Environmentalists assert that the reports by the panel are watered down by a requirement that sponsoring governments approve its summaries line by line.
Some experts fret that the organization, charged with assessing fast-evolving science, has failed to keep pace with an explosion of climate research.
At the same time, scientists who question the likelihood of a calamitous disruption of the Earth’s climate accuse the panel of cherry-picking studies and playing down levels of uncertainty about the severity of global warming.
“It just feels like the I.P.C.C. has gone from being a broker of science to a gatekeeper,” said John R. Christy, a climate scientist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and a former panel author.
Ah, journalistic “balance,” how scientifically — and morally — inappropriate you have become. And quoting Long Wrong Christy? Say it ain’t so.
The above excerpt comes from the front page of today’s NYT‘s “Science Times” section in a piece titled, “Nobel Halo Fades Fast for Climate Change Panel,” by our old friend Andy Revkin. Now, one can objectively accuse the IPCC of many things, but overestimating or overselling the threat of global warming is just not one of them. Quite the reverse.
The world’s emission path this decade quickly soared higher than their worst case-scenario (see U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm … the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” – 1000 ppm).
The IPCC has focused on a wide range of emissions scenarios without clearly explaining to the public the unmitigated catastrophe that faces us on the business as usual path:
- M.I.T. joins climate realists, doubles its projection of global warming by 2100 to 5.1°C
- Hadley Center: “Catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path
As Dr. Vicky Pope, Head of Climate Change Advice for the Met Office’s Hadley Centre explains on their website (here):
Contrast that with a world where no action is taken to curb global warming. Then, temperatures are likely to rise by 5.5 °C and could rise as high as 7 °C above pre-industrial values by the end of the century.
Instead of such clarity, the IPCC provides this sort of gobbledygook to the public and policymakers in its 2007 Fourth Assessment:
Best estimates and likely ranges for global average surface air warming for six SRES emissions marker scenarios are given in this assessment and are shown in Table SPM.3. For example, the best estimate for the low scenario (B1) is 1.8°C (likely range is 1.1°C to 2.9°C), and the best estimate for the high scenario (A1FI) is 4.0°C (likely range is 2.4°C to 6.4°C). Although these projections are broadly consistent with the span quoted in the TAR (1.4°C to 5.8°C), they are not directly comparable (see Figure SPM.5). The Fourth Assessment Report is more advanced as it provides best estimates and an assessed likelihood range for each of the marker scenarios. The new assessment of the likely ranges now relies on a larger number of climate models of increasing complexity and realism, as well as new information regarding the nature of feedbacks from the carbon cycle and constraints on climate response from observations.
Oh yeah, Andy, that’s “playing down levels of uncertainty about the severity of global warming.”
The IPCC’s blather makes it easy for journalists and deniers and anyone else who wants to downplay the results to focus on the low scenarios — without any indication whatsoever of the massive amount of clean energy the world would have to accelerate into the marketplace to get into B1.
In fact, we’re headed toward 800 to 1000 ppm on our current emissions path — which Revkin knows — and the IPCC has few if any analyses of what that would mean for humanity, probably because most scientists simply can’t believe humanity would be so stupid as to destroy the basis of its own civilization: a livable climate.
Why does the IPCC lowball likely warming? Despite its claim of including “new information regarding the nature of feedbacks from the carbon cycle,” virtually none of the IPCC models used in the 2007 report model most (if any) of the following positive, amplifying feedbacks:
- The defrosting of the permafrost
- The drying of the Northern peatlands (bogs, moors, and mires).
- The destruction of the tropical wetlands
- Wildfires and Climate-Driven forest destruction by pests
- The desertification-global warming feedback
- The saturation of the ocean carbon sink
Even Hadley’s model only includes only or two of those.
The IPCC’s sea level rise estimate was so lowballed, so instantly out-of-date, that even the uber-lowballers of the Bush administration were forced to concede a mere one year later that the IPCC numbers were simply too out of date to be quoted anymore:
- US Geological Survey stunner: Sea-level rise in 2100 will likely “substantially exceed” IPCC projections
Far from cherry-picking the scariest studies, the IPCC’s policy of shutting down scientific input long before the writing begins and their consensus-based writing process means the reports are basically dead on arrival. Here’s what we know about SLR now from the literature:
- Science 2008: “On the basis of calculations presented here, we suggest that an improved estimate of the range of SLR to 2100 including increased ice dynamics lies between 0.8 and 2.0 m.” The IPCC famously ignored increased ice dynamics in its projection.
- Nature Geoscience 2007 looked at the last interglacial period (the Eemian, about 120,000 years ago) — the last time the planet was as warm as it soon will be again. Seas rose 1.6 meters (5 feet) per century “when the global mean temperature was 2 °C higher than today,” a rather mild version of where we are headed in the second half of this century.
- Science 2007 used empirical data from last century to project that sea levels could be up to 5 feet higher in 2100 and rising 6 inches a decade.
- Nature 2009 used coral fossil records from the last interglacial warm period 121,000 years ago (when sea levels ultimately reached 15 to 20 feet higher than now). It concluded “catastrophic increase of more than 5 centimetres per year over a 50-year stretch is possible.” The lead author warned, “This could happen again.”
But the IPCC is too slow and unwieldy to even issue an updated report on any of these subjects.
I do agree with part of Revkin’s analysis — the part that warns the IPCC is becoming irrelevant. As I noted in April (“Has the IPCC rendered itself irrelevant?“), you can go to their website and learn:
2014? How useless is that?
