of the forecasts you read about do not take this into account explicitly. But the forecasts do generally assume that methane concentrations will continue to rise. Since over recent years the methane has actually been pretty steady (albeit for unknown reasons), there is no obvious sign that permafrost clathrates are yet having a significant effect. So while it is a big unknown, it is still too uncertain or us to to be able to quantify it for the future projections. We are keeping a close eye on that though.
Originaly posted June 20th, 2006