Judith Curry, whose website is on my Blogroll, provides the best environment within which to learn about the current arguments in the ‘climate change’ debate. Three weeks ago she wrote a temperate, and in my view accurate, account of the IPCC’s history and present situation. The whole essay is very well worth reading, but this is my short excerpt.
In the 1990’s, the world’s nations embarked on a path to prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change by stabilization of the concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases, which was codified by the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty. The IPCC scientific assessments play a primary role in legitimizing national and international policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This objective has led to the IPCC assessments being framed around identifying anthropogenic influences on climate, dangerous environmental and socio-economic impacts of climate change, and stabilization of CO2concentrations in the atmosphere.
At the time of establishment of the UNFCCC, there was as yet no clear signal of anthropogenic warming in the observations, as per the IPCC First Assessment Report (FAR) in 1990. It wasn’t until the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report in 1995 that a ‘discernible’ human influence on global climate was identified. The scientific support for the UNFCCC treaty was not based on observations, but rather on our theoretical understanding of the greenhouse effect and simulations from global climate models. In the early 1990’s there was the belief in the feasibility of reducing uncertainties in climate science and climate models, and a consensus seeking approach was formalized by the IPCC. General circulation climate models became elevated to the central role by policy actors and scientists from other fields investigating climate change impacts and applications – this has in turn has elevated the role and position of these climate models in climate change research. Very substantial investments have been made in further developing climate models, with the expectations that these models will provide actionable information for policy makers.
In 2006/2007, climate change had soared to the top of the international political agenda, as a result of Hurricane Katrina, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, publication of the IPCC AR4 in 2007, and award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC. It was claimed that the science was settled, and that it clearly demanded radical policy and governmental action to substantially cut CO2 emissions.
Symptoms of the disease
Seven years later, with the release of the IPCC AR5, we find ourselves between the metaphorical rock and a hard place with regards to climate science and policy:
- as temperatures have declined and climate models have failed to predict this decline, the IPCC has gained confidence in catastrophic warming and dismisses the pause as unpredictable climate variability
- substantial criticisms are already being made of the IPCC AR5 Reports as well as of the IPCC process itself; IPCC insiders are bemoaning their loss of their scientific and political influence; the mainstream media seems not to be paying much attention to the AR5 SPM; and even IPCC insiders are realizing the need for a radical change
- global CO2 emissions continue to increase at higher than expected rates and a growing realization of the infeasibility of meeting emissions targets
- failure of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties to accomplish much since 2009 beyond agreeing to establish future meetings
- Growing realization that you can’t control climate by emissions reductions
- European countries and Australia are backing away from their emission reductions policies as they realize their economic cost and political unpopularity
- increasing levels of shrillness on both sides of the political debate, with the ‘warm side’ steeped in moral panic and hyperbole
- after several decades and expenditures in the bazillions, the IPCC still has not provided a convincing argument for how much warming in the 20th century has been caused by humans.
- the politically charged rhetoric has contaminated academic climate research and the institutions that support climate research, so that individuals and institutions have become advocates; scientists with a perspective that is not consistent with the consensus are at best marginalized (difficult to obtain funding and get papers published by ‘gatekeeping’ journal editors) or at worst ostracized by labels of ‘denier’ or ‘heretic.’
- decision makers needing regionally specific climate change information are being provided by the climate community with either nothing or potentially misleading predictions from climate models…
How and why did we land between a rock and a hard place on the climate change issue? There are probably many contributing reasons, but the most fundamental and profound reason is arguably that both the problem and solution were vastly oversimplified back in 1990 by the UNFCCC/IPCC, where the[y] framed both the problem and the solution as irreducibly global. This framing was locked in by a self-reinforcing consensus-seeking approach to the science and a ‘speaking consensus to power’ approach for decision making that pointed to only one possible course of policy action – radical emissions reductions. The climate community has worked for more than 20 years to establish a scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change. The IPCC consensus building process played a useful role in the early synthesis of the scientific knowledge. However, the ongoing scientific consensus seeking process has had the unintended consequence of oversimplifying both the problem and its solution and hyper-politicizing both, introducing biases into the both the science and related decision making processes.
What does she think should happen?
The diagnosis of paradigm paralysis seems fatal in the case of the IPCC, given the widespread nature of the infection and intrinsic motivated reasoning. We need to put down the IPCC as soon as possible – not to protect the patient who seems to be thriving in its own little cocoon, but for the sake of the rest of us whom it is trying to infect with its disease. Fortunately much of the population seems to be immune, but some governments seem highly susceptible to the disease. However, the precautionary principle demands that we not take any risks here, and hence the IPCC should be put down.