The threats we least suspect could be the most devastating, climate change experts warn

Laurence C. Smith
Laurence C. Smith
A new landmark report by 14 leading climate scholars, including UCLA geographer Laurence C. Smith, calls for the development of an early warning system to help society better anticipate the often unforeseen and potentially calamitous impacts of climate change.
 
Issued Dec. 3 and sponsored by several federal agencies and the National Academies, "Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprise" draws attention to these sudden, serious climate change threats and distinguished them from longer-term and less certain threats.
 
"The report is crucial because it provides governments, NGOs and policymakers a way to prioritize a range of 'black swan' impacts according to magnitude of risk," said Smith, professor and chair of the UCLA Department of Geography. "The good news is that some threats, like a sudden massive methane pulse from thawing Arctic permafrost or a complete shutdown of the North Atlantic Ocean circulation, now seem unlikely to occur in the next few decades. The bad news is that other threats which have received much less attention could be devastating."
 
Smith has garnered considerable attention for his research on the effects of climate change on the Arctic, including its role in the disappearance of lakes and the evolving potential for commercial trans-Arctic shipping through the region. He also is the author of the 2011 book "The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future," which details the anticipated impacts of global climate change, especially for the Northern-most quarter of the globe.
 
A summary of the report, which was sponsored by the national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, the U.S intelligence community and the National Academies, is available on the National Academies Press website. Watch a live broadcast of the findings at 8 a.m. PST here.

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