In our previous post, we argued that ‘Without WGII and WGIII, there is no grounds for alarm’. Our point being that WGII and WGIII take certain premises for granted in order to be able to talk about the inevitability of Nth-order effects of climate change, especially the human cost. The nature of these presuppositions is the subject of Ben’s recent article on Spiked-Online. Briefly, confusion exists between the ideas of climate’s sensitivity to CO2 on the one hand, and society’s sensitivity to climate on the other.
That post was a response to stories being published in The Guardian – a newspaper with a clear and distinct editorial line that emphasises the catastrophic narrative and the necessity of a far-reaching political response. David Adam – one of the journalists we singled out for criticism – had written a piece about how certain climate scientists were blaming their colleagues from the softer social and biological sciences for the cock-ups recently exposed in the IPCC’s AR4. He has now dropped by to comment:
hello again guys
i think i may have worked out why we disagree on this
“Without WGII and WGIII, there is no grounds for alarm. All the promises, projections and prophecies are contained in WGII and III.”
Have you read WG1? Please take a look at chapter 10 (not the SPM). There’s no politics in there just science. If you find the non-mitigation scenario contains no grounds for alarm then as I said last year, good luck.
Chapter 10 of IPCC WGI is concerned with ‘Global Climate Projections’. It takes a range of climate models and looks for agreement between them, to produce a range of scenarios depicting climate changes most over the next century. It emphasises the following:
- increases in global mean surface air temperature – “heat waves will be more intense, more frequent and longer lasting.”
- precipitation extremes and droughts – “Globally averaged mean water vapour, evaporation and precipitation are projected to increase.”
- snow cover and sea ice extent decrease – glaciers and ice caps lose mass owing to a dominance of summer melting over winter precipitation increases.
- positive climate-carbon cycle feedback – reduc[ed …] efficiency of the Earth system (land and ocean) to absorb anthropogenic CO2.
- increasing acidification of the surface ocean – “dissolution of shallow-water carbonate sediments and could affect marine calcifying organisms”
- sea level rise – between 18cm and 59cm.
- increases in climate system intensity – Monsoons, sea level pressure, tropical cyclones, fewer mid-latitude storms,
As we have discussed, increases in the severity and frequency of heat waves, storms, and rain or drought – if they really are what the planet faces – are easily seen as mere technical challenges. All you need to demonstrate this is to compare the outcome of such events in regions that differ in their levels of economic and industrial development. Natural phenomena are, and always have been catastrophic in regions that lack wealth, sometimes killing tens of thousands of people, and leaving a terrible legacy for generations. But the human cost of these events are mitigated almost entirely by development. Properly designed and constructed buildings withstand floods, storms and quakes; emergency services respond to people in danger; funds exist for the rehabilitation of an area; skills and resources can be utilised in reconstruction
Therefore, to make the case that there is cause for alarm on the basis of these projections is to bring presuppositions to bear on them, ie, to project the political premise of catastrophism through the scientific projection. There is no reason why any area prone to drought now or in the future cannot be provided with potable water. There is no reason why any population of an area prone to flooding cannot engineer a solution. There is no reason why regions prone to increasing frequency and intensity of storms cannot build on stronger foundations and with materials that offer better climate resistance. (See what we did there?) No reason, that is, except for the lack of wealth. Again, it is the alarmist’s presupposition which says that sufficient wealth cannot be generated. Again, this is a projection of a political premise. And again, this makes alarmism a self-fulfilling prophecy, whether or not the climate is changing, and whether or not that change has been caused by humans.
That is not to say that there is no cause for concern. Indeed, it is a cause for concern – but a cause for concern that ought to demand emphasis on development, especially in poorer parts of the world, rather than the pursuit of a myth: climatic stability, whether or not the climate is changing. But concern is not equivalent to alarm. Likewise, ocean acidification and sea level rise may be causes for concern. This concern ought to be mediated by the uncertainty about acidification – the IPCC agree that it “is not well understood” – and the observation that sea levels have been rising for longer than can be accounted for by anthropogenic global warming. Controversy has raged about the IPCC’s range of projections (18-59cm). Critics, such as James Hansen argue that this massively underestimates the likely sea level rise. This raises an interesting problem for alarmists such as Adam. Suddenly, Hansen – a favourite of the Guardian, who publish him regularly – becomes an outlier, as far away from ‘the consensus’ as any ‘denier’. The IPCC are too conservative in their estimations and projections, the argument runs. But this too only serves to undermine the ‘consensus’ argument. Why should one outlier (an unmitigated alarmist) shade our view of the consensus more than another (a mild sceptic, for instance, who would no doubt be called an ‘industry-funded climate denier’)?
