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Moments for scientists don't get much more dramatic than the scene in Paris on February 2, 2007, as lead authors of the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) described evidence pointing to an increasingly human-heated planet. This report, the fourth assessment of the causes and consequences of climate change in the nearly 20-year history of the panel, was the first to conclude with greater than 90 percent confidence that humans had become the main force driving warming and that centuries of rising temperatures and seas could be blunted only if emissions of heat-trapping gases were substantially reduced.
At the news conference following presentations, reporters pressed for the human element. One journalist asked Susan Solomon, one of the two supervising authors and an award-winning atmospheric scientist for the United States government, “to sum up what kind of urgency this sort of report should convey to policy makers.” She gave the furthest thing from a convenient sound bite:
“I can only give you something that's going to disappoint you, sir, and that is that it's my personal scientific approach to say it's not my role to try to communicate what should be done . . . I believe that is a societal choice. I believe science is one input to that choice, and I also believe that science can best serve society by refraining from going beyond its expertise. In my view, that's what the I.P.C.C. also is all about, namely not trying to make policy-prescriptive statements, but policy-relevant statements.
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