Published on The Doomstead Diner on February 14, 2017
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Above is a link to a set of slides in pdf format which you can present to your family and friends, on why the IPCC projections are watered down guff, why climate catastrophe is inevitable and why you should stop worrying about it. The slides are largely self explanatory however two slides require elaboration which I have provided below. Before presenting this information to others I recommend you listen to David Wasdell's "facing the harsh realities of now" talk http://www.apollo-gaia.org/harsh-realities-of-now.html at least 2 to 3 times. His summary is probably the best compiled by anyone to date (although he ends with a delusional message that solar energy can save us, which is unfortunate).
Why the IPCC's information selection process is deeply flawed:
In October 2013 at the Griffith University Southbank campus in Brisbane, I attended a talk by Professor Nathan Bindoff, a climate scientist from the University of Tasmania who is highly regarded by the international scientific community and who was chairman of many previous IPCC proceedings. He presented the IPCC fifth assessment report.
The knowledgable audience were less than convinced about the IPCC projections, which were out of date even before AR5 was published and we asked him specific questions about the IPCC process and assumptions.
He described their process of information selection: scientific studies for inclusion into or exclusion from the IPCC report are selected by a large number of government employed scientists from around the world. However it is not a democratic process where, say, if more than half of the group decide a particular paper is important, it is included. The IPCC uses a "lowest common denominator" process whereby if just one member of the audience objects to any part of any paper, it is completely thrown out.
Dr Bindoff described the process where perhaps a couple of hundred scientists sit in a room and painstakingly go through every line of every paper submitted. He mentioned that typically by the third day, 80% of the originally submitted peer reviewed scientific studies have been thrown out, to be completely excluded from IPCC consideration.
Clearly this is not honest science, it is a political process designed to select only the most watered down, low ball estimates, so as to fabricate the most optimistic future climate scenarios. This explains why report after report, real world events have exceeded the worst case IPCC projections eg ice loss, sea level rise, severe weather events etc.
Why the IPCC's climate sensitivity calculations are grossly inadequate:
When specifically questioned, Dr Bindoff also admitted that the IPCC had completely ignored the most important climate event ever since the Earth was hit by a dinosaur killing asteroid 66 million years ago: the release of methane from the Arctic coast which has gone ballistic since around 2008. To me this confirms that the IPCC is a bogus pseudoscience body perverted by governments addicted to fossil fuels and that they only tell the public half the truth.
Arctic methane release is just one source of methane they have ignored and methane release is just one of the so-called "slow" feedback loops they have ignored, which are in fact occuring much faster than anticipated.
The IPCC calculate future temperature rises based only on the direct greenhouse effect of CO2 and a few fast feedback loops which themselves have been grossly underestimated. For example the IPCC grossly underestimated the loss of Arctic sea ice and therefore grossly underestimated the loss of albedo over the Arctic and therefore grossly underestimated the magnitude of this feedback loop.
There are other new, previously unanticipated, self reinforcing feedback loops which are now coming to light and therefore also completely off the radar of the IPCC eg the ingress of warm air into the Arctic due to marked weakening and waviness of the North circumpolar jet stream. The IPCC can hardly be blamed for not considering that, however it shows how the rapid onset of real world events quickly render their assessment reports obsolete.
Why Guy McPherson's prediction of NTHE by 2026 due to global warming is complete nonsense:
Just as the IPCC have misrepresented things by selecting only the most unreasonably optimistic scientific papers to promote their views, similarly GM has misrepresented things by selecting only the most unreasonably pessimistic scientific papers to promote his views.
We do not know what the most probable future scenario is, nobody does, but let us make an assessment of circumstances in the year 2100 based on a worse than worst case scenario. Let us assume all people in the Northern Hemisphere will be dead by 2100.
