“Earth is warming, and we know why. Light is reflected and absorbed by clouds, air, oceans, ice and land. Greenhouse gases are released and adsorbed by organic and inorganic sources. Both exchanges depend on a variety of factors such as temperature, ocean acidity, the amount of vegetation and — yes — the burning of fossil fuels.
What’s less clear is what climate change means for our future. “It’s not like this is string theory,” said Timothy Palmer, professor of climate physics at the University of Oxford. “We know the equations.” But we don’t know how to solve them. The many factors that affect the climate interact with one another and give rise to interconnected feedback cycles. The mathematics is so complex, the only way scientists know to handle it is by feeding the problem into computers, which then approximately solve the equations.
The International Panel for Climate Change based its latest full report, in 2014, on predictions from about two dozen such computer models. These models were independently developed by institutions in multiple countries. While similar in methodology, the models arrive at somewhat different long-term predictions. They all agree that Earth will continue to warm, but disagree on how much and how quickly.”