Let us imagine that we face the upper range of sea level rise of 59cm. Would it be catastrophic? Still, it is only as catastrophic as our inability to cope with it. Still, it is a question that is answered by development. People living in such regions have 100 years to walk away from a rise of 69cm, to move inland, to build coastal defences, to find alternative places to produce food, and so on.
Adam reads WGI and finds cause for alarm precisely because he, and more generally, the institution he works for – and more generally still, the environmental orthodoxy in which the Guardian is embedded – is incapable of entertaining the possibility of developing our way out of the problems posed by climate change. As they see it, development is the cause of problems, not the solution. And development requires that we use more resources, not fewer. The likes of the Guardian dislike economic development as much as they dislike poverty. Which limits their options somewhat. Hence they must fall back on token efforts to reduce poverty, such as Fairtrade, which don’t threaten to make the poor any more of a burden on the world’s resources, while at the same time campaigning against climate change in the hope that a marginally different future climate will prevent poverty getting even worse. In much the same way, we find the Third World development charity Oxfam, another stalwart of modern environmentalism, increasingly campaigning against both climate change and Third World development.
Meanwhile, Adam insists that Chapter 10 is politics free. ‘There’s no politics in there just science’, he says. Is that even true? As we can see, alarmism projects itself through the seemingly scientific projection. Might this have been made possible because of the way Ch.10 itself has come into existence? For example, an interesting bias emerges when Ch.10’s authors are surveyed…
|Country||# researchers||Secondary affiliation|
|Non – US/UK||49|
|US / UK
(Some contributors to ch10 are listed as belonging to 2 countries).
Climate modelling, it seems, is a very Northern Atlantic pastime (as we’ve noted before). In the case of the UK, at least, this must be owed to the two decades of emphasis that politicians have placed on climate research, starting with Thatcher in the 1980s. Also interesting is that it is the country which for a long time has been considered the enemy of action to prevent climate change – the USA – which appears to have contributed most to the development of climate models. But on an per-capita basis, no country rivals the UK.
That the UK is a world leader in a field of climate research is not necessarily a bad thing. But it does speak about the priorities and prejudices that dominate the political sphere here, which are reflected in the constitution of academic climate science, represented in Ch.10. The UK, since Thatcher, and increasingly in recent years, has sought to establish its moral authority on the world stage by embracing the climate issue, and making it the principle substance of international relations, and latterly its domestic polices: its ‘Green New Deal’, its Industrial Strategy, its ‘sustainability agenda’, its energy policy, and so on . Whether or not these politics are expressed in the science, it somehow leaves a footprint that is politically-shaped, if it isn’t politically-driven.
It is a mainstay of the argument for action on climate change that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of climate scientists are in agreement on the need for it. Yet as the table above shows, there are just 94 authors responsible for compiling the report in which, Adam argues, the case for alarm rests. ‘Ah, but…’, says the alarmist, ‘it’s the weight of evidence that counts’. Never mind that there is no evidence for something that hasn’t happened yet – the catastrophe which is the object of the alarmism – these 94 researchers do not draw from a wealth of research, but manage instead to cite themselves a whopping 317 times in a document that contains references to just 550 papers (including references to previous IPCC reports). If we excluded those papers in which the chapter’s authors were directly involved, there would be just 292. Just eight researchers manage to cite themselves no less than 110 times – over a third of the chapter’s self-citations, and a fifth of the total.
|Jonathan M Gregory||UK||19|
|Gerald A Meehl||USA||17|
|Thomas F Stocker||Switzerland||13|
|T M L Wigley||USA||13|
|Sarah C B Raper||UK||12|
|R J Stouffer||USA||12|
Between the USA and UK, there are 208 self-citations from the 45 researchers. Authors from just two countries produced nearly half the entire body of ‘evidence’ for alarmism, which they ‘review’ for themselves.
The population of self-citing climate modeller-projectionists are so small in number, and so interconnected that there may be an argument that it constitutes a community with its own insular politics. Given the predominance of certain individuals from that population in the climate debate, it seems hard to argue otherwise. That’s one for sociologists to mull over, perhaps.
