pageok
pageok
pageok
The IPCC's Fragile "Consensus":

Today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the "Summary for Policymakers" of the first volume of its Fourth Assessment report on the science of climate change, focusing on the causes, human contribtions, and future projections of climate change. The New York Times covers the release here. The underlying report itself will be published by Cambridge University Press, but an outline is available here.

The Summary for Policymakers provides a layperson friendly summary of the scientific report itself. As such, it typically lacks the nuance, qualifying language, and scientific precision of the underlying study. Indeed, as the IPCC notes, the Summary for Policymakers is drafted by a handful of contributors to the underlying report, and then reviewed and revised by representatives of participating governments before its ultimate publication. (See the NYT's account of this process here.) For this reason there is often some controversy over how the summary document represents some of the more contentious or uncertain issues addressed in the report itself.

In a related vein, yesterday's New York Times reported that the new IPCC report is receiving criticism from some unexpected quarters. In the past, it was climate skeptics who challenged the IPCC's conclusions, and questioned over-reliance upon a purported scientific "consensus." As a result, they labeled "extreme" and "out of the mainstream" for challenging the official "consensus."

Now, however, some of those with more apocalyptic views of climate change are challenging the consensus report (even before it was released) complaining that the IPCC is not alarmist enough. In particular, they object to the lowering of worst-case projections of potential sea-level rise in the new report. (See, e.g., here.) There is also a brewing controversy about how the IPCC characterizes the potential link between global warming and hurricane intensity, reported by Roger Pielke Jr. (see also here) and Chris Mooney. Time will tell what effect these disputes have on the IPCC's effort to do climate science by consensus.

Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Cool, more seals!
2.2.2007 12:10pm
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Oops. For some reason I always type seal-level instead of "sea-level." Why I would like to report that global warming will mean more seals, instead it may mean higher seas.

JHA
2.2.2007 12:15pm
cirby (mail):
The really funny bit is how, each time they come out with a new IPCC report, the maximum effects go down, the "most probable" effects go down, yet they can't seem to notice that their trends are less, well, "trendy."

It's always "worse," even though it's not, by their own predictions... The max temperature rise, for example, has dropped from 4.5 C to 4 C (they brought the minimum rise up from 1.5 C to 1.8 C). It's looking like a 3 degree C rise for the next century (according to IPCC), or about half of the temp rise we've seen in the last century.

The massive, scary sea level increase? It's probably going to be about a foot over the next 100 years (11 to 17 inches, but some models show a sea level decrease), with an absolute worst-case of about three feet (not gonna happen). Which means that people will have to move inland a few yards over the next four or five generations. Maybe.

...and the killer for IPCC? It assumes that human tech will be stagnant, with nothing coming up in the next half-century or so to cause people to burn less carbon-based fuel, and that the only solution is to convince governments to restrict CO2 use by their citizens right now.

Except for the politicians. They get to fly around on private jets, live in 30,000 square foot mansions, and tell us to cut back.
2.2.2007 12:51pm
r78:

Which means that people will have to move inland a few yards over the next four or five generations. Maybe.

Even under the lower numbers, the runways for the airports in San Francisco and Oakland would be under an inch or two of water.

So while I have no idea what will happen, if the levels rise only a foot or two - there will be some serious costs. And it isn't 4 or 5 generations from now. My kids will (I hope) be alive 60 years from now and my grandchildren will certainly be alive 100 years from now.
2.2.2007 1:00pm
r78:
I guess I should say my yet to be born but much lobbied for grandchildren.
2.2.2007 1:02pm
Houston Lawyer:
I'm amazed that anyone takes one word that comes out of a United Nations agency seriously. This document has been reviewed and revised by the "the representatives of participating governments". No one with an axe to grind in that process.
2.2.2007 1:23pm
Paul Dietz (mail):
As I understand it (going by secondhand report on the summary, which I have not yet read) the number for the predicted change in sea level went down because they changed what was included. They removed from consideration increases due to changes in ice sheet dynamics. Since these changes are of the 'can only make it worse' variety, the resulting number is optimistic. But they explicitly stated they were doing this, and explained it was because none of the glacier models have been able to predict the increase in glacier speed that has been observed.

The upshot? Don't be surprised if sea level increases are a lot more than the number in this report. At the end of the last ice age, the rate of sea level increase peaked at 2 feet/decade, and if this was due to melting of Greenland/Western Antarctic sheets then we could be in for a bad century on the coastlines.
2.2.2007 1:27pm
Mark Buehner (mail):
Even under the lower numbers, the runways for the airports in San Francisco and Oakland would be under an inch or two of water.


See this is a good conversation- the kind we should be having. Lets talk about cost/benefit. How much cost is there in moving the airports (and obviously quite a few other things) and/or engineering dikes over then next century compared to taking a blow torch to our industrial capacity now? After all, those airports didnt even exist a hundred years ago, because well, the airplane had barely been invented. Tough to speculate on what all this will mean 100 years from now. Could easilly be that airports will be as anachronistic as stage coach stops.


