2nd Annual John Carlson Lecture: Predicting Climate in a Chaotic World, Timothy Palmer

“Predicting Climate in a Chaotic World: How Certain Can We Be?”
Professor Timothy Palmer

NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM, November 1, 2012

Lecture Summary

By: Dawn Adelson and Helen Hill | EAPS News

Can we have any confidence at all in long-range predictions of weather? Should we believe estimates of human-induced climate change?  Is the whole notion of predicting long-term changes in climate misguided and unscientific? These were just some of the questions raised by Professor Timothy Palmer at the Lorenz Center’s second annual John Carlson Lecture on November 1, 2012. The lecture was held at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) which co-sponsored the event. The John Carlson Lecture Series, generously funded by MIT alumnus John Carlson, aims to communicate new results in climate science to the general public. The Lorenz Center and the NEAQ joined forces after realizing that both were committed to promoting public understanding of climate change.

More than 350 people filled the Simons IMAX Theater to hear Palmer, the Royal Society Professor of Climate Physics, discuss “Predicting Climate in a Chaotic World: How Certain Can We Be?” Palmer used his dry English wit to illustrate that predications with properly quantified estimates of uncertainty can, in fact, be meaningful. “Uncertainty is not a reason for inaction,” Palmer said. “We can still make rational decisions even with uncertainty.“

Palmer explained that climate change predictions must be couched in probabilistic terms because of uncertainties about the magnitude of some of its natural amplifiers, such as water vapor.  Climate change is not about belief or denial, he emphasized. Instead, it’s about the risk involved in not taking action. “If we want to reduce the risk of living in a world, which will be as different from today as today is from the last ice age, is it worth taking mitigating actions? “ he asked. “That’s the fundamental question.”

Those who attended the talk included Martha Amram PhD ’87 (XV); Howard Messing 73 (VI); Ted ’55 (X) and Mary Papastavros; and Neil Rasmussen 76 (VI-1), SM ’80 (VI), and his wife, Anna Winter.