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Letter: Climate evidence is solid, without mystery

To the editor,

Robert Otto's letter (Dec. 20, "Climate theory involves many assumptions") represents a broad misunderstanding of the state of climate science.

First, it is important to recognize our knowledge is driven not only by model data, but also a lengthy record of observations. These observations are both traditional (e.g. thermometers) and from proximity records from things such as tree rings, ice cores and sediment samples that in some cases, go back hundreds of thousands of years.

The combination of these records provides us understanding of how the Earth's climate system responds to natural variability.

Second, it is implied that our models are shrouded in mystery with hidden assumptions. This is untrue; in the U.S., our models and associated computer code are publically available. This facilitates the advancement of science because it allows scientists to double-check each other and reproduce experiments. While there is uncertainty in our models due to the approximations made, we take care in quantifying the errors.

Third, the author implies that we cherry-pick results to emphasize catastrophe simply to get money out of the government. While this suggests we're living the good life on government dollars (hah!), the more fundamental issues are questions related to the risk we're willing to assume and money we're willing to spend on potential climate change impacts such as sea-level rise. While this may seem like a distant threat for a state in the middle of the country, the end result is taxpayer money is going to help fund projects to remediate issues due to climate change.

Locally, this could mean additional infrastructure to combat flooding, road maintenance costs due to increased number of freeze/thaw cycles, etc.

Based on observations and model data, many scientists (myself included) think the risk for catastrophic change is high enough that we need to curtail emissions to limit additional warming. While catastrophe may not mean direct loss of life, it means increased fiscal risk that will increase government spending.

There is a growing body of bipartisan support for the issue, regardless of the current administration's opinions. Recent years have seen Republican-led efforts such as the Republican Climate Resolution (H.Res.195) and development of groups investigating free-enterprise solutions to climate change, such as republicEn.

Aaron Kennedy

UND Department of Atmospheric Sciences