The IPCC AR5 worst case sea level rise by 2100 of 1 metre has now been rejected by most climate scientists since publication of a paper in 2016 by James Hansen and colleagues. That other doyen of climate science, Dr Michael Mann, had some reservations about the Hansen paper, but many scientists now regard a 2 metre sea level rise by 2100 as possible.
Hansen had however in an older paper projected as much as a 10 metre sea level rise by 2100, so let us instead adopt this worse than worst case scenario.
We know that complete melt of both the Greenland and West Antarctic ice shields will raise sea levels by more than 14 metres https://water.usgs.gov/edu/sealevel.html
By implication, the worse than worst case sea level rise of 10 metres by 2100 means that some of the Greenland and/or West Antarctic ice shield will still be intact in 2100, and indeed most of the ice on the Antarcticic continent will also be intact then.
Ice moderates nearby air and water temperatures. Cold melt water flowing into the sea keeps that sea temperature cool, which in turn keeps coastal areas bathed in that sea cool.
Therefore high latitude coastal areas in the Southern Ocean (the southern tips of NZ, Chile and Argentina and some islands eg the Falklands) will remain relatively cool even if GATR rises by 8 or 10degC by 2100. Those areas in the deep south will still have habitats with moderate temperatures conducive for growing food and rearing livestock in the year 2100 (and for substantial time after), even using this worse than worst case scenario. By definition, survival of even a small number of people means that human extinction will not occur by 2100 even based on this worse than worst case scenario. For someone to declare that NTHE will definitely occur by 2026 is thus completely nonsensical, is not scientific and is based on nihilistic ideology, not logic or reason.
As the Antarctic ice melts it is almost inevitable that humans will migrate to Antarctica if all other parts of the world become too hot.
Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg
Published on Our Finite World on April 11, 2014
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We hear a lot about climate change, especially now that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently published another report. At the same time, oil is reaching limits, and this has an effect as well. How do the two issues fit together?
In simplest terms, what the situation means to me is that the “low scenario,” which the IPCC calls “RCP2.6,” is closest to what we can expect in terms of man-made carbon emissions. Thus, the most reasonable scenario, based on their modeling, would seem to be the purple bar that continues to rise for the next twenty years or so and then is close to horizontal.
Figure 1. Summary global average surface temperature change exhibit from new IPCC Report.
I come to this conclusion by looking at the tables of anthropogenic carbon emission shown in Annex II of the report. According to IPCC data, the four modeled scenarios have emissions indicated in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Total anthropogenic carbon emissions modeled for in the scenarios selected by the IPCC, based on data from Table All 2.a in Annex II.
The Likely Effect of Oil Limits
The likely effect of oil limits–one way or the other–is to bring down the economy, and because of this bring an end to pretty much all carbon emissions (not just oil) very quickly. There are several ways this could happen:
- High oil prices – we saw what these could do in 2008. They nearly sank the financial system. If they return, central banks have already done most of what they can to “fix” the situation. They are likely to be short of ammunition the next time around.
- Low oil prices – this is the current problem. Oil companies are cutting back on new expenditures because they cannot make money on a cash flow basis on shale plays and on other new oil drilling. Oil companies can’t just keep adding debt, so they are doing less investment. I talked about this in Beginning of the End? Oil Companies Cut Back on Spending. Less oil means either a rebound in prices or not enough oil produced to go around. Either way, we are likely to see massive recession and falling world GDP.
- Huge credit problems, such as happened in 2008, only worse. Oil drilling would stop within a few years, because oil prices would drop too low, and stay too low, without lots of credit to prop up prices of commodities of all types.
- Rapidly rising interest rates, as QE reaches its limits. (QE for the United States was put in place at the time of the 2008 crisis, and has been continued since then.) Rising interest rates lead to higher needed tax rates and high monthly payments for homes and cars. The current QE-induced bubble in stock, land, and home prices is also likely to break, sending prices down again.
