Gary Yohe

Climate scientists, especially those with earth and environmental experience, have been extremely successful in expanding the scope of detection and attribution (D&A) analyses of “know uncertainties) about climate variables that include much more than increases in temperature and some changes in precipitation patterns. They have been favored in those endeavores by some well supported and widely accepted laws of physics with which to anchor their models. Today in the first quarter of 2024, though, they cannot rest on their laurels. A new more difficult task awaits their collective and integrated attention. They need to collectively confront the prospects of large and dangerous tipping points about which, to be honest, we know very little. Our understanding of how, when, and where those thresholds lie and why they even exist is woefully inadequate to support the clamor in many locations for near-term abating and adapting actions supported by enough knowledge to make society confident that their proposed actions will actually work. We need another large concerted research effort, perhaps mimicking their D&A work but perhaps not, designed to advance knowledge in the same was as before in less time than before without accepted fundamental laws of physics as before; they are now confronting “known unknowns” without clear quantification of the inherent uncertainties. This effort will confront two profound budget constraints – limited and vulnerable funding to cover the expense without interruption and a large influx of new and motivated science talent to fill the human capital gap (the current crop of scientists already have too much to do with too little funding). Fundamentally, this perspective piece is a plea designed to motivate the next cohort of climate scientists to pick up the mantle with the promise of support, colleagueship, respect, recognition, mentoring, and life-long friendships.

Keywords: adaptation; Antarctic ice sheet disintegration and/or collapse; attracting new physical and social scientific talent; climate change; climate risk; established and missing physics; known uncertainties; known unknowns; mitigation; new research funding; sea level rise; tipping points

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