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Some people, such as Judith Curry, raise questions about the way climate policy is conducted and criticize specific aspects of climate science, but scientists--including Curry herself--broadly agree on the fundamentals: that the climate is warming, and that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity is the leading cause. Scientific American has covered aspects of this issue for 50 years, starting with an article in July 1959 ("Carbon Dioxide and Climate," by Gilbert N. Plass). We offer a selection of articles about root causes of climate shifts, possible solutions to the problem, and policy-related aspects. We hope these articles will help in continuing the discussion of this issue--perhaps the most important facing humans today.
From our print issues (digital subscription may be required):
The Physical Science behind Climate Change; August 2007; Scientific American Magazine; by William Collins, Robert Colman, James Haywood, Martin R. Manning and Philip Mote; 10 page(s). Why climatologists are now so confident that human activity is to blame for a warming world
The Ethics of Climate Change; June 2008; Scientific American Magazine; by John Broome; 6 page(s). Weighing our own prosperity against the chances that climate change will diminish the well-being of our grandchildren calls on economists to make hard ethical judgments
Abrupt Climate Change; November 2004; Scientific American Magazine; by Richard B. Alley; 8 page(s). Winter temperatures plummeting six degrees Celsius and sudden droughts scorching farmland around the globe are not just the stuff of scary movies. Such striking climate jumps have happened before--sometimes within a matter of years
The Coming Climate; May 1997; Scientific American Magazine; by Karl, Nicholls, Gregory; 6 page(s). Meteorological records and computer models permit insights into some of the broad weather patterns of a warmer world
Defusing the Global Warming Time Bomb; March 2004; Scientific American Magazine; by James Hansen; 10 page(s). Global warming is real, and the consequences are potentially disastrous. Nevertheless, practical actions, which would also yield a cleaner, healthier atmosphere, could slow, and eventually stop, the process
The Human Impact on Climate; December 1999; Scientific American Magazine; by Karl, Trenberth; 6 page(s). How much of a disruption do we cause? The much-awaited answer could be ours by 2050, but only if nations of the world commit to long-term monitoring now
Climate in Flux/Warming to Climate Change; Weather; Scientific American Presents; by Brown; 6 page(s). Global warming is upon us, scientists say - and some communities are ready to react. Together researchers and local leaders are planning for hot, wet - or just plain bizarre - weather to come
Greenland Ice Cores: Frozen in Time; February 1998; Scientific American Magazine; by Alley, Bender; 6 page(s). Ice, frozen in place for tens of thousands of years, provides scientists with clues to past-and future-climate
Beyond the Tipping Point; September 2008; Scientific American Earth 3.0; by Michael D. Lemonick; 8 page(s). The world¿s most outspoken climatologist argues that today¿s carbon dioxide levels are already dangerously too high. What can we do if he is right?
Is Global Warming Harmful to Health?; August 2000; Scientific American Magazine; by Paul R. Epstein; 8 page(s). Computer models indicate that many diseases will surge as the earth's atmosphere heats up. Signs of the predicted troubles have begun to appear
Meltdown in the North; October 2003; Scientific American Magazine; by Matthew Sturm, Donald K. Perovich and Mark C. Serreze; 8 page(s). Sea ice and glaciers are melting, permafrost is thawing, tundra is yielding to shrubs - and scientists are struggling to understand how these changes will affect not just the Arctic but the entire planet
Spring Forward; January 2004; Scientific American Magazine; by Daniel Grossman; 8 page(s). As temperatures rise sooner in spring, interdependent species in many ecosystems are shifting dangerously out of sync
Sulfate Aerosol and Climatic Change; February 1994; Scientific American Magazine; by Charlson, Wigley; 8 page(s). Industrial emissions of sulfur form particles that may be reflecting solar radiation back into space, thereby masking the greenhouse effect over some parts of the earth
Living on a New Earth; Boundaries for a Healthy Planet; Solutions to Environmental Threats; April 2010; Scientific American Magazine; by The Editors; Jonathan Foley; Gretchen C. Daily; Robert Howarth; David A. Vaccari; Adele C. Morris; Eric F. Lambin; Scott C. Doney; Peter H. Gleick; David W. Fahey; 8 page(s). Humankind has fundamentally altered the planet. But new thinking and new actions can prevent us from destroying ourselves; Scientists have set thresholds for key environmental processes that, if crossed, could threaten Earth's habitability. Ominously, three have already been exceeded; Experts tell Scientific American which actions will keep key processes in bounds
Underground Records of Changing Climate; June 1993; Scientific American Magazine; by Henry N. Pollack and David S. Chapman; 7 page(s). Boreholes drilled into continental rock can recover fossil temperatures that reveal the climate of past eras. The results require careful interpretation
Capturing Greenhouse Gases; February 2000; Scientific American Magazine; by Herzog, Eliasson, Kaarstad, sidebars by Martindale and Keith, Parson; 8 page(s). Sequestering carbon dioxide underground or in the deep ocean could help alleviate concerns about climate change
Chaotic Climate; November 1995; Scientific American Magazine; by Broecker; 7 page(s). Global temperatures have been known to change substantially in only a decade or two. Could another jump be in the offng?