- End of globalization, as countries form new alliances, such as Russia-China-Iran. The US is making false claims that we can get along without some parts of the world, because we have so much natural gas and oil. This is nonsense. Once groups of countries start pulling in opposite directions, the countries that have been using a disproportionate share of oil (particularly Europe, the United States, and Japan) will find themselves in deep trouble.
- Electric grid failures, because subsidies for renewables leave companies that sell fossil-fuel powered electricity with too little profit. The current payment system for renewables needs to be fixed to be fair to companies that generate electricity using fossil fuels. We cannot operate our economy on renewables alone, in part, because the quantity is far too small. Creation of new renewables and maintenance of such renewables is also fossil fuel dependent.
If any of these scenarios takes place and snowballs to a collapse of today’s economy, I expect that a rapid decline in fossil fuel consumption of all kinds will take place. This decline is likely to be more rapid than modeled in the RCP2.6 Scenario. The RCP2.6 Scenario assumes that anthropogenic carbon emissions will still be at 84% of 2010 levels in 2030. In comparison, my expectation (Figure 3, below) is that fossil fuel use (and thus anthropogenic carbon emissions) will be at a little less than 40% of 2010 levels in 2030.
Figure 3. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.
After 2070, the RCP2.6 Scenario indicates negative carbon emissions, presumably from geo-engineering. In my view of the future, such an approach seems unlikely if oil limits are a major problem, because without fossil fuels, we will not have the ability to use engineering approaches. It is also doubtful that there would be as much need for these engineered carbon-take-downs at the end of the period. Population would likely be much lower by then, so current anthropogenic carbon emissions would be less of a problem.
The Climate Change Scenario Not Modeled
We really don’t know what future climate change will look like because no one has tried to model what a collapse situation would look like. Presumably there will be a lot of tree-cutting and burning of biomass for fuel. This will change land use besides adding emissions from the burned biomass to the atmosphere. At the same time, emissions associated with fossil fuels will likely drop very rapidly.
Clearly the climate has been changing and will continue to change. At least part of our problem is that we have assumed that it is possible to have an unchanging world and have made huge investments assuming that climate would go along with our plans. Unfortunately, the way nature “works” is by repeatedly replacing one system with another system. The new systems that survive tend to be better adapted to recent changes in conditions. If we think of humans, other animals, and plants as “systems,” this is true of them as well. No living being can expect to survive forever.
Unfortunately economies are not permanent either. Just as the Roman Empire failed, our economy cannot last forever. In physics, economies seem to be examples of dissipative structures, just as plants and animals and hurricanes are. Dissipative structures are formed in the presence of flows of energy and matter in open thermodynamic systems–that is, systems that are constantly receiving a new flow of energy, as we on earth do from the sun. Unfortunately, dissipative structures don’t last forever.
Dissipative structures temporarily dissipate energy that is available. At the same time, they affect their surroundings. In the case of an economy, the use of energy permits the extraction of the most accessible, easy-to-extract resources, such as fossil fuels, metals, and fresh water. At the same time, population tends to grow. The combination of growing extraction and rising population leads to economic stresses.
At some point the economy becomes overly stressed because of limits of various types. Some of these limits are pollution-related, such as climate change. Other limits present themselves as higher costs, such as the need for deeper wells or desalination to provide water for a growing population, and the need for greater food productivity per acre because of more mouths to feed. The extraction of oil and other fossil fuels also provides a cost limit, as resource extraction becomes more complex, requiring a larger share of the output of the economy. When limits hit, governments are especially likely to suffer from inadequate funding and excessive debt, because tax revenue suffers if wages and profits drop.
People who haven’t thought much about the situation often believe that we can simply get along without our current economy. If we think about the situation, we would lose a great deal if we lost the connections that our current economy, and the financial system underlying it, offers. We as humans cannot “do it alone”–pull out metals and refine them with our bare hands, dig deeper wells, or keep up fossil fuel extraction. Re-establishing needed connections in a totally new economy would be a massive undertaking. Such connections are normally built up over decades or longer, as new businesses are formed, governments make laws, and consumers adapt to changing situations. Without oil, we cannot easily go back to horse and buggy!
