Climate Change: Past, Present, and Future



Questions about global warming concern climate scientists and the general public alike. Specifically, what are the reliable surface temperature reconstructions over the past few centuries? And what are the best predictions of global temperature change the Earth might expect for the next century?

Recent publications [National Research Council (NRC), 2006; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2007] permit these questions to be answered in a single informative illustration by assembling temperature reconstructions of the past thousand years with predictions for the next century. The result, shown in Figure 1, illustrates present and future warming in the context of natural variations in the past [see also Oldfield and Alverson, 2003]. To quote a Chinese proverb, “A picture's meaning can express ten thousand words.” Because it succinctly captures past inferences and future projections of climate, the illustration should be of interest to scientists, educators, policy makers, and the public.