Responding to criticism for letting politics sway science, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change resorted to politics.
“By overwhelming consensus, the scientific community agrees that climate change is real,” declared IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri as he “welcomed” a critique of his group’s work by the InterAcademy Council (IAC). “Greenhouse gases have increased markedly as a result of human activities and now far exceed preindustrial values.”
Well, yes. Everyone knows climate change is “real.” Everyone knows greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere, largely because of human activity.
The question is whether a buildup of greenhouse gases really leads to perilous warming, as Pachauri and many others want everyone to believe. Until recently, they were succeeding.
Nonscientists naturally conclude that more greenhouse gas means more warming, and—goodness—we better do something, whatever the cost. After all, there’s that “consensus.”
But the IPCC has been caught in several pivotal errors, all on the side of alarmism, while UK researchers supplying important data have been discovered gaming the debate.
So the IAC was summoned to study IPCC’s methods. On Aug. 30, it recommended an overhaul: an executive committee and executive director, better attention to dissenting views in public reports, clearer handling of uncertainty, better communications.
These and other recommendations address concerns that until now have been disregarded as sputtering from a few cranks.
Especially important is the attention to lapses on uncertainty.
The link between greenhouse gas and observed warming is tenuous. A complex climate has ways to adjust that doomsday computer models don’t handle well.
Uncertainty about those adjustments is great. Because catastrophic predictions depend on worst-case assumptions about them, doubt about the assumptions harms the case for costly precaution. Uncertainty raises doubt.
ICA says a politically potent IPCC report in 2007 obscured uncertainty by, among other things, not following its own guidance for handling the problem.
Was it a political trick? With IPCC, no reason remains to believe otherwise.
(Online Sept. 3, 2010; author’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)