Unfortunately, much of the writing related to dissipative structures and the economy is in French. François Roddier wrote a book called Thermodynamique de l’évolution on topics related to this subject. Matthieu Auzanneau writes about the issue on his blog. Roddier has a presentation available in French. One paper on a related topic in English is Energy Rate Density as a Complexity Metric and Evolutionary Driver by E. Chaisson. Causal Entropic Forces by Wissner-Gross and Freer provides evidence regarding how societies self-organize in ways that maximize entropy.
The IPCC’s Message Isn’t Really Right
We are bumping up against limits in many ways not modeled in the IPCC report. The RCP2.6 Scenario comes closest of the scenarios shown in providing an indication of our future situation. Clearly the climate is changing and will continue to change in ways that our planners never considered when they built cities and took out long-term loans. This is a problem not easily solved.
One of the big issues is that energy supplies seem to be leaving us, indirectly through economic changes that we have little control over. The IPCC report is written from the opposite viewpoint: we humans are in charge and need to decide to leave energy supplies. The view is that the economy, despite our energy problems, will return to robust growth. With this robust growth, our big problem will be climate change because of the huge amount of carbon emissions coming from fossil fuel burning.
Unfortunately, the real situation is that the laws of physics, rather than humans, are in charge. Basically, as economies grow, it takes increasing complexity to fix problems, as Joseph Tainter explained in his book, The Collapse of Complex Societies. Dissipative structures provide this ever-increasing complexity through higher “energy rate density” (explained in the Chaisson article linked above).
Now we are reaching limits in many ways, but we can’t–or dare not–model how all of these limits are hitting. We can, in theory, add more complexity to fix our problems–electric cars, renewable energy, higher city density, better education of women. These things would require more energy rate density. Ultimately, they seem to depend on the availability of more inexpensive energy–something that is increasingly unavailable.
The real issue is the danger that our economy will collapse in the near term. From the earth’s point of view, this is not a problem–it will create new dissipative structures in the future, and the best-adapted of these will survive. Climate will adapt to changing conditions, and different species will be favored as the climate changes. But from the point of view of those of us living on the planet earth, there is a distinct advantage to keeping business as usual going for as long as possible. A collapsed economy cannot support 7.2 billion people.
We need to understand what are really up against, if we are to think rationally about the future. It would be helpful if more people tried to understand the physics of the situation, even if it is a difficult subject. While we can’t really expect to “fix” the situation, we can perhaps better understand what “solutions” are likely to make the situation worse. Such knowledge will also provide a better context for understanding how climate change fits in with other limits we are reaching. Climate change is certainly not the whole problem, but it may still play a significant role.
Off the keyboard of Brian Davey
Published on FEASTA on October 7, 2013
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The 5th Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change was published while I was writing this book. It is the consensus assessment of the world’s scientists of the state of their knowledge about climate change and what they think is likely to happen. What happened in the mass media at this time, and even in statements by a government environment minister in the UK, Owen Paterson, was a clear attempt to downplay the message of the scientists and the impact of the report. In the opinion of Paterson:
“People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries…I see this report as something we need to take seriously but I am relieved it is not as catastrophic in its forecast as we had been led to believe early on. What it is saying is that it is something we can adapt to over time, and we are very good as a race at adapting.”
Climate scientists responded angrily – for example, Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research:
“It’s a deliberately partial reading of the report. Either that or he has not read the report properly or does not understand the significance of the emissions scenarios. These tell us that business as usual will give us a 50:50 chance of a 4C temperature rise. His view that we can muddle through climate change is a colonial, arrogant, rich person’s view. Many people will die in the developing world where the changes will be felt the most and it is irresponsible and immoral to suggest that we as a species can adapt to climate change,”
– Independent, 1st October, 2013.
