Critics of the global warming concept tend to come in two broad varieties. One category includes those who, for whatever reasons, simply refuse to accept the idea in any form (and which has a common sub-variant: the "global warming is not real, it has nothing to do with humans, there's nothing we can do about it, and anything we can do about it would be too expensive" complaint). The other category of critic, however, is more reasonable -- it consists of people who are cautious about the idea, wishing to see more scientific research before coming to any conclusion. While this sometimes is just a cover story for the first type of critic, there are many people out there who have understandable concerns about just how scientists know what they claim to know about climate disruption.
Although we've pointed in the past to non-specialist-level explanations of global warming and climate change as well as to specific studies and models, we haven't had a good resource for a comprehensive and detailed explanation of how we came to understand the threat of global warming-induced climate change -- until now.
WorldChanging friend and ally Arthur P. Smith alerted us to an amazing site at the American Institute of Physics entitled "The Discovery of Global Warming." The Discovery of Global Warming site encompasses the full text of the 2003 book of the same name by physicist Spencer Weart, as well as an abundance of additional graphs, documents, and -- best of all -- hyperlinks between the various concepts explained in the text. You can even grab an archive of the entire site as a Zip file, as PDF documents, and even as a CD-ROM.
The site -- all 250,000 words of it -- surveys the breadth and depth of research over the years into climate change and global warming. Although current as of mid-2003, this is not simply a summary of the most recent findings. Weart spends a good bit of effort covering the history of how scientists have come to understand how the climate works, providing valuable insights into the process of science itself. Even if you don't get a chance to browse the rest of the site, I strongly recommend that you read the essay "Reflections on the Scientific Process, as Seen in Climate Studies" -- it's one of the best examinations of the scientific method in the real world I've read in a long time.
If you already accept the global climatological consensus that anthropogenic global warming is happening and is getting worse, The Discovery of Global Warming will provide abundant detail to help you better understand how that consensus came about. If you have been honestly skeptical about the global warming threat, but willing to listen, this site will help you better understand why there is a broad scientific consensus about climate disruption in the first place. It may not change your mind, but you'll see why so many scientists take the problem so very seriously.
(And, yes, I shut comments off for this post. Entries about global warming always seem to trigger tediously atavistic aggression-dominance displays and namecalling by certain first category climate change critics who inexplicably read this site, and I don't feel like playing comment moderator tonight. If you want to comment on the post, please feel free to send me an email or a trackback ping from your own blog.)