Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Better Climate Predictions Needed

One of the complaints that we often hear from the strategic planners looking at climate change is that the scientists cannot predict regional or time-specific weather patterns. They can broadly predict global trends, or long-term regional trends, but climate scientists are not weathermen. At this year's World Climate Conference, Andy Revikin of DotEarth is reporting that Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will expand the "strengthen production, availability, delivery and application of science-based climate prediction and services” by creating a new National Climate Service.

Forsight about climate prediction lies somewhere between being a weatherman and climatoligist. A climatologist will tell you what the earth's climate will look like in 100 years, and a weatherman will tell you what tomorrow's weather will be. Strategic planners need to know what the regional weather will be like over the next 5-30 years (the lifecycle of most infrastructure investments).

Up to now, scientists have not been able to say with any certainty whether a long-term drought or other security-altering weather will hit. However, they're becoming more accurate. For example, this today's New York Times reports that the drought in Eastern Kenya has been predicted for much of this year. As predictions become more precise, aid organizations, like the Red Cross, will be able to issue appeals for aid before a harsh weather pattern becomes a humanitarian crises. The only trick will be to attract the aid before the media can put pictures of starving children in the newspaper.

Better prediction will allow for better adaptation. As governments, businesses, and individuals begin to know how the climate will change, they can take precautionary measures to avoid the worst effects. Strategic forsight about climate change will be critical.

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