If we are, as neo-classical economists claim, “rational individuals” then you would think that all of us would put a lot of weight on the opinion of such a large number of scientists and the rigour of the process that is gone through. The diagram below shows the IPCC Process for the scientific report (click to enlarge).
There were 209 Lead Authors and 50 Review Editors from 39 countries. Over 600 Contributing Authors from 32 countries. Over 2 million gigabytes of numerical data from climate model simulations. Over 9200 scientific publications cited. The final draft for governments received 1855 comments from 32 Governments. In total there were 54,677 comments from 1089 Expert Reviewers from 55 countries and from 38 Governments. That is a lot of “rationality” that has gone into the process. 
As regards climate science more generally one study searched the university accessible “Web of Science” for peer reviewed scientific articles about climate change published between 1 January 1991 and 9 November 2012 that had the keyword phrases “global warming” or “global climate change.” The search produced 13,950 articles. Only 24 of these rejected global warming – 0.17% of the studies. 
The fact that a large number of people do NOT accept the overwhelming scientific consensus in these circumstances is therefore interesting because it is evidence that challenges the neo-classical economist’s view of what people are like. Clearly a very large number of people are NOT rational. Ironically, a key reason that people appear unable and/or unwilling to accept the science is connected to markets supplying pseudo confirmations of non scientific views of reality.
This can be put in another way – there is a market for delusion. The market supplies a stream of messages that create “doubt” about the climate science, even when none exists among the scientists themselves. There is a lot of money in it. According to a 2007 study by the US Union of Concerned Scientists, (ExxonMobil) has spent more than $19 million to promote skepticism about global warming, funding think tanks, publications and web sites that are not peer reviewed by the scientific community. The report shows how the company
– raised doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence
– funded an array of front organizations to create the appearance of a broad platform for a tight-knit group of vocal climate change contrarians who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings
– attempted to portray its opposition to action as a positive quest for “sound science” rather than business self-interest
– used its access to the Bush administration to block federal policies and shape government communications on global warming. 
Many other fossil fuel companies do the same thing. For example, the Koch Brothers are notorious as donors to organisations attempting to throw doubt on climate change science .
Given the scale on which it being funded there is now a lot of delusionary ideas out there: the climate has changed before; it’s the sun; it’s not bad; there’s no consensus; its cooling; the models are unreliable; the temperature record is unreliable; animals and plants can adapt; it hasn’t warmed since 1998; Antarctica is gaining ice….the contrarian arguments are generated in a factory whose aim is to mislead and confuse. All of them have been refuted – but how is the average citizens to know or keep track of the barrage of misinformation that big money keeps generating? .
In the current situation the IPCC Assessment Report 5 draft has generated a huge controversy around the idea that “it has not warmed since 1998”. In the 15 years 1998 to 2012 the actual surface temperature increase was 50% slower than the average on the model runs, although well within the anticipated range of the runs. No one expects the temperature to be bang on the average of all the model runs – this average is not an exaction “prediction”. There are a range of projection of what will happen under various assumptions. Things are going seriously wrong with the science only if actual temperatures over a longer period deviate outside the range of simulated projections. To that should be added that 1998 was a particularly hot year to start measuring a trend from. If the trend between 1992 and 2006 had been chosen it would have shown a surface temperature increase that was much faster than the IPCC average of model runs. Climate scientists refer to natural variability – temperature fluctuations around the trend over relatively short time periods. This natural variability can be accounted for by things like the way that the ocean has absorbed a lot of the heat , as well as variability of the amount of ‘aerosols’ – particulates in the atmosphere from industrial pollution and volcanic eruptions that reflect solar energy back into space. 
These are complex issues for a lay person to assess and it is easy to understand that people would feel bewildered by the arguments. It is clear that such bewilderment can and is exploited by people who ought to know better. In fact, there is a whole topic of “civic epistemology” which can guide approaches to these questions. For people who are concerned to maintain a rational approach to controversial matters, when they are not themselves experts in the specialist field concerned, there are criteria, shall we say “diagnostics”, that can be used to assess the issues. In this connection the evidence that underpins any belief can be examined from “procedural” as well as “substantive” grounds.
