For those not familiar with it, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up in 1988 to write periodic assessments of the state of climate science. Its goal is to produce policy-neutral reports that inform policymakers about the best thinking of the scientific community. These reports have tremendous impact on the debate, owing to the credibility of the IPCC process. The IPCC is actually split into three working groups. Working group 1 focuses on basic climate science, working group 2 focuses on the impacts of climate change and human adaptation to it, and working group 3 focuses on mitigation efforts (efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions). In 2007, as part of the IPCC's fourth assessment report, each of the three working groups issued a report (e.g., see here for a discussion of the working group 1 report). Now comes the final part of the fourth assessment report: the synthesis report. This report ties together the three working group reports in an effort to create a single unified picture of what we know about climate change.
The Grist presidential forum on climate and energy went off without a hitch and was a huge success. I’ll have much more to say about it tomorrow, but for now I just want to thank, again, all the groups that worked to bring it together, the wonder-working production crew at the venue, and the candidates who participated. As for me, the adrenaline from the event has worn off, but the subsequent alcohol intake has not, so I believe I’ll go to bed. More later.
In its definitive scientific synthesis report (PDF), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today issued its strongest call for immediate action to save humanity from the deadly consequences of unrestrained greenhouse gas emissions. This report -- signed off by 130 nations including the U.S. and China -- slams the door on any argument for delay and makes clear we must under no circumstances listen to those who urge that we wait (who knows how long) to develop as yet non-existent technology [this means you President Bush, Newt Gingrich, Bjorn Lomborg]. As The New York Times put it: Members of the panel said their review of the data led them to conclude as a group and individually that reductions in greenhouse gasses had to start immediately to avert a global climate disaster that could leave island states submerged and abandoned, African crop yields decreased by 50 percent, and cause over a 5 percent decrease in global gross domestic product. ... this summary was the first to acknowledge that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet from rising temperature [which would raise the oceans 23 feet] could result in sea-level rise over centuries rather than millennia. Readers of this blog know the IPCC almost certainly underestimates the timing and severity of likely impacts because it ignores or downplays key amplifying feedbacks in the carbon cycle (see "Are scientists overestimating or underestimating climate change," especially Part II and Part III). Indeed, IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri -- a scientist and economist -- admitted as much: He said that since the panel began its work five years ago, scientists have recorded "much stronger trends in climate change," like a recent melting of polar ice that had not been predicted. "That means you better start with intervention much earlier." How much earlier? The normally understated Pachauri warns: "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment." In short: time's up! America, we better pick the right President in 2008. To balance the bad news, the IPCC and its member governments agree on the good news -- action is affordable:
I’m sitting here at the venue for tomorrow afternoon’s event: the Wadsworth Theater. It is … large. I think around 1500 people are going to be sitting in here tomorrow, judging me for the poor quality of my shoes and my neglected fitness regime. I hear from the organizers that press attention has gotten nuts. There will be many dozens of press folk in the press tent tomorrow, from lots of national media outlets. If you watched the debate last night, you’ll have a sense of exactly what we want our event not to be. Wolf Blitzer asked a cavalcade …
Surprised? Some government scientists have complained that officials at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History took steps to downplay global warming in a 2006 exhibit on the Arctic to avoid a political backlash, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. The museum's director, Cristian Samper, ordered last-minute changes to the exhibit's script to add "scientific uncertainty" about climate change, according to internal documents and correspondence. Scientists at other agencies collaborating on the project expressed in e-mails their belief that Smithsonian officials acted to avoid criticism from congressional appropriators and global-warming skeptics in the Bush administration. But Samper said in an interview last week that "there was no political pressure -- not from me, not from anyone." Samper put the project on hold for six months in the fall of 2005 and ordered that the exhibition undergo further review by higher-level officials in other government agencies. Samper also asked for changes in the script and the sequence of the exhibit's panels to move the discussion of recent climate change further back in the presentation, records also show. The exhibit opened in April 2006 and closed in November of that year. The Post obtained a hand-scrawled note by a curator on the project indicating there was "concern that scientific uncertainty hasn't come out enough." Edits to a "final script" show notations about where to add "the idea of scientific uncertainty about climate research." Right. I guess we're supposed to believe that this had nothing to do with Dick Cheney's service, as part of his vice presidential duties, on the Smithsonian's board of regents. And nothing to do with the fact that six other regents are appointed by the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate -- at the time Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) -- and the Speaker of the House -- at the time Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). Nothing unusual here! At any rate, D.C. residents have other, better options if they want to learn about global warming from a museum exhibit.
