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By David Barnstone
Scientists' understanding of the physical basis of climate change has improved immensely since APS issued its first Statement on Earth’s Changing Climate in 2007. While critical gaps in this knowledge remain, one thing is clear: Human activities are the “dominant driver” of global warming.
That is the core message of the Society’s 2021 climate statement, which was unanimously approved by the APS Council on November 10. Citing new evidence from recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, the APS statement calls on the physics community to tackle the climate crisis with a renewed sense of urgency.
“This is a wakeup call for the scientific community and society at large,” says APS Chief External Affairs Officer Francis Slakey.
“Physicists have been essential to advancing our understanding of the climate system and humanity's impact on it,” says APS Past President S. James Gates, Jr. “With this new statement, APS renews its call for sustained research in climate science and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
APS public policy statements undergo a meticulous process of draft and review, including receiving comments from APS members, before being voted on by the Council. APS Statements are formally revisited by the APS Panel on Public Affairs every five years to determine whether renewal, revision, or retirement is appropriate.
APS has been taking concrete steps to quantify and mitigate the environmental impact of its activities. In 2017, APS became the first US scientific society to broadly assess and then publish an inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions. APS also considers the carbon footprint in the choice of locations for its scientific meetings. Following the natural experiment of remote work during the pandemic, most APS staff continue to work from their homes and nearby locations, which is expected to reduce emissions from commuting.
APS Government Affairs recently ran a grassroots campaign that helped overturn the Trump Administration's rollback of regulations on emissions of methane—the primary component of natural gas with more than 25 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide. APS members are also collaborating on a campaign to counter misinformation on scientific issues such as climate change.
“These are steps we are taking to address what is arguably the most complex, urgent, and consequential scientific and technological challenge of our time,” says APS CEO Jonathan Bagger. “The impact of human activities on the climate system is continuing to grow, and the actions we take over the next few decades will reverberate for centuries.”
APS is a signatory on a joint statement with other international physical societies, “A call to action: the role of physics in delivering the global green economy.”
The author is APS Head of Public Relations.
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