Plain English Guide to Climate Change

Why a Plain English Guide?

Few people would dispute that the concept of Global Climate Change is one of the most complex science-derived issues to wind up at the center of political discourse. The section of the landmark Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) dealing with the science of climate change is over 500 pages long by itself, containing 75 pages of references alone.1 Documentation from outside the IPCC is equally voluminous.

The terrific complexity of climate change research poses a challenge for the decision-making apparatus in democratic societies, since it is simply unrealistic to expect the public, policymakers or the media to read and understand the full body of climate change literature. Instead, they must rely on publications put out by pressure groups with a position for or against climate change, or on the verbal summation of a small number of high-profile experts. But thirty second sound bites don’t leave much room for qualifications, and, just as the devil is in the details, the quality of science is in the qualifications. The first thing to be lost in sciencepolicy discussion is a clear representation of the complexity of the issue which accurately depicts both the certainties and the uncertainties involved.

The importance of having accurate portrayals of the nature, magnitude, certainty and imminence of environmental hazards is hard to overstate. As a society, we have a limited amount of resources with which to address these hazards, whether we address them through environmental improvement programs such as air quality controls, or whether we address them through other public health improvement efforts. Wasting our resources by ranking our problems poorly costs lives, and quality of life, that we could otherwise preserve.

The purpose of this guide, then, is to translate the evidence regarding global climate change from the arcane language of science into the mainstream language of English, so that the weighing of evidence can be put back into a public debate that all too often weighs only the sound bites of pundits, politicians, industry representatives and celebrity scientists.

This guide is not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of every facet of global climate change research. Rather, this guide is offered to facilitate independent evaluation of what I hope is an unbiased selection of the relevant evidence in order to enhance the quality of public policy debate.

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

—Gautama Buddha

This Study's Materials





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