Each of our sun’s planets has its own climate, determined in large measure by the planet’s separation from its mother star and the nature of its atmospheric blanket. Life on our own earth is possible only because of its equable climate, and the distribution of climatic regimes over the globe has profoundly shaped the evolution of man and his society.
For more than a century, we have been aware that changes in the composition of the atmosphere could affect its ability to trap the sun’s energy for our benefit. We now have incontrovertible evidence that the atmosphere is indeed changing and that we ourselves contribute to that change. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are steadily increasing, and these changes are linked with man’s use of fossil fuels and exploitation of the land. Since carbon dioxide plays a significant role in the heat budget of the atmosphere, it is reasonable to suppose that continued increases would affect climate.
These concerns have prompted a number of investigations of the implications of increasing carbon dioxide. Their consensus has been that increasing carbon dioxide will lead to a warmer earth with a different distribution of climatic regimes. In view of the implications of this issue for national and international policy planning, the Office of Science and Technology Policy requested the National Academy of Sciences to undertake an independent critical assessment of the scientific basis of these studies and the degree of certainty that could be attached to their results.
In order to address this question in its entirety, one would have to peer into the world of our grandchildren, the world of the twenty-first century. Between now and then, how much fuel will we burn, how many trees will we