Futuribles Journal n° 384

Recherche, sciences, techniques - Ressources naturelles, énergie, environnement

Climate Certainties and Uncertainties


In issue 380 of Futuribles in December 2011, Antonin Pottier analysed in detail the workings of what is today termed “climate scepticism” – namely the propensity of certain individuals to contest the reality of climate change on the basis of pseudo-scientific arguments. He emphasized particularly that what fuels the debate on climate change is, largely, the degree of uncertainty inherent in the consequences to be anticipated from observation of the facts, not the description of the facts itself. In his view, the main aim of climate sceptics is to block the political measures for combating climate change. However, since they do not admit to this political posture, they choose instead to deny the scientific reality.

This month, Futuribles complements this socio-psychological analysis of climate-sceptical discourse with an – in this case, wholly scientific – analysis of what we know (or do not know) about climate change on our planet. Pierre Morel gives a detailed account of the state of our knowledge in the climate field and what we are able to predict in the medium/long-term. After reminding us of the influence of atmospheric meteorological processes on the climate, he specifies the extent of global warming observed since 1850 and the main origin of that warming, as revealed by the current state of knowledge: the increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases. He then describes the changes in meteorological regimes (showing also the limits of climate simulation models), the modifications of hydrological regimes, and also the prospects for rises in sea levels. He also specifies the mechanisms that may potentially amplify all these phenomena and the climate disasters that might ensue. Lastly, he shows what are the scientific data that cannot be disregarded, the consequences of which are now inescapable (melting of the ice-caps, rises in sea level etc.), the only remaining uncertainty in this connection being the date at which these things will happen. “In this perspective,” Morel concludes, “the continuation of our model of civilization comes at the cost of a fundamental revision of the current paradigm of economic and demographic growth.”

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