Scientists provide detailed, grim view of our future climate

The report with an unwieldy name, “IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report,” is something everyone should take the time to read.

The report with an unwieldy name, “IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report,” is something everyone should take the time to read.

Worried scientists and statesmen formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) through the United Nations over 20 years ago. The goal was to see just what is going on with our climate and make the results available to every country roughly every five years. More than 2,500 scientists have contributed to this work over the past two decades. The report, published Nov. 16, is a summary of their work to date. It represents a road map of what the best scientific minds of our world understand about our climate situation, and what is likely to occur in the future.

It sounds like a huge scientific report full of technical jargon. But it is not. The IPCC has wisely crafted a summary that is just 23 pages long. You can download it yourself and skim it on your home computer.

Those who have worked on this project are men and women who are determined to get the data right. They are largely volunteers and have given generously of their own time. But they are not zealots determined to present a scary picture of the environment just to spur action. If anything, some say their conclusions are on the conservative side — as scientists dedicated to accuracy and truth, they have had to err on the side of caution. Rajendra Pauchari, chairman of the IPCC, has been praised for his ability to bring different viewpoints together.

“What we do in the next two or three years will determine our future,” he said.

Some say that climate change is unfolding faster than had been anticipated. One of America’s leading atmospheric scientists, James Hansen, said that the reality is much more serious than what’s indicated in the IPCC report.

What does the report say? For a quick look at what might apply directly to us, go to, click on “Download the summary for policy makers of the AR4 synthesis report,” and open page 10, “Examples of some projected regional impacts.” Under “North America,” there are four bullet points, detailing the expected warming, flooding, drought, heat waves and pollution.

The report is entitled “Summary for Policy makers.” But we are all policy makers, and it is up to us to act. With this document the work can begin.

Our own City Council is already moving toward addressing climate change, positioning us to respond positively to the unavoidable adjustments of a warming world. As individuals and as a city, the more we understand the realities the IPCC report addresses, the more effectively we can make the plans and institute the changes that are needed.

Winston Churchill is quoted as saying that “Americans usually do the right thing — unfortunately, only after they’re tried everything else.” We’ve tried “everything else” long enough; now let’s get informed and charged to create a community for a green future, starting right here on Mercer Island — beginning by reading the AR4 Report.

Elizabeth Hardisty has lived on the Island since 1970. She is a nurse (RN) and retired this year to be able to give more time to environmental issues. She is one of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” interns, presenting the slide show and working for global warming awareness locally.