Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Knoxville, TN, United States (4E) – Humans are a key factor in the advance global warming and this fact should be taken into account in developing climate predictions, according to a new study that for the first time builds a novel model to measure the effects of human behavior on climate.
Drawing from both social psychology and climate science, the new model investigates how human behavioral changes evolve in response to extreme climate events and affect global temperature change. The results demonstrate the importance of factoring human behavior into models of climate change.
Human behavioral changes, such as installing solar panels or investing in public transportation, alter greenhouse gas emissions, which change the global temperature and thus the frequency of extreme events, leading to new behaviors, and the cycle continues.
Combining climate projections and social processes, the model predicts global temperature change ranging from 3.4°C to 6.2°C by 2100 compared to 4.9°C from the climate model alone.
Due to the complexity of physical processes, climate models have uncertainties in global temperature prediction. The new model found that temperature uncertainty associated with the social component was of a similar magnitude to that of the physical processes, which implies that a better understanding of the human social component is important but often overlooked.
The model found that long-term, less easily reversed behavioral changes, such as insulating homes or purchasing hybrid cars, had by far the most impact in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and thus reducing climate change, versus more short-term adjustments, such as adjusting thermostats or driving fewer miles.
“A better understanding of the human perception of risk from climate change and the behavioral responses are key to curbing future climate change,” said lead author Brian Beckage, a professor of plant biology and computer science at the University of Vermont.
“Climate models can easily make assumptions about reductions in future greenhouse gas emissions and project the implications, but they do this with no rational basis for human responses,” said Louis J. Gross, director at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), who co-authored the paper and co-organized the joint Working Group on Human Risk Perception and Climate Change.
“The key result from this paper is that there is indeed some rational basis for hope.”
That basis for hope can be the foundation which communities can build on in adopting policies to reduce emissions, said co-author Katherine Lacasse, an assistant professor of psychology at Rhode Island College.
The paper was a result of combined efforts of the joint Working Group on Human Risk Perception and Climate Change at NIMBioS at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) at the University of Maryland. Both institutes are supported by the National Science Foundation.
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