Please don’t think we are tossing out these numbers in order to argue that the science presented in ch.10 is rubbish. There is nothing strange about self-citations or geographical bias or the dominance of small subsets of individuals in science. We suspect you’d find similar dynamics in pretty much any other specialist field. We toss out these numbers to give an idea of the workings of a research community that has provided the raw material on which Adam bases his alarmism. The alarmist’s case does not reflect the opinion of an ‘overwhelming majority of scientists’, and there is not an ‘overwhelming’ body of evidence. There is clearly a political dimension to the constitution of both the body of WGI Ch.10 authors, and the research it draws from.
And what about Adam’s claim that the content (rather than constitution) of Ch.10 is politics-free?
It would be hard to argue that to extrapolate from A to B and onwards (ie, projection) is inherently political. But Ch.10 does more than project. For example:
Frequently Asked Question 10.1 – Are Extreme Events, Like Heat Waves, Droughts or Floods, Expected to Change as the Earth’s Climate Changes?
In a warmer future climate, there will be an increased risk of more intense, more frequent and longer-lasting heat waves. The European heat wave of 2003 is an example of the type of extreme heat event lasting from several days to over a week that is likely to become more common in a warmer future climate.
The 2003 heatwave is regularly cited as a cause of many thousands of deaths across Europe – in France, particularly – more than would otherwise have been expected. But is that the whole picture? In fact, such heatwaves are only problematic for old people, just as with cold, when there is no help available to them. Again, we have to ask, is the problem really the climate? If there was no climate to attribute such deaths to, we might instead argue that old people died in 2003 as a result of neglect.
The FAQs of Ch.10 continue:
… over NH land, an increase in the likelihood of very wet winters is projected over much of central and northern Europe due to the increase in intense precipitation during storm events, suggesting an increased chance of flooding over Europe and other mid-latitude regions due to more intense rainfall and snowfall events producing more runoff. […] Some of these changes would be extensions of trends already underway.
This is discussed later in the report:
A number of studies have noted the connection between increased rainfall intensity and an implied increase in flooding. McCabe et al. (2001) and Watterson (2005) show a projected increase in extreme rainfall intensity with the extra-tropical surface lows, particularly over NH land, with an implied increase in flooding. In a multi-model analysis of the CMIP models, Palmer and Räisänen (2002) show an increased likelihood of very wet winters over much of central and northern Europe due to an increase in intense precipitation associated with mid-latitude storms, suggesting more floods across Europe (see also Chapter 11). […] Christensen and Christensen (2003) conclude that there could be an increased risk of summer flooding in Europe.
It really should not be beyond the abilities of Europeans to cope with the ‘increased risk’ of more rain than normal. In particular, the landscape of Western Europe is perhaps the most man-made anywhere on the planet. It is densely-populated, and has a long industrial history, and an even longer history of dealing with its floods, and engineering flood prevention. Such are the skills and abilities of the population of the Dutch, for instance, that 20% of the Netherlands lies beneath sea level, much of it reclaimed from beneath the water.
Why has the IPCC cited such things, seemingly in order to make the case for alarm – if Adam is correct – when there exist the means to overcome them relatively simply? When did a bit more rain than usual become a ‘risk’ that calls for international negotiations, treaties, and supranational political institutions? More to the point, what is true of Europe’s ability to cope with increased ‘risks’ (and risk is an inherently political concept) ought to be true of less industrialised regions. There is only an ‘increased risk’ here, there, or anywhere, if we presuppose that our ability to cope has decreased. The dark implication here is that much of the world is going to be denied any opportunity to cope with any ‘increased risk’ – to develop. That reflects a lack of imagination in Western politics, as well as the assumption underlying all discussion of environmental issues that development is bad for the planet. Without development, you are left with climatic determinism; and it is only climatic determinism that gives cause for alarm.
So, there are three ways in which Ch.10 of WGI AR4 can be seen ‘politically’. There are the politics that are brought to it, eg, Adam brings his own catastrophism. Then there are the politics which shaped the make up of the chapter – such as the proximity of the UK’s establishment to eco-centric political ideas, for instance. Then there are the implicit politics of its claims, projections, and conception of ‘risk’, such as its discussions about heatwaves and floods in Europe.
No doubt, little of this will put Adam’s mind at ease. Maybe we’ve missed what he finds alarming. He is most welcome to tell us. The onus really ought to be on Adam to explain what he thinks is alarming. Ch.10 is 100 pages long, and contains more than we’ve got time for just now. Meanwhile, we won’t be holding our breath.