Bill Gail of Microsoft is a meteorology, earth observation and climate change junkie going beyond his duties as director of Microsoft’s Startup Business Accelerator and responsibilities with Bing Maps for Enterprise. He has a long connection with earth observation policy as past director of Earth science programs at Ball Aerospace, and his work on the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Research Council. He just published an in-depth analysis on climate change in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Association titled, “Achieving Climate Sustainability,” where he argues for a sustainability-based approach that factors in ongoing climate variability beyond the influence of human activities.
It is often assumed that climate change policies, including the Kyoto Protocol and the follow-on Copenhagen agreement now being negotiated, align well with sustainability’s tenets. A closer look reveals this is not the case. First, they treat climate change as a one-time problem – anthropogenic greenhouse gases – with a one-time solution. In contrast, research has begun to reveal that human-caused climate change is far from monolithic. Moreover, the clear trend is for societal climate influence to increase and diversify, not decline and simplify. Second, they fail to address the impact
of natural climate change on ecosystems and society, an area that is less-well understood than the public commonly believes. A sustainable framework that guides human interaction with Earth’s climate system must encompass the broader aspects of climate change and reconcile the reality of ongoing human influence. This includes the highly-controversial use of overt human influence to benefit society and ecosystems.
Achieving climate sustainability will be far from straightforward, if we even choose to proceed. The concept unearths deeply-held philosophical and religious conflicts, stretches our scientific capabilities, and forces us to address a considerable spectrum of practical concerns. Should we not choose to embrace it, we will find that our policies become less and less effective with time as climate problems expand beyond society’s ability to avoid or eliminate them individually. This article elaborates on the need to include sustainability within the climate dialogue and explores the complex considerations that will quickly become part of the public debate.
Gail raises many excellent points that are backed by exhaustive research on both sides of ongoing scientific debate. He advocates for a reasoned approach with significant investments in monitoring programs to see both immediate threats as well as long-term trends. He also suggests a collaborative global effort based on the ecosystem services construct (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005) for an approach that factors in populations over the entire globe. And he argues that sustainability is the right approach because it forces us to take a close look at, “what climate we wish to sustain and what change we commit to preventing.”
The detailed 34-page paper is well-referenced, with annotations and a full 12 pages of references to influential thought in the ongoing climate change response. You can read the entire paper online here.