I had decided to write a post with the above title above, and on Monday out came the Summary for Policy Makers of the second Working Group of the IPCC; the actual report, on the effects on climate change (rather than the basic science said to underpin it), will come out later this year. Coincidentally, the Guardian on Monday published an interview with James Lovelock, he of Gaia fame, and probably the oldest living notable Green (he is 94). So let’s start with him.
He was asked about the environmental movement, of which he has some claims to be the inspiration, and replied, straightforwardly, ‘It’s become a religion, and religions don’t worry too much about facts.’ Elsewhere the interview has him saying, of the warnings of climate catastrophe in his 2006 book Revenge of Gaia, ‘I was a little too certain in that book. You just can’t tell what’s going to happen. It [the impact from climate change] could be terrible within a few years, though that’s very unlikely, or it could be hundreds of years before the climate becomes unbearable.’
In hundreds of years the unbearability might be due to cold, though Lovelock didn’t say that. He did say ‘it’s just as silly to be a [climate] denier as it is to be a believer. You can’t be certain’. I would go along with that. As it happens, I don’t know anyone who is a ‘denier’ of the proposition that climates change. I do know many who think that humanity has the capacity to affect climate, especially micro-climates, and that it is entirely possible that humanity as a whole has made some contribution to the warming of the past fifty years or so, always remembering that there hasn’t been any significant warming for the past decade or so. More than that? Well, the evidence is not persuasive — indeed, the observational evidence isn’t there.
Now some readers will need to know that the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) is a political document produced by the government representatives to to the IPCC. They are supposed to base the summary on the science of the full report (here, WG2, not yet out, as I said, though a lot has been leaked). And of course, WG2 needs to be in harmony with WG1, which came out late last year.
No one is yet able to say whether or not any of that is so. But what we can say is that there has been the same orchestration of shock and horror that we get each time an IPCC report comes out. Gloom, doom and destruction are the themes. I guess the same thing happens in every Western country, but in Australia a good example was provided by the ABC which gave the SPM top-of-the-morning-news status, then Margaret Throsby at lunchtime re-broadcast an interview about the dangers to the Great Barrier Reef, while the Sydney Morning Herald gave space to three authors of the report to let us know just how serious the threat was.
Apparently it’s the end of humanity as we know it, or at least the authors* think so.
The Earth is warming so rapidly that unless humans can arrest the trend, we risk becoming ”extinct” as a species, a leading Australian health academic has warned… while the Earth has been warmer and colder at different points in the planet’s history, the rate of change has never been as fast as it is today.
”What is remarkable, and alarming, is the speed of the change since the 1970s, when we started burning a lot of fossil fuels in a massive way,” [the academic] said. ”We can’t possibly evolve to match this rate [of warming] and, unless we get control of it, it will mean our extinction eventually.”
You can see another version of this apocalyptic stuff on The Conversation, and if you wish you can go on to read another couple of hundred comments from people the great majority of whom also believe that we are racing to destruction. The more of this I read, the more I sigh, and wonder about the effects of education. For the past 17 years the world doesn’t seem to have warmed at all. Haven’t the authors caught up with that? Humans were not made extinct by the last ice age. The rate of change today is microscopically small. Yes, we have burned a lot of fossil fuel, and the planet seems to be greener. More people live longer; poverty is declining, as are birthrates…
The SMH article is not science. It is belief. The authors believe that they are right, and ignore inconvenient facts that seem to lie in the way. The leaked versions of WG2 seem to suggest that the IPCC itself is doing its best to sideline inconvenient science and stick to the message, but each time it’s getting harder. But for the acolytes it’s another opportunity to tell us all that we are blind, deaf and wicked: there is a massive job to be done, and we are getting in the way.
The saving grace is that the electorate no longer buys the message, nor does the present Government — nor, I’m beginning to think, does much of the present Opposition. Yes, all will pay lip-service to the god of global warming, but the enthusiasm for it has passed. But it will be difficult to wind it all back.
And I still haven’t written the post I wanted to write on religion and science.
[I try to protect universities from the excesses of their staff, if I can, so I have drawn a veil over the locations of these authors…]