Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the full version of its Sixth Assessment Report. A news article posted by the Union of Concerned Scientists begins with the headline

New IPCC Report Finds Sharp Cuts in Fossil Fuels and Emissions Urgently Needed, Policymakers’ Failures Putting Climate Goals at Risk

What, you may ask, does the IPCC Report have to do with physics applied to medicine and biology? Everything. The medical and biological consequences of ignoring the physics of climate change will be catastrophic. The advances in medical physics and biological physics that Russ Hobbie and I outline in Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology are insignificant compared to the disastrous health risks that could result from unchecked global warming.

Fighting the climate crisis is not new. Below are excerpts from a 1999 position statement published in the American Journal of Physics (my favorite journal).

Climate Change and Greenhouse Gases

The following position statement was released on 28 January 1999 by the American Geophysical Union. The Executive Board of the American Association of Physics Teachers endorsed this statement at its meeting on 20 March 1999.

Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have substantially increased as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion and other human activities. These elevated concentrations of greenhouse gases are predicted to persist in the atmosphere for times ranging to thousands of years. Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases affect the Earth-atmosphere energy balance, enhancing the natural greenhouse effect and thereby exerting a warming influence at the Earth’s surface…

The world may already be committed to some degree of human-caused climate change, and further buildup of greenhouse gas concentrations may be expected to cause further change. Some of these changes may be beneficial and others damaging for different parts of the world. However, the rapidity and uneven geographic distribution of these changes could be very disruptive. AGU recommends the development and evaluation of strategies such as emissions reduction, carbon sequestration, and adaptation to the impacts of climate change. AGU believes that the present level of scientific uncertainty does not justify inaction in the mitigation of human-induced climate change and/or the adaptation to it.

Alas, this statement was followed by two decades of inaction. The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report describes the danger we now face. We know the science; now we must act. I urge readers of IPMB to study the IPCC Report and to consider the issue of climate change when deciding who to vote for in future elections.

Originally published at



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Brad Roth

Brad Roth


Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.