Has something crucial been left out of climate change models?

Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 5:22 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont has set ambitious climate goals for the future: a 40% reduction below the 1990 levels in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and an 80% reduction below those levels by 2050.

When modeling for those gas reductions there often is one element missing-- the human response to a changing climate.

Now, a University of Vermont researcher is looking to add humans to a complicated equation.

How much do people think about climate change?

“Usually on the daily basis. Usually, there is something comes up that just makes me think,” said Deb Anderson of South Burlington.

“A moderate amount, but not so much so that it’s affecting my day-to-day,” said Andrew Dulac of Miami.

Whether it is constantly on your mind or hardly occupying a thought, humans are part of an equation.

“The role of human behavior and how that interacts with climate change,” said Brian Beckage, a professor at UVM’s Gund Institute for the Environment.

Beckage focuses on climate modeling. He says currently, most models don’t allow for adjustments as humans adapt to a changing climate. Their research does.

“As people experience climate change, our behavior is likely to change. They change their behaviors accordingly, support policies,” Beckage said.

Beckage and his team are some of the first to do this research and allow climate models to adjust as humans adjust. He says this can lead to more accurate climate models and helps us understand points of high leverage to fight back against climate change like education.

Beckage also keeps an optimistic view of the future.

“I think it turns out that things are likely not to be as bad as we think because current models don’t incorporate this human response,” he said.

He says what his modeling method suggests is that as conditions get more difficult, humans respond more aggressively. He believes this makes the fight against climate change more actionable.

“By putting humans in the system, then it gives us agency and some sense of control and that we can make a difference,” Beckage explained.

As for whether the rumbles of a changing climate are impacting behavior...

“I think just mostly around recycling and composting,” Anderson said.

“I recycle more, I try to shut the water off, not let it run,” Dulac said.