While glacial change may no longer be an apt term for what is actually happening to the world’s glaciers, it is an ironically apt term for what has happened to the IPCC.
Originally the IPCC’s assessments of the state of understanding of the science were going to be every 5 years, then that slid to every 6 years, and now we are apparently at 7 years between reports.
Pathetic for them. Tragic for us. Well, it would be tragic if the reports weren’t so lame, so easily spun by deniers.
And speaking of deniers, why is anyone still quoting John Christy these days? Isn’t there any exception in the journalistic handbook for people who have been willfully wrong for so damn long?
Christy, of course, is one of the nation’s few remaining seriously credentialed deniers (or, more accurately, a delayer, inactivist, and denier-eq), who has arguably been wrong longer than any other serious denier-eq and thus deserves our inattention and scorn (see “Should you believe anything John Christy and Roy Spencer say?“). [A denier-eq is someone who pretends to accept the science as laid out by the IPCC, but who advances arguments and policy proposals that are no different from those who deny the science.]
Is there any objective source in the world who might inform our opinion of Christy? Yes.
In the Vermont case on the state’s effort to embrace California’s tailpipe GHG emissions standards, the car companies brought in Christy as an expert witness to rebut NASA’s James Hansen (see here). In one footnote on the sea level rise issue, the judge noted, “it appears that the bulk of scientific opinion opposes Christy’s position.” By the way, for all you deniers/delayers/doubters/denier-eqs, let me quote further from the judge:
There is widespread acceptance of the basic premises that underlie Hansen’s testimony. Plaintiffs’ own expert, Dr. Christy, agrees with the IPCC’s assessment that in the light of new evidence and taking into account remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last fifty years is likely to have been due to the increase in GHG concentrations. Tr. vol. 14-A, 145:18-148:7 (Christy, May 4, 2007). Christy agrees that the increase in carbon dioxide is real and primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels, which changes the radiated balance of the atmosphere and has an impact on the planet’s surface temperature toward a warming rate. Id. at 168:11-169:10.
Christy also agreed that climate is a nonlinear system, that is, that its responses to forcings may be disproportionate, and rapid changes would be more difficult for human beings and other species to adapt to than more gradual changes. Id. at 175:2-174:11. He further agreed with Hansen that the regulation’s effect on radiative forcing will be proportional to the amount of emissions reductions, and that any level of emissions reductions will have at least some effect on the radiative forcing of the climate.
Christy is (mostly) a delayer or denier-eq these days, now that his denier disanalysis has been dissed and the real science is well verified by real observation.
Indeed, Christy was wrong — dead wrong — for a very long time, which created one of the most enduring denier myths, that the satellite data didn’t show the global warming that the surface temperature data did. As RealClimate wrote last year:
We now know, of course, that the satellite data set confirms that the climate is warming, and indeed at very nearly the same rate as indicated by the surface temperature records. Now, there’s nothing wrong with making mistakes when pursuing an innovative observational method, but Spencer and Christy sat by for most of a decade allowing — indeed encouraging — the use of their data set as an icon for global warming skeptics. They committed serial errors in the data analysis, but insisted they were right and models and thermometers were wrong. They did little or nothing to root out possible sources of errors, and left it to others to clean up the mess, as has now been done.
Amazingly (or not), the “serial errors in the data analysis” all pushed the (mis)analysis in the same, wrong direction. Coincidence? You decide. But I find it hilarious that the deniers and delayers still quote Christy/Spencer/UAH analysis lovingly, but to this day dismiss the “hockey stick” and anything Michael Mann writes, when his analysis was in fact vindicated by the august National Academy of Sciences in 2006 (see New Scientist‘s “Climate myths: The ‘hockey stick’ graph has been proven wrong“).
The Vermont judge concluded:
Christy criticized the Hadley and Canadian models, suggesting that they were extreme and were downscaled unreliably. Tr. vol. 14-A, 121:13-122:4 (Christy, May 4, 2007). Although Christy testified that he had used climate models, however, he did not claim to be an expert on climate modeling. Id. at 78:20-79:3. In fact, his view of the reliability of climate models does not fall within the mainstream of climate scientists; his view is that models are, in general, “scientifically crude at best,” although they are used regularly by most climate scientists and he himself used the compiled results of a variety of climate models in preparing his report and testimony in this case.
Can’t the media be as objective as a judge?
UPDATE: A commentor makes the point that Revkin pits environmentalists saying the IPCC is watered down against scientists who say it oversells the threat. Ironically Revkin quotes a top scientist, Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, in his piece on a secondary issue — “psychological and sociological research on how people act in the face of uncertain but substantial threats,” when Field has been one of the most outspoken scientists on how the threat is much more dire than the IPCC says (see “AAAS: Climate change is coming much harder, much faster than predicted“).
“We are basically looking now at a future climate that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in climate model simulations”…
The 2007 fourth assessment presented at a “very conservative range of climate outcomes” but the next report will “include futures with a lot more warming,” Field said.
“We now know that, without effective action, climate change is going to be larger and more difficult to deal with than we thought.”
UPDATE 2: A reader emails me about the NYT headline, “Nobel Halo Fades Fast for Climate Change Panel,” noting that in November 2007, the right-wing American Thinker wrote a piece beginning:
It has been less than a month but already the glow from Al Gore’s Nobel Peace prize is tarnished.