The new UN climate change report didn’t deserve such frantic headlines
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently published the first major part of its Sixth Assessment Report. It’s a big problem, but it’s not the last word in climate science.
Two more sections of the report will be published next year. Taken together, it attempts to define the consensus, the scientific view of where we are now in terms of climate change and global warming, and what future changes are likely to come.
But even when the three divisions are left out, there will be more to be said about climatology. Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo will be among the first to tell us that science is not primarily about consensus but about discovery. It can only take one person with sound evidence and an argument to overturn the scientific paradigm. It is therefore important to read the IPCC report with humility and critical thinking.
Climate analysis uses a great deal of statistical modeling and data science. It involves so much more than just looking out the window, no matter how upsetting the weather or whatever you think you remember about what “time back” was.
Climate is an insidiously complex system. It includes long-term patterns, dynamic interactions between clouds and oceans, influences from human activity and natural forces such as volcanoes and solar activity, and physics. Therefore, the IPCC report is a useful tool in understanding the issue.
But our knowledge is always growing. Just a day after the release of the latest IPCC report, Climate Dynamics published a research paper that likely exposes a fundamental flaw in how the IPCC attributes extreme weather to climate change. More studies continue to highlight persistent problems with climate models that amplify warming.
However, what does this first installment of the IPCC report say? Here are some of the salient points:
▪ The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the warming since 1850 is up to 1.1°C.
▪ The most extreme projections of warming – those deemed “most likely” in the 2014 assessment report – were downgraded to “low probability”.
▪ It found no observed trends for hurricanes, winter storms, floods, tornadoes, or thunderstorms. Find trends in heat waves, heavy precipitation, and some types of drought.
Not surprisingly, these findings were rarely mentioned in media coverage. After all, it sells bad news. Hence, we get the headlines dripping with disaster—damn nuance and subtlety.
Unfortunately, politicians are more than willing to follow suit, claiming that “science” is a mandate to act and accept the prescriptions of extremist politics. Too often they use “science” as a shield to avoid defending actual policy choices or to keep accountability away from the costs of those policies.
But some of these proposed policies will cost Americans trillions of dollars and are intent on fundamentally reshaping how Americans relate to their government. With the stakes high, debate is critical.
It can be easy for Americans to feel helpless in the fray. But most politicians aren’t climate scientists either.
Therefore, citizens should ask their elected representatives good questions when they advocate for policies such as the Green New Deal, subsidies for electric vehicles or regulations for electricity generation. Nor should politicians be given free rein by claiming that they are acting on a supposed mandate for “science,” as reported in reports such as the IPCC.
Americans should ask: To what degree will this policy actually affect global temperatures? What is the cost of this and who will bear these costs? Are there unintended consequences?
As one climate scientist aptly stated, “We need to remind ourselves that tackling climate change is not an end in itself, and that climate change is not the only problem the world faces. The goal should be to improve human well-being in the twenty-first century, while protecting the environment.” As much as possible “.
Unfortunately, the most recent IPCC report, like its predecessors, was immediately used as a cudgel to demand political compliance in support of expensive “green” policies.
This is detrimental both to scientific discovery, which relies on questioning consensus, and to the political process, which relies on real debate to come to the best decision about what to do next.
Katie Tope is a senior policy analyst for energy and environmental issues at the Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.
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