Man-Made Climatic Changes

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Science  18 Dec 1970:
Vol. 170, Issue 3964, pp. 1265-1274
DOI: 10.1126/science.170.3964.1265


Natural climatic fluctuations, even those of recent years, cover a considerable range. They can be characterized as a "noise" spectrum which masks possible global effects of man-caused increases of atmospheric CO2 and particulates. Local modifications, either deliberate or inadvertent, measurably affect the microclimate. Some artificial alterations of the microlimate are beneficial in agriculture. Among the unplanned effects, those produced by urbanization on local temperature and on wind field are quite pronounced. The influences on rainfall are still somewhat controversial, but effects may extend considerably beyond the confines of metropolitan areas. They are the result of water vapor released by human activity and of the influence of condensation and freezing nuclei produced in overabundance by motor vehicles and other combustion processes. Therefore it appears that on the local scale man-made influences on climate are substantial but that on the global scale natural forces still prevail. Obviously this should not lead to complacency. The potential for anthropogenic changes of climate on a larger and even a global scale is real. At this stage activation of an adequate worldwide monitoring system to permit early assessment of these changes is urgent. This statement applies particularly to the surveillance of atmospheric composition and radiation balance at sites remote from concentrations of population, which is now entirely inadequate. In my opinion, man-made aerosols, because of their optical properties and possible influences on cloud and precipitation processes, constitute a more acute problem than CO2. Many of their effects are promptly reversible; hence, one should strive for elimination at the source. Over longer intervals, energy added to the atmosphere by heat rejection and CO2 absorption remain matters of concern.