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AAPG Bulletin


AAPG Bulletin, V. 88, No. 9 (September 2004), P. 1211-1220.

Copyright copy2004. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.

Climate change: Conflict of observational science, theory, and politics

Lee C. Gerhard 1

1Kansas Geological Survey, Lawrence, Kansas 66047; present affiliation: Thomasson Partner Associates, Denver, Colorado; author contact: 1628 Alvamar Drive, Lawrence, Kansas 66047; leeg@sunflower.com


Lee C. Gerhard has a career of academic, government, and industry leadership. Gerhard is the senior editor and author of the 2001 book Geological Perspectives of Global Climate Change, published by AAPG. A petroleum geologist, his current research interest is mitigating significant conflicts between earth resource development and environmental qual ity and public education about resource issues. He is an honorary member of AAPG.


Debate over whether human activity causes Earth climate change obscures the immensity of the dynamic systems that create and maintain climate on the planet. Anthropocentric debate leads people to believe that they can alter these planetary dynamic systems to prevent what they perceive as negative climate impacts on human civilization. Although politicians offer simplistic remedies, such as the Kyoto Protocol, global climate continues to change naturally. Better planning for the inevitable dislocations that have followed natural global climate changes throughout human history requires us to accept the fact that climate will change, and that human society must adapt to the changes.

Over the last decade, the scientific literature reported a shift in emphasis from attempting to build theoretical models of putative human impacts on climate to understanding the planetwide dynamic processes that are the natural climate drivers. The current scientific literature is beginning to report the history of past climate change, the extent of natural climate variability, natural system drivers, and the episodicity of many climate changes.

The scientific arguments have broadened from focus upon human effects on climate to include the array of natural phenomena that have driven global climate change for eons. However, significant political issues with long-term social consequences continue their advance. This paper summarizes recent scientific progress in climate science and arguments about human influence on climate.

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