Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Importance of Earth System Science

The Sunday New York Times had an interesting article by Andrew Revkin reporting on a conference of climate change doubters.
You can get there with this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/science/earth/04climate.html?ref=science.

Anyone who is concerned about climate change should read this article. Above all, you come away reiterating the importance of rigorous science. No single event, or season, or annual pattern can possibly reveal the spatial and temporal complexity of climate change. Yet we often cite anecdotal observations and information to indicate that the weather is changing. Earth system scientists rely on a complex array of emerging data. At the same time, we can't prove with one hundred per cent predictability a causal relationship between human activity and long-term climate change. But we can reliably assess important climatological patterns and we can indicate with a high percentage of reliability that carbon emissions are contributing to climate destabilization.

That's why I believe it's essential that every environmental studies student has a strong background in earth system science, understands scientific inquiry in relationship to earth system processes, and can distinguish between anecdotal observations and data-driven patterns. Similarly it's important to distinguish between scientific inquiry and propaganda.

At Unity College we are designing a new earth systems science major which will enable students to pursue work in global change science. It will strengthen the earth system foundation for all of our ecology and wildlife students as well. These will be crucial courses for our sustainability majors. Indeed, I will advocate that all students who graduate from an environmental college (or any college for that matter) ought to have an understanding of earth system sciences.

In a few weeks we will announce a new faculty member to help lead us in designing this major and this new suite of courses.


Don Klieiner said...

It seems to me that what we need in the future are environmental leaders who understand not only the reactions of the environmental community but also the needs of the people living in the environment. For too long rural people have felt and I think rightly, that the environmental movement's basic goal is to drive them from the land. For some reason the environmental community has allowed itself to be cast as Luddites looking to return us to a remembered past and not as positive consensus builders trying to move us forward into a better future.
The trick for Unity College, Maine and the nation is to develop leaders that are consensus builders who can understand not only the scientific arguments but the day-to-day realities of those arguments with the vision of how to implement the science in a positive way.

Anonymous said...

Don, I think you are correct. One advantage that Unity grads have is that they have lived in a rural environment, indeed many come here to do so. One of the fundamental questions we as a society need to deal with is: How do we build communities that base practices on prinicples that are not only scietifically sound but also improve our living conditions while being "earth-friendly" (Sorry about the propaganda term :) )
Lois Ongley