Gerald R. North


On his book The Rise of Climate Science: A Memoir

Cover Interview of October 13, 2020


My life and career should be interesting to many people who are considering a life in science, or persons in position to advise young people interested in science. I grew up in the golden age for my choice of science as a profession. I was a late bloomer who could not have made it in many countries or times. I managed to squeeze through all the traditional gates. Although it seems that my path was unique, I found that I was among a cohort of ambitious kids from the lower middle class that were successful. I fear that this path is closed now for this group that I remember so well. I fear that the current concentration of wealth elsewhere shuts the gates on this route for all too many to the detriment of our nation.

Climate science began with geographers and geologists collecting and organizing data. It took an abrupt change in the late sixties to a paradigm of putting physics (mostly through meteorologists and oceanographers, but others as well) into climate models, as they evolved from weather forecast models. Theoretical models required physical, mathematical, and statistical skills for their solution. A key ingredient was the parallel growth of digital computers and other technologies such as drilling cores from the sea floor, lake bottoms and coral formations. Satellite observing systems enabled us to gain a global view of our planet’s climate and how it works. The giant computers, the internet, and satellites systems also corralled the gushing flow of information that was needed by the models.

The model simulations and the data streams set up a dance of iterating between models suggesting data, data testing, and adjusting models. This beautiful picture is now clear enough for us to believe what climate scientists have been telling us for decades. The planetary climate is changing for the warmer with negative ramifications. It is so obvious now that the number of scientifically educated supporters denying the change has nearly vanished. In the terms of Thomas Kuhn, climate science is in the stage of normal science.

Basic climate science is now blessed with funding from numerous governmental agencies in the United States and in nearly every other country in the world. The largest corporations are agreed on its inferences. Climatic conditions evolve on multi-generational time scales. The changes are gradual to the observer, but the manifestations of it are becoming clear to the laypersons at last, and they should begin to deal with it with a mix of adaptations and mitigations.