The Physics That We Know

The Physics That We Know – A Conversation with Gavin Schmidt

How do you ask questions about expectations in the future? Obviously, you have to have things that are based on the physics that we know. You have to have things that are based on processes we can go and measure, that has to be based on our ability to understand the climate that we have now. Why do you get seasonal cycles? Why do you get storms? What controls the frequency of these events over a winter, over a longer period? What controls the frequency of, say, El Nino events in the tropical Pacific that have impacts on rainfall in California or in Peru or in Indonesia? How do you understand all of those things?

What we have decided, as a scientific endeavor, is to extrapolate as much as we can from our knowledge of the individual processes that we can measure: evaporation from the ocean, the formation of a cloud, rainfall coming from a cloud, changes in the wind patterns as a function of the pressure field, changes in the jet stream. What we have tried to do is encapsulate those small-scale processes, put them altogether, and see if we can predict the emerging properties of that fundamental complex system.

[T]he final question that I think about, which is, “how do you increase the signal to noise ratio in communication about complex issues?” We battle with this on a small scale in our blogs comment threads. In unmoderated forums about climate change, it just devolves immediately into, “you’re a Nazi, no you’re a fascist,” blah, blah, blah. Any semblance of an idea that you could actually talk about what aerosols do to the hydrological cycle without it devolving into name calling seems to be fantasy. It is very tiresome.

(Edge Video and transcript)


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