“Procedural” means looking for consistency of the evidence with due scientific process – this is the quality control in academic production. Is the evidence appearing in a peer reviewed journal? Has the evidence bee replicated by other peer reviewed research processes? Is the research by a scientist operating in the field in which they have been trained and in which they have expertise?
Of course there are a lot of other sources of information out there – academic monographs; investigative journalism; data and reports from government agencies; data collected by corporations; research and reports by NGOs, charities and think tanks, consultants reports and press, radio, television and internet blogs. All of these are potential sources of accurate information – or potential sources of errors and deliberate obfuscation. A politically literate person will sift these sources of information according to quality control criteria. Thus a newspaper article written by a scientist who has published peer reviewed articles in the field, who is highlighting findings from peer reviewed literature can be taken as credible – whereas someone who has no qualifications as a scientist, or who is “a scientist”, but not from the field in question, who has not written peer reviewed articles in the field in question, and/or who has retired and ceased publication – who then casts doubt on peer reviewed literature is a highly dubious source. Especially if you find, as is very often the case, that they are being sponsored by money from fossil fuel companies.
In the tobacco companies war to deliberately create doubt about the health consequences of smoking, politically sympathetic physicists published articles in non peer reviewed journals to help the tobacco companies hold off regulation .
However, if climate science wrecks your religion then obviously you are not going to believe in it….In the world of ancient Greece, the world “idiot” was used to refer to people who did not contribute when they were entitled to do so in the democratic process. Instead the idiots devoted their time to their own private interests and wealth. From Adam Smith onwards mainstream economists have told people that, by pursuing their private interests, a greater social good is brought about by the “invisible hand of the market”. After Smith the idiots – naturally I am using the word in the ancient Greek sense – could feel reassured and work to accumulate private wealth. They could feel secure in the idea that, while the state was there to protect them, it was supposed to keep out of their self interested dealings because their “self love” was being converted into social wellbeing quasi-automatically – particularly by stimulating clever technologies. This simple mantra is what I earlier described, following Richard Norgaard, as “economism” and it has become the religious faith of the modern age with the economists as the priesthood.
Actually it is not at all the case that the market works as a socially co-ordinative system because people are pursuing their self interest. What makes the market ‘work’, to the extent that it does, as a co-ordinative system, is only that everyone is playing the same life game. The drive for money as a common criteria for social action leads to a common life style. The way people play or are obliged to play the same money making game glues society together on a particular path of development. Because everyone is playing the same game in terms of motivations, criteria and measures of success, interdependency in capitalist social relationships is made possible.
With economism functioning as a foundational religion underpinning the general orientation of market based society, it is incredibly unsettling to the faithful to hear the message of climate science because it implies that the free market does not, after all, automatically deliver collective well being. The evidence for this is provided by psychological studies which show that the more people identify with “free market principles” the more likely they are to reject the findings of climate scientists. A study in the USA surveyed the views of a representative 1000 people and found that a market based worldview constituted an overwhelming barrier to the acceptance of climate science. A similar finding applies to the science associated with smoking. The study, by a team led by Professor Stephan Lewandowsky chair of cognitive psychology at the University of Bristol in the UK, is titled “The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and World Views in Predicting Rejection of Science” and is published in the journal PLOS ONE. Commenting to a Guardian journalist about these findings Lewandowsky says:
“I cannot be sure of the causality, but there are multiple lines of evidence that suggest that the involvement of worldview, such as free-market principles, arises because people of that worldview feel threatened not by climate change or by lung cancer, but by the regulatory implications if those risks are being addressed by society. Addressing lung cancer means to control tobacco, and addressing climate change means to control fossil-fuel emissions. It’s the need to control those products and their industries that is threatening people with strong free-market leanings.” (“Planet Oz” Guardian, 2nd October 2013  )
Faced with a choice between what science is telling them or a fantasy, a large number of people prefer the fantasy and there are plenty of vested interests from the fossil fuel industry keen to fund publicity for their delusions. The irony here is that while economists model reality on the assumption of rational individuals market ideology appears to be a powerful influence in favour of irrationality – while powerful vested interests are happy to fund a variety of dangerous delusions.
