At the gates of (climate) hell – The 5th IPCC report needs a sane policy response.

This blog makes no apologies for its scepticism of the IPCC consensus of catastrophic anthropogenic CO2 induced climate change, it has been driven by the default distrust of sloppy science, overconfidence in an incomplete understanding, and activists pushing policy before science, but it endeavours not to be dogmatic.

In short, one can be sceptical without being narrow-minded.

This post has been filed under “politics” for a reason, because this blog does not dispute the following:

  1. That climate change is always happening, and the recent historical temperature record has shown significant warming
  2. That climate change has frequently been both rapid and severe, which by definition makes it catastrophic to species
  3. That feedback mechanisms, both positive and negative, work to accelerate or mitigate the scale and rate of change
  4. That humans are a climate feedback mechanism, and will have an impact on the state of climate equilibrium
  5. That CO2 is a Greenhouse Gas, and that anthropogenic CO2 is by definition anthropogenic climate change
  6. That it may yet come to pass that we, as a species, are proven to be responsible for causing catastrophic climate change

The previous assertions are:

a) the IPCC has thus far failed to conclusively demonstrate that anthropogenic CO2 is principally responsible for what will be catastrophic climate change in the near future, or that the many claimed impacts which justify the title “catastrophe” are based on  solid and sound science.

b) the IPCC climate change models that underpin this conclusion have insufficient data for long term projections, do not properly account for feedback mechanisms and thus fail to produce accurate projections, and contain too many errors to produce truthful projections.

c) the political solutions to the problem as presented by the IPCC are both staggeringly expensive for human society, and highly inefficient as a method achieving a non-catastrophic outcome, and thus require a large amount of certainty in (a) and (b) before implementing (c) becomes a sensible idea.

It is not irrational to retain some scepticism of the IPCC consensus of catastrophic and anthropogenic CO2 induced climate change. Yes, temperature has risen, and yes a proportion of this is certain to be anthropogenic in nature, but until global climate models are able to work much more comprehensively on the micro-scale (including the wider macro inputs), the ecological impact from this change remains deeply uncertain, and thus we are unable to put a value judgement on it versus the many other ailments that afflict humanity.

It is possible to note that complex systems such as climate with lots of feedback mechanisms and tangled hierarchies often fall into non-linear dynamical systems that exhibit chaotic behaviour and strange attractors in phase space, that climate has been chaotic and quasi stable long before the humans were around, and that the real argument is whether our input is disruptive enough to reposition climate into a new and wholly undesirable quasi-stable state.

It is equally possible to note that while climate dynamics are non-linear, they are not unbounded, and that while climate is wildly chaotic on both the geological and micro time-scale, this is not the case over the time frame of next few hundred years, which is what the IPCC and humanity should be primarily concerned with, and thus we can have a high confidence that there will be at least two degrees of warming before we run out of 22nd century.

Does this blogger understand the maths that lie behind such statements? No, but nor too is it necessary, one merely has to have a grasp of the arguments tendered, and a suitable level of humility regarding the limits of inexpert knowledge.

Somewhere between two divergent positions lies the truth, from which we will be able to quantify how catastrophic climate change will prove to be, and hopefully qualify the measures that will both effectively and efficiently allow us to cope with it.

The ‘gates’ scandal with the subsequent reviews have done much to reassure that sloppy practice is now taken seriously, the combined all-sources aggregation of climate data have alleviated fears of overconfidence, and the popular distrust of activism has caused the wilder ambitions of policy makers to be been reined in.

This blog harbours doubts about the scale of the impact from anthropogenic CO2, i.e. how catastrophic it will prove to be, and as a consequence doubts both the effectiveness and the efficiency of the policies proposed to ‘fix’ the problem, but the case for IPCC consensus is certainly becoming more convincing for those non-experts who refuse to abdicate responsibility for critical analysis, and replace it with xenophobic faith.

Either way, the science is advancing rapidly enough that within the next three years sufficient certainty will be available to provide a solid foundation for policy, whatever that result may be. There is never absolute certainty in science, nor too should we expect it before action can be justified on climate change, but the uncertainty to date has been exploited ruthlessly by activists on both sides, to the detriment of public confidence in climate science itself.

What is needed in the years following 2014 is a policy response that advocates efficient and effective  measures which avoid the ludicrous failures of the Kyoto era where enormous costs bought little tangible effect.