And now, ladies and gents, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with input from delegates of more than 140 countries, has synthesized three previous reports into one 70-page summary document and a 20-page summary of that summary, meant to be an “instant guide” to policymakers who will meet in Indonesia next month to discuss climate-change next steps. The synthesis, approved and being formally adopted on Saturday, declares: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” Human activity is more than 90 percent likely to be the cause, and “could lead to abrupt …
The British government has published its climate change bill, which would set a target of reducing carbon emissions 60 percent by 2050. The bill will now go through a parliamentary process; if made law, Britain would be the first country to adopt a legally binding commitment to carbon reductions.
I and several other journalists spent the morning at an on-the-record breakfast with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) where, armed with my trusty digital voice recorder, I asked her to address last week's rumors about the potential demise of renewable energy in the energy bill. Will the electricity standard and the tax titles be dropped? If not, will the bill be split into parts? Her reaction was ... well, I'd call it slight consternation. She, not surprisingly, stopped short of saying anything definitive -- there are still no guarantees that the Congress will pass the energy bill enviros are hoping for. But it sounds very much as if renewables were not thrown under the bus, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may still turn it into two or three bills if he thinks it will help certain parts of it overcome the 60-vote hurdle in the Senate. But that's not exactly chastening because -- let's be realistic here -- if he's unwilling to force a real filibuster over Iraq withdrawal timelines, then he's unlikely to force a real filibuster over renewable energy. Still, Pelosi did at one point describe the bill as, potentially, a "beautiful Christmas present," and reiterated her hope that the bill would pass -- with renewables and all the rest -- before the end of the year. I sat near one end of a rather long banquet table and the Speaker sat at the opposing head, so my recording was, in certain parts, difficult to transcribe. But 99 percent of it is below the fold.
This essay is part of a series on not owning a car. ----- The weekend before Halloween, my car-less family got a loaner plug-in hybrid-electric car to try. You see, the City of Seattle and some other local public agencies are testing the conversion of some existing hybrids to plug-ins to accelerate the spread of these near-zero-emissions vehicles. As a favor and, perhaps, for some publicity (this post), the city's program manager offered me four days' use of the prototype -- previously driven by actor Rob Lowe. Enthusiasm about plug-in hybrids -- like their now-almost-mainstream siblings the gas-electric hybrids -- has been running high of late. For example, the California Air Resources Board is among the toughest air quality regulators in the world. When members of the board's expert panel reviewed the evidence on plug-in hybrids, they issued a boosterish report predicting widespread adoption and fast market penetration. The Western Governors' Association is similarly smitten (MS Word doc). The tone of some popular press reports makes it seem that the vehicular second coming may be at hand. For this auto (pictured in our back yard, with our Flexcar visible out front), I wondered, would my family give up its car-less ways? Would the joy of these 100+ mpg wheels cause us to end our 21 months of car-free-ness, emulate Rob, and buy our own plug-in? The short answer? No. Plug-in hybrid-electric cars hold great promise, as long as we can fix the laws. And the technology. Oh, and the price. None of those fixes are "gimmes." Without fixing the laws -- and specifically, without a legal cap on greenhouse gases -- plug-ins could actually do more harm than good. And without the second two fixes -- working technology and competitive prices -- plug-ins won't spread beyond the Hollywood set. (Echoes of this point are in Elizabeth Kolbert's latest article in The New Yorker.) But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.
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