Chris Mooney, newly at
The Washington Post
—no doubt to the chagrin of climate denier George Will—wrote last week
According to a number of scientific critics, the scientific consensus represented by the [International Panel on Climate Change] is a very conservative consensus. IPCC's reports, they say, often underestimate the severity of global warming, in a way that may actually confuse policymakers (or worse). The IPCC, one scientific group charged last year, has a tendency to "err on the side of least drama." And now, in a new study just out in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, another group of researchers echoes that point. In scientific parlance, they charge that the IPCC is focused on avoiding what are called "type 1" errors—claiming something is happening when it really is not (a "false positive")—rather than on avoiding "type 2" errors—not claiming something is happening when it really is (a "false negative").
The consequence is that we do not always hear directly from the IPCC about how bad things could be.
Yep. The consequence is that the delayers—those people with political clout who accept the scientific consensus about global warming but are too chickenshit to take action to reduce its impacts—have been aided in their procrastination by the IPCC's striving not to appear alarmist in the five assessments it has issued over the past 24 years. Grim as the latest 116-page report
officially released in Copenhagen Sunday is, and strong as the warnings in it are, it still gives delayers room to hem and haw and whine about how moving too quickly will ruin the economy. Still pretending that the environment and economy are two separate entities.
The report's bottom line? The carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that the industrial age has poured into the atmosphere is now at its highest levels in at least 800,000 years, hundreds of millennia before modern humans emerged. The greenhouse gas burden is warming the planet's atmosphere and oceans and could in a worst-case scenario, if unchecked, increase the average global temperature 4.6° Celsius (8.3° Fahrenheit) by the turn of the century. The damage from such an increase would be, in the language of the IPCC report, "severe, widespread, and irreversible."
It is labeled the Synthesis Report because it pulls together material from the 5,000 pages of the panel's Fifth Assessment of climate change, three earlier reports released in stages starting in September 2013. The conclusions of those reports are based on the work of 800 scientists compiling the results of 30,000 scientific papers. The IPCC also put together a 40-page version of the Synthesis Report, a Summary for Policymakers. The report comes just a month before almost every nation on the planet sends delegations to the climate talks in Lima, Peru. Those are a precursor to 2015 talks in Paris that are meant to do what has so far eluded world leaders: forging an effective plan to deal with climate change that everyone can sign onto, including the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases: China, Russia, India, the European Union and the United States.
The goal is to come up with a carbon-cutting plan to keep the world's average temperature from rising above 2°C (3.6°F). On Sunday, R.K. Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, said in a release that no part of the globe would go untouched by climate change:
“We have little time before the window of opportunity to stay within 2ºC of warming closes. To keep a good chance of staying below 2ºC, and at manageable costs, our emissions should drop by 40 to 70 percent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100. We have that opportunity, and the choice is in our hands.”
Little time indeed. But 2100 is three generations, the kind of deadline that the delayers can seize on to keep dinking around, ignoring the 2050 deadline.
More on the report can be found below the fold.