We need a low carbon culture (and we need you to help define it first). And part of a low carbon culture is going to be paying attention to the science.
Today the 5th “Synthesis Report” of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is released. The IPCC was created in 1988, and produced its first full assessment in 1990. It’s produced plenty of other reports, but the “Assessment Reports” are the biggest things they do. American journalist Chris Mooney has just written a piece for the Washington Post that you should definitely read…
Here are a couple of excerpts
On Nov. 2, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its “Synthesis Report,” the final stage in a yearlong document dump that, collectively, presents the current expert consensus about climate change and its consequences. This synthesis report (which has already been leaked and reported on — like it always is) pulls together the conclusions of three prior reports of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, and will “provide the roadmap by which policymakers will hopefully find their way to a global agreement to finally reverse course on climate change,” according to the IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri.
There’s just one problem. According to a number of scientific critics, the scientific consensus represented by the IPCC 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”).
There’s yet another problem with the IPCC process — it only considers scientific papers that were published before a particular cutoff date, which in this case, was March 15, 2013. But in May 2014, long after that cutoff date, a blockbuster study came out suggesting that global warming has already irrevocably destabilized the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which contains some 10 feet worth of sea level rise. That is not to say that all of that ice will fall into the ocean immediately and raise sea level, but rather to say that its disintegration, over time, is inevitable. How fast will it happen? That’s the big unknown — but obviously, it is unwise to underestimate an ice sheet, when the consequences around the world would be so devastating.
The lead author of that research, the University of California-Irvine’s Eric Rignot, stressed in an interview that there is no scientific consensus yet about the validity of his alarming results. But adds that in his own opinion, the IPCC’s estimate for sea level rise is “very conservative.”