IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change 2013: Does the lack of media interest indicate that this group have cried ‘wolf’ once too often?

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  IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change 2013: Does the lack of media interest indicate that this group have cried ‘wolf’ once too often?

The 5th Assessment Report on Climate Change was published last week, but did anyone notice? Where were the media? Scant reference in the visual and radio media, and very little in the printed press – the London Evening Standard, having the lead over the daily newspapers, had all of 2 column inches on page 4. Have these climate change disciples cried ‘wolf’ once too often, and no-one believes them anymore?

Intrigued by this lack of obvious interest, even by the serious news stations, I waded through the 36 page report summary, and the press release, over the weekend to see what it had to say – the full report is a real tome. The striking feature throughout this report is the obvious desperation to convince the reader that this time they have it right. They have better observation techniques, better data, blah, blah, blah. However, without boring the pants of one and all, the essence is that mankind is a major contributor to global warming (around 50% – compared with the 99%+ stated in 1999) with a 90% degree of confidence. It also indicates that some 9,000 scientists around the World agree with the findings of this report. So what does this really tell us?

Many moons ago in another life, when I started my training as a scientist at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, we were given a number of books that we should treat as lifelong companions in our pursuit of truth. One of these was called ‘The Use and Abuse of Statistics’ and was intended as a constant reminder that the data must paint the picture, and not used or abused to create the picture that one would like the data to paint (e.g. in order to receive continued funding). I still have this somewhat battered book as I found it very useful when studying the data presented by the ultimate protagonists of such abuse – Politicians. Obviously this book defines how data can be presented to fit the required message, and the difference between relative levels of ‘confidence’ and ‘certainty’ as there is a big difference between confidence and certainty. You need to have a very clear idea of these classifications in order to make any sense of this IPCC report. I also know how frustrating it is when there is an unexplained hole in the data when you are under pressure to present your findings. Do you mention the hole, or assume it of little relevance and ignore it.

Let us consider a typical statement in this report: “The atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) have all increased since 1750 due to human activity.” The first part of this statement is probably a true and accurate – even an objective statement. But then the integrity is shattered by the second part of the statement i.e. “due to human activity” which indicates a level of certainty which can only be interpreted as desperate arrogance – it needed a qualification such as ‘probably, primarily, likely’ to be acceptable without absolute proof to the contrary. The remainder of this paragraph does not support the indicated certainty.

Just as a comparison on a Universe basis (as in climate change) I asked an astrophysics friend who had worked on the Mars Voyager mission if they would have launched Voyager with only a 90% degree of confidence in their calculations that Voyager would reach Mars – absolutely not. They needed to be better than 99% degree of certainty subject only to cosmic collisions that could destroy Voyager.

Let me be clear in that I fully accept climate change. Indeed the climate is constantly changing, and we are familiar with the climate change over the past 10,000 years since the last ice-age since when we are told that sea levels have risen some 110m and thus cities that were once on dry land are now beneath the sea. We are also told that there is evidence that sea levels have been some 10m higher than they are today in past history so our climate is a continually evolving system. My reservations are to what extent mankind influences changes in climate versus natural change as the earth continues to evolve. Leaving mankind to one side for a moment we are told that changes in the activity of the sun will render earth uninhabitable by humans in some 140,000 years’ time in any event. If science revealed with substantial levels of certainty that the behaviour of mankind was impacting climate change by, say 30%, then I think that mankind needs to be creative and resolve this influence. What I do not accept is that the arrogance of mankind can suggest that the full force of mother nature is a known and fully understood process, and that man has the capacity to change it, even unwittingly – something akin to King Canute standing before a tsunami.

Why did this report need to state that some 9,000 scientists agree with the content of this report? Do we know how many scientists disagree with this report, or even if some 9,000 scientists is a representative group in the global scientific community. Do we remember that when Copernicus (1473 – 1543) developed his treatise on a heliocentric model of the universe with the sun at its centre he was so afraid to publish that the first copy was placed into his hands on his death bed. When Galileo (1564 – 1642) assumed the mantle on behalf of Copernicus, and added description of the orbits of other planets such as Venus and Neptune he was branded a heretic and committed to house arrest for the remaining 9 years of his life. In the 15th century Christopher Columbus found it difficult to find a crew for his historic voyage of discovery because the general belief was that the earth was flat and thus he would sail over the edge into iniquity. History shows that the view of mankind, based on lack of real knowledge over arrogance, can lead to serious misunderstandings. This is where I see the claims of mankind’s influence over climate change today.

What this IPCC report really indicates is that, since their first report in 1999, there has been a number of step changes in thinking and understanding of the complexity of the problem – but without enough understanding to define a universally accepted solution. This is progress, but the contra argument is that we are still in an embryonic stage at the front-end of the curve of discovery. But the frenzy caused from the imposition of such imperfect science has reaped havoc in energy policy throughout the World, and thus my reference to crying wolf.

Using the UN to put their weight behind emotive propaganda regarding climate change has provoked responses from the environmental lobby that has delayed political decisions regarding replacement of current energy generation stock. Surely the UN has enough problems dealing with the issues relating to the essence of its being. Furthermore the people are being taxed to fund clean energy policies for which, to date, there is no proven argument as to the urgency. Blue skies science has traditionally been funded by benefactors, philanthropists, etc and so should climate change science until such time as the evidence is irrefutable. Public funds should not be invested in such embryonic science or technology. I have absolutely no problem with development of new energy technologies as this would be against my fundamental scientist instinct. However, as shown by our wind power investment, there is no payback in any respect to the people whose taxes, in whatever form, are used to develop such technologies so they get a double whammy with also trying to manage their lives in this period of austerity.

As for the IPCC report predicting what will be in 100 years from now I can only comment that had we asked the most eminent progressive thinkers of their time 100 years ago (before World War I) what the World would look like today, how wrong would they have been? My concern, and should be the concern of every one of these 9,000 scientists, is what do we need to do today in whatever reliable form to ensure that we can provide the required energy capacity needed in 10 years’ time to safeguard the momentum of mankind. What we do not need is energy starvation with the ensuing likely chaos and anarchy – even from those banging the drum about clean energy today. And please let us stop kidding ourselves that wind and solar can play any primary part in such delivery.

The irony of energy policy delay in much needed high capacity base load energy generation (as I will argue in a blog already in progress) is that the beneficiaries of these delays will be none other than the fossil fuel production companies – home goal for the environmental lobby.

Perhaps a glowing example from history from which we should learn is the story of the Mayan civilisation from around 2000BC – AD250. The mathematical and astronomy skills of this ancient civilisation are well known, and form part of our calendar today. There are many theories as to how this highly advanced civilisation suddenly collapsed. Their scholars spent most of their time observing the universe, and even lived high in the trees or on platforms never really taking much notice of life on the ground. The popular view to their demise is that their population exceeded the carry capacity of their environment, exhausting agricultural capacity, over-hunting, and converting their forests into cropland thus reducing evapotranspiration and thus rainfall leading to a lack of water. Are we focussing on the wrong end of the universe? Should we take our heads out of the clouds and look to how we manage the fundamentals of life such as food, water, energy, etc. Certainly the research needs a watching brief on the impact of human activity but do we really need to continue with the massive costs of this climate change circus when there are more pressing matters right under our noses?

 

One thought on “IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change 2013: Does the lack of media interest indicate that this group have cried ‘wolf’ once too often?

  1. Hello Stephen:

    Thank you very much for your timely and penetrating insights on global climate change. Your ability to separate the wheat from the chaff and focus on compelling priorities are sorely needed in the times at hand.

    All the Best,

    Brad

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