What We Know: a AAAS initiative to promote awareness of the science of climate change

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has released a new report entitled What We Know, which aims to “present key messages for every American about climate change” as a way to hopefully show people the reality of what we’re doing to the Earth. Based on the evidence, more than 97% of climate experts have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening. What We Know helps us understand the science behind the realities, risks and response to the climate challenge.

It is not the purpose of this paper to explain why this disconnect between scientific knowledge and public perception has occurred. Nor is the initiative seeking to provide yet another extensive review of the scientific evidence for climate change. Instead, the report presents key messages for every American about climate change:

  1. Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now. Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.
  2. We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.
  3. The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do.

The AAAS is the world’s largest non-government general science membership organization and the executive publisher of Science, a leading scientific journal. Its mission is “advance science for the benefit of all people.” Its goals include providing a voice for science on societal issues and promoting the responsible use of science in public policy. There may be no more pressing issue intersecting science and society than climate change and the What We Know initiative was born in response to that reality.

The What We Know initiative is dedicated to ensuring that three “R’s” of climate change communicated to the public.

  • The first is Reality — 97% of climate experts have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.
  • The second is Risk — that the reality of climate change means that there are climate change impacts we can expect, but we also must consider what might happen, especially the small, but real, chance that we may face abrupt changes with massively disruptive impacts.
  • The third R is Response — that there is much we can do and that the sooner we respond, the better off we will be.

To guide the What We Know initiative, AAAS convened a group of prominent experts in climate science to address the fact that many Americans still erroneously believe that the scientific community is divided on the issue and that Americans are largely unaware of the full spectrum of climate risks – both what is likely to happen and what might happen — that human-caused climate change presents to Americans now and in the future. The AAAS has published a summary report with information and details.