Don't worry, this is not another commentary about climate change, although I do know that simulations can be very sensitive to assumptions in their underlying models and to errors in the input data. (As physics Nobel laureate Niels Bohr said, "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.") My concern is about the R&D structure that will arise as society attempts to reduce the possibility of global warning through new and improved energy sources, greater efficiency and "greener" technologies.
Have no doubt, lots of money will flow into this effort, and that's generally a good thing for engineers. Some of this money will go toward smaller-scale R&D, but a lot will go to larger, even immense, projects. Some of the funding will be private, some will be from foundations and some will come from government programs.
When this much money flows into a program or mission, it reinforces the miscon- ception that engineering progress can, in effect, be bought on demand. Sometimes that's true. Examples include the Manhattan Project, the 1960s moon-landing effort and even the electronics industry's pouring billions into making Moore's Law happen. Put money in, make those engineers work hard and poof: You'll get the advances you wanted.
Sometimes, if you're really lucky, you even get a true nonlinearity with an unanticipated breakthrough that changes everything.
Yet the history of science and engineering R&D also shows us that it's often the least-funded efforts that make the most dramatic breakthroughs, while the best-funded ones may stall or go down dead-ends. That's OK; engineers and scientists often remind everyone that this is part of the learning process.
But the investors may not see it that way. They will expect progress, and in the direction they were anticipating. If the big grants and massive public funds don't yield results in the expected time frame, there will be hearings and press reports of money misspent. The engineering maxim that "you can have it quick, cheap or right; pick two " will be ignored amid the finger-pointing.
On the other hand, if things do go well, it will reinforce society's belief that engineering progress is merely a matter of putting in money and turning the crank. Engineers themselves have sometimes bought into this mind-set. The result has been detrimental to fields laced with uncertainties, unknowns and even outright failure, despite so much progress.
So, while the next round of investment may produce good outcomes, it might also contribute to the diminishment of engineering's status in the broader society. Remember, one of the laws that govern engineering is the law of unintended consequences.