The ABC had Professor Flannery being urgent again the other morning. We are being left behind, he cried. We must do something about climate change. Why the ABC takes notice of Professor Flannery and the self-proclaimed ‘Climate Council’ must escape other bemused listeners as well as me. But he was doubtless stimulated into enjoining us to action by the publication of the IPCC’s recently published Synthesis of its Fifth Assessment Report.
I wrote about the cries of urgency some time ago. Donna La Framboise, a Canadian sceptic, wrote an acid piece on the cry that we were ‘running out of time’ to deal with the imagined problem of ‘climate change’. It’s been going on for quite a few years now, and warming has ceased to be measurably significant. But that only pushes the orthodox activists into even louder cries.
Judith Curry ran a good piece on it all at the beginning of the month. ‘How urgent is ‘urgent’? she asked. A few years ago, before the Copenhagen conference that was to settle everything else, the science already being ‘settled’, leaders were talking about imminent doom should we not agree on a global treaty to control emissions. These days the urgency is about how we can stop bad things happening a long way ahead of us, since it is plain that no bad things have been happening in the last ten years — not, anyway, because of global warming, climate change, extreme weather, or any others of the popular catch phrases.
The UN’s Ban Ki-Moon talked about the new Synthesis report in tones eerily reminiscent of Al Gore: “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.” How long do we have to act? Professor Curry asks, and adds,
Let’s accept for the sake of argument that there is a risk that adding CO2 will eventually cause undesirable climate change. Further, there seems to be broad agreement that it is in everyone’s long term interests to move away from fossil fuels as a primary energy source (these resources are finite, at some point they will become very costly to extract, and there are pollution/health issues associated with burning fossil fuels).
When science is asked — How long? — the replies differ. James Hansen says (0r said, differently in 2006 and 2009) ‘a decade at most’ or ‘four more years’. Michael Mann, he of the hockey stick, says that the planet will cross the danger threshold in 2036.The BBC summarises: fossil fuels have to be phased out by 2100. The IPCC says that we have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by half by 2030 or global temperatures will rise by between 2C and 5C, eventually. The 2C threshold might be crossed by 2040, and then things will be very bad. No one seems to agree on the timing.
Professor Curry is one of those who puzzles about where all this anxiety comes from. Temperature has stopped rising, and there are strong suggestions that there will be no return for a decade or two. Climate sensitivity seems to be low, not high. The IPCC projects the future burning of coal at what experts think are unrealistic levels. What exactly is the problem?
She points out that if we go back ten years no one had predicted the sorts of changes we have already seen. Fracking wasn’t a word most people knew. Wind and solar were to save us, but little had actually been installed (we know now that both alternative energy possibilities come with real problems). Carbon taxes and their like were the go. The USA was the world leader in emissions, and China was at the start of its massive modernisation. Who would like to guess at what will happen in the next ten years?
She offers these suggestions.
* the pause will continue, or surface temperatures will resume warming. If the latter, then climate models are demonstrated to be not fit for purpose for projecting 21st century climate change and climate sensitivity, and the IPCC’s attribution conclusion will become unsupportable;
* greater clarity on the role of the sun in 20th and 21st century climate variations and change;
* longer historical perspectives on sea ice, ocean temperatures, etc. and refinements to paleo climate analyses of the last two millennia, which will clarify detection of anthropogenic climate change relative to natural variability;
* continued growth in emissions, particularly from the developing world;
* continued strains on food and water associated with growing populations, unless effective plans for dealing with this are implemented;
* growing vulnerability to extreme weather events associated with population and property increases in hazard-prone zones, unless effective plans for dealing with this are implemented;
* new advances in energy technologies;
* continued regional experiments with new and renewable energy technologies.
I used to play around with futurology, and my greatest success came in predicting that Bob Hawke would become Prime Minister, well before he had even entered Parliament. But it’s a chancy game, and the further ahead you apply your crystal ball the less likely you are to be accurate in your forecasts. But I think that the possibilities above are reasonable. They are not frightening, at least to me, and they do not demand global treaties.
I’ll write a piece soon about science fiction and prediction, because that is also a form of crystal-ball-gazing. But to finish this essay, the IPCC’s Synthesis document is not even a good version of its actual AR5, because the uncertainties that were accepted in the larger document have been ignored in this one, which is just another piece of environmental advocacy, dressed up with selective science. If you’re interested in a critical analysis of the Synthesis, try this.