In the 1999 film, The Matrix, the chief character is asked whether he wants to take a red pill that will show him the painful reality or take the blue pill and remain in the simulated reality that the establishment wants him to see. The economics profession are mostly in business helping to produce the blue pills. Economics is a menace – it is a generator of collective psychopathology, a society dangerously out of touch with reality.
But is there not a chance that climate science is wrong? Might it not be the case that climate change is not the result of human activities and that it does not repay the effort to do anything about it? While the climate scientists go to immense trouble to express their degree of confidence in their findings the climate deniers don’t bother to do the same thing. So yes, even the climate scientists admit that they might conceivably have got it wrong. There is a chance, but on the core issues that chance is a very small one indeed.
Thus, if one reads the IPCC 5th Assessment Report Summary for Policy makers there are a mass of findings about climate change – in regards to atmospheric changes, ocean temperatures, the cryosphere (ice sheets), sea level, carbon and geochemical cycles, drivers of climate change, quantifiying the system and so on. Each of the findings under these headings are assigned a confidence level. For example, when it comes to the attribution of climate change there is this statement:
“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since Assessment Report 4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
– Working Group I Contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis Summary for Policymakers
Note the words “extremely likely”. This is defined elsewhere in the same report in this way: “extremely likely: 95–100%” . So yes, the scientists are acknowledging that there is a small chance that they might have got it wrong. But think of it this way – would you get on a plane that is 95% likely to crash because there is a 5% chance that it will not do so? No rational person would if they had a choice – unless they were being misled by a criminal misinformation.
There are other senses in which some predictions based on climate science might be wrong. There has been some argument about whether, or how much, the rising energy and money costs of extracting fossil fuel resources because of depletion might lead to a future fall in emissions because the fossil energy might not be there in sufficient quantities, extractable at an commercial cost, to lead to the worse emissions growth scenarios coming about. Perhaps depletion will mean that carbon energy prices will go so high anyway as to crash the economy, undermining the financial sector. This is another kind of argument, about the other limits to economic growth kicking in faster than climate change.
No one has a magic ability to completely accurately predict the future. Yet we are condemned to make predictions in order to manage our lives. As we reach the limits to growth some nasty surprises – and perhaps even some nice ones – may be waiting to take history in an unexpected direction. At the time of writing the United States government appears to be self destructing because Tea Party market fundamentalists in the USA are unwilling to pass a budget. Were this to go on I dare say it could damage global economic activity seriously and lastingly – and thus perhaps bring down emissions. A war in Syria which might have escalated into a major global conflict was only narrowly averted – that too might have disrupted the flow of fossil fuels. Various diseases are becoming a major threat because the declining effectiveness of antibiotics. Perhaps that might create a population crisis and again bring down emissions. The future is one that no one can foresee. None of these things make climate change any less important as a major threat to humanity that justifies being taken any less seriously.
Many thanks to Nick Bardsley, lecturer in climate economics at Reading University and Feasta member, for his help in regard to “civic epistemology”.
7. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway Merchants of Doubt. How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming Bloomsbury 2010
- “Fresh approaches to tackling climate change” FEASTA climate group workshop
- “Fresh approaches to tackling climate change” – Feasta/WinACC workshop
- Climate Change and Peak Oil: two sides of the same coin?
- New Feasta submission to the Consultation on Climate Change Policy
- Two Climate Change Presentations – Brian Davey and Professor Mark Maslin