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Human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels to power our homes and businesses and changes to the land caused by the rise of modern cities and expanded agriculture, undoubtedly affect the global environment. It is the extent of that effect and how it relates to changes in the modern climate which is the subject of current scientific debate.
Begun in 1989, the Institute's Climate Change program involves a critical examination of the scientific basis for global climate change policy. The intent is to promote a clear understanding of the state of climate science and assess the implications for public policy.
Wise, effective climate policy flows from a sound scientific foundation and a clearunderstanding of what science does and does not tell us about human influence and about courses of action to manage risk. Many of the temperature data and computer models used to predict climate change are themselves as uncertain as are our understanding of important interactions in the natural climate, all facts noted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, although rarely reported or acknowledged in the public debates over climate. Reducing these many uncertainties requires a significant shift in the way climate change research is carried out in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Are calls about the uncertainty in the state of scientific knowledge a call for no action? Nothing could be further from the truth. The message to policy makers is not to delay actions until uncertainties are reduced. Rather, actions should flow from the state of knowledge, should be related to a long-term strategy and objectives and should be capable of being adjusted- one way or the other- as the understanding of human influences improves. There is a sufficient basis for action because the climate change risk is real. Yet it is equally true that actions must not be predicated on speculative images of an apocalyptic vision of life in the near future.