Roll on the fifth IPPC report.

Update – 29.08.10 –  The Clean Development Mechanism delivers the greatest green scam of all:

The key to this scam, designed to curb global warming, is a scheme known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), set up under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and administered by the UN. It enables firms and governments in the developed world to buy “credits” which allow them to continue emitting greenhouse gases. These are sold to them, through well-rewarded brokers, from firms in developing countries that can show they have nominally reduced their emissions. Easily the largest and most lucrative component in the CDM market is a peculiar racket centred on the manufacture of CFCs, chlorofluorocarbons, classified under Kyoto as greenhouse gases vastly more damaging than carbon dioxide. The way the racket works is that Chinese and Indian firms are permitted to carry on producing a refrigerant gas known as HCF-22 until 2030. But a by-product of this process is HCF-23, which is supposed to be 11,700 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. By destroying the HCF-23, the firms can claim Certified Emission Reduction credits worth billions of dollars when sold to the West (while much of the useful HCF-22 is sold onto the international black market).

Really, this is going to save the world? We can only hope that by 2014 we will have learnt to avoid the gross flaws of previous policy responses to IPCC reports!

Update – 31.08.10 – Bjorn Lomborg has called for a $100bn fund to fight the effects of global warning, after rethinking his views on the severity of the threat. This in the same week as the InterAcademy Council admonish the IPCC for having gone beyond its mandate to be ‘policy relevant, not policy prescriptive’ in their public comments:

In a Guardian interview, he said he would finance investment through a tax on carbon emissions that would also raise $50bn to mitigate the effect of climate change, for example by building better sea defences, and $100bn for global healthcare. Lomborg denies he has performed a volte face, pointing out that even in his first book he accepted the existence of man-made global warming. “The point I’ve always been making is it’s not the end of the world,” he told the Guardian. “That’s why we should be measuring up to what everybody else says, which is we should be spending our money well.” The difference was made by examining not just the dominant international policy to cut carbon emissions, but also seven other “solutions” including more investment in technology, climate engineering, and planting more trees and reducing soot and methane, also significant contributors to climate change, said Lomborg.

Update – 31.01.2015 – looks like a few of the links above are dead, so I offer this general link in their stead pointing out that recent science is indicating the climate to be less sesnitive to CO2 than previous IPCC reports suggested.

4 responses to “At the gates of (climate) hell – The 5th IPCC report needs a sane policy response.

  1. Just a desultory (and not incindiary! In climate debate both sides would be ashamed of me 🙂 comment, from a thoughtful endorser to a thoughtful sceptic. My primary concern when it comes down to it isn’t steady-rate increases, provided they don’t have a swamping effect (so broad in reach and scale that they tripwire some ugly feedback mechanisms in different places, whether too much dead coral, Siberian methane, etc., etc.) The earth ebbs and flows like that even when we don’t influence it too sharply. The real, civilisational danger is *erratic* climate. Six years of acute drought followed by two of torrential rains at the wrong time has been enough to muck up localised civilizations pretty badly. It’s why I hate both extremes of the debate hammering on “global warming,” whether there’s an underlying warming trend or something else it’s volatility rather than change itself which needs the most study and consideration for planned mitigation.

  2. Agreed, it is rapid change of significant scale that justifies the term;”Catastrophic” for it happens then changes again before ecosystems have time to adapt.

    And likewise the fact that climate has been chaotic and quasi stable long before the humans were around does not mean the only danger is the repositioning of climate into a new and wholly undesirable quasi-stable state, the act of finding a new equilibrium could be catastrophic enough even if the original state (or near enough) is restored.

  3. Arguably, this makes it much more like war than say, infrastructure planning for motorway capacity.

    We don’t expect anyone to nuke London tonight, nor do we really expect the Russian Navy to flush its SSN fleet into the Atlantic, nor do we really expect to have to stop a Syrian intervention in Baghdad.

    However, we recognise there are nontrivial risks and worse, uncertainties involved and we spend significant resources insuring against them.

    • I take the point, but we should beware of applying the precautionary principle without limit or constraint, if only because there are so many human ills that could benefit from a bunch of cash that might otherwise might be blown trying to halt Canute’s tides.

      There might well be a fleet of submarines, but where are they and who do they belong too?

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