Climate Change: A Controlled Experiment; March 2010; Scientific American Magazine; by Stan D. Wullschleger and Maya Strahl; 6 page(s). Scientists have carefully manipulated grasslands and forests to see how precipitation, carbon dioxide and temperature changes affect the biosphere, allowing them to forecast the future
Arctic Plants Feel the Heat; May 2010; Scientific American Magazine; by Matthew Sturm; 8 page(s). Global warming is dramatically revamping not only the ice but also tundra and forests at the top of the world, greening some parts and browning others. The alterations could exacerbate climate change
Making Carbon Markets Work; December 2007; Scientific American Magazine; by David G. Victor and Danny Cullenward; 8 page(s). Limiting climate change without damaging the world economy depends on stronger and smarter market signals to regulate carbon dioxide
Warmer Oceans, Stronger Hurricanes; July 2007; Scientific American Magazine; by Kevin E. Trenberth; 8 page(s). Evidence is mounting that global warming enhances a cyclone's damaging winds and flooding rains
Misleading Math about the Earth; January 2002; Scientific American Magazine; by Stephen Schneider, John P. Holdren, John Bongaarts and Thomas Lovejoy. Introduction by John Rennie; 11 page(s). Science defends itself against The Skeptical Environmentalist
How Did Humans First Alter Global Climate?; March 2005; Scientific American Magazine; by William F. Ruddiman; 8 page(s). A bold new hypothesis suggests that our ancestors' farming practices kicked off global warming thousands of years before we started burning coal and driving cars
A Sunshade for Planet Earth; November 2008; Scientific American Magazine; by Robert Kunzig; 10 page(s). Global warming has become such an overriding emergency that some climate experts are willing to consider schemes for partly shielding the planet from the sun¿s rays. But no such scheme is a magic bullet
Methane, Plants and Climate Change; February 2007; Scientific American Magazine; by Frank Keppler and Thomas R¿ckmann; 6 page(s). The surprising discovery that living plants produce a potent greenhouse gas poses new questions for managing global warming
Methane: A Menace Surfaces; December 2009; Scientific American Magazine; by Katey Walter Anthony; 8 page(s). Arctic permafrost is already thawing, creating lakes that emit methane. The heat-trapping gas could dramatically accelerate global warming. How big is the threat? What can be done?
The Rising Seas; The Oceans; Scientific American Presents; by Schneider; 8 page(s). Although some voice concern that global warming will lead to a meltdown of polar ice, flooding coastlines everywhere, the true threat remains difficult to gauge
The Unquiet Ice; February 2008; Scientific American Magazine; by Robin E. Bell; 8 page(s). Abundant liquid water discovered underneath the great polar ice sheets could catastrophically intensify the effects of global warming on the rise of sea level around the world
The Rising Seas; March 1997; Scientific American Magazine; by Schneider; 6 page(s). Although some voice concern that global warming will lead to a meltdown of polar ice, flooding coastlines everywhere, the true threat remais difficult to gauge
Threatening Ocean Life from the Inside Out; August 2010; Scientific American Magazine; by Marah J. Hardt and Carl Safina; 8 page(s). Carbon dioxide emissions are making the oceans more acidic, imperiling the growth and reproduction of species from plankton to squid