An illusion of certainty

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From the Guardian: UN scientists warn time is running out to tackle global warming

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) apparently says, according to the article ". But there could be as little as eight years left to avoid a dangerous global average rise of 2C or more."

1. Where is this actual report that was supposedly published, maybe I am missing something, but all I can find on the IPCC website is the summary for policy makers.

On the attrociously designed IPCC page
Working Group III Report "Mitigation of Climate Change"
Release on 4 May 07 in Bangkok
* Download the webcast of the press conference
* SUMMARY FOR POLICYMAKERS

Nowhere obvious is the full report of Working Group III. Perhaps because it is not actually done. Yet the conclusions have been drawn and the press conferences given and articles written as if this report is available for public and peer review. This is not science.

Working Group 1 report (from February) is now online. (with pending supplementary materials). Working Group II Report is not yet online either. Maybe the press conferences can wait until the reports are ready?

2. Why is this false level of precision being given as truth. Scientists are discrediting themselves by sinking to the level of diplomatic politics. Of course the newspapers are complicit here suggesting certainty where there is none. In this politically-driven story of how we must change, there is always time to redeem ourselves. (In this case, a full 8 years before the temperature rise changes from 1.9999 degrees to 2.00001 degrees apparently if the Guardian's implications were to be believed). Just once I would like to hear someone say that "This is actually irreversible. Too bad, we can't fix it, no point in changing our ways, it won't matter anyway. We broke the planet for good." That however is politically unacceptable because it won't inspire change. There must be enough time for the diplomats to get their next treaty in place.

3. What if this "consensus" of scientists is wrong, will they be believed next time?

Let's hope for science this is not a case of crying wolf. Let's hope for the planet it is a case of crying wolf.

4. There are strange assumptions underlying the policy analysis, e.g. there is in the analysis a pre-industrial "temperature equilibrium". Maybe I missed something in school (or Al Gore's video), but I don't know what this mechanism for equilibrium is, it seems like the climate is something that is continuously changing, sometimes up on some parameter, sometimes down.

5. Science is not about consensus, politics is. Science is about developing and testing falsifiable hypotheses. Models are useful for generating and hypotheses and clarifying theories, but data is required to test them, and the future is a grand experiment we need to measure carefully. A consensus of scientists, even if one exists, proves (and disproves) nothing.

1 Comment

Hey transportationist,

I like your comments & your blog. I was just reading the IPCC report for a seminar. I agree that the website is atrocious, and the summary for policy makers has so many typesetting problems that it's shameful they published it in such a state. Don't know what they were thinking. On the other hand, the IPCC report from WORKING GROUP I seems _really_ good. I think it's the best digested summary of the state of our understanding of the climate system, and the degree of agreement (consensus) among the scientists. Yes, science isn't about consensus. But unfortunately this topic is closely related to policy, which is hugely driven by consensus. So science sort of needs to adapt in order for the two fields to function together.

David Levinson

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This page contains a single entry by David Levinson published on May 13, 2007 2:14 PM.

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