So while I have no idea what will happen, if the levels rise only a foot or two - there will be some serious costs. And it isn't 4 or 5 generations from now. My kids will (I hope) be alive 60 years from now and my grandchildren will certainly be alive 100 years from now.


We need to talk a little bit about what 'serious costs' mean. Putting a brake on world wide GDP is a true serious cost- trillions of dollars over the next few years and more importantly a brake on growth- and it may not even work. On the other hand a wealthy and technologically advanced world is much more easily able to deal with this on a case by case basis.

Regardless, the problem i see now is that the activists and media refuse to allow that there is a viable conversation to be had, and insist that AGW must be cataclysmic in order to ensure the solution they desire. I think there is a strong argument that the solution is more important to them than effectively treating the hazard. If they can't slap cuffs on capitalism with the solution, they arent interested. Hence the continued abhorrance of nuclear power. If its the difference between seeing the Eastern Seaboard swamped and the minor risks of nuclear power plants, an honest activists would be screaming bloody murder for nuclear power. If they actually believed their own hype.
2.2.2007 1:34pm
Michael Last (mail):
Kirby -

The change in the last century was 0.6C, not 6C. I was amused that on the BBC last night, a VP for PR from Exxon was being interviewed, and the BBC reporter made this same mistake. The VP from Exxon didn't catch it.

They also confused profits and revenue. I'm not sure which was sadder - the BBC reporter not knowing, or the Exxon executive not catching the mistake?
2.2.2007 1:42pm
abean:

For this reason there is often some controversy over how the summary document represents some of the more contentious or uncertain issues addressed in the report itself.

As has been reported elsewhere (climateaudit.org): the IPCC rules this time around specify that the actual report will be released in several months and must be scrubbed of anything that contradicts the summary. Kind of backwards.
2.2.2007 1:48pm
Paul Zrimsek (mail):
Even under the lower numbers, the runways for the airports in San Francisco and Oakland would be under an inch or two of water.


The approach end of the short Runway 15 at Oakland, possibly: the airport diagram (PDF) gives its elevation as 2 feet, which could be rounded up. No other location at either airport (SFO here) seems to be in peril.
2.2.2007 1:49pm
Greg C (mail):

"... reviewed and revised by representatives of participating governments before its ultimate publication ..."


Surely, that must be a mistake. I mean, that kind of thing only happens in the Bush Administration, right?
2.2.2007 1:51pm
Henry Bramlet (mail):
Um, in 50 years, are we really going to be using San Francisco airport? If we are, don't we thing that at SOME point, it will need some serious capital improvements anyway?

General erosion causes land to become unusable or more dangerous all the time. The fact that it happens over a century means that we are able to adapt to it.

I agree with Mark- it's silly to try to avoid some 100 Million+ expenses in the future with trillions of dollars of costs today.
2.2.2007 2:21pm
cirby (mail):
Michael:

Oops. Been typing too fast.

There are still some extremely odd omissions from the report, like the Medieval Warm Period (apparently, people didn't actually grow crops in Greenland, or wine grapes in England - according to the consensus). There's also very little discussion of how insolation seems to be the larger influence on climate, comapred to CO2.

The runways at SFO are 13 feet above sea level, according to the FAA. Oakland is at 9 feet.
2.2.2007 2:38pm
dougjnn (mail):
Paul Dietz said--
<blockquote>They removed from consideration increases due to changes in ice sheet dynamics. Since these changes are of the 'can only make it worse' variety, the resulting number is optimistic.
</blockquote>

Completely wrong. One of the things that is almost universally agreed is that warming anywhere in the rage predicted is going to lead to more precipitation overall, rain at very high and arctic latitudes, snow. Snow is of course the source of glacial ice. (Despite the overall increase in precipitation, it's expected there will be less in tropial and semi tropical areas. Hence the predictions of more desertification in Africa, and maybe the Mediterranean, both highlighted by the media.)

What ISN'T handled at all well by the models is whether the increase in snow at high latitudes will offset the increase in summer melting at the edges of glaciers. E.g. the interior of Greenland's ice cap has been thickening -- dramatically -- even as more of the coastal glaciers calf off into the sea. Some models even show these effects lowering sea levels as the predicted increase in gobal termperature (most pronounced at high latitudes) occurs. This uncertainty about the net effect on sea level of the polar ice caps is why they weren't included. Warmer AND wetter.

Mountain glaciers in less northern latitues however just get the increased summer warming effects, without increased winter snowfall. Hence they shrink or disappear, as they have been doing.

That you don't know this isn't surprising. The MSM tend to keep it from you. Not entirely in all quarters, but you have to do a lot of reading to find it, generally.

No bias there of course.
2.2.2007 3:04pm
dougjnn (mail):
Cirby


There are still some extremely odd omissions from the report, like the Medieval Warm Period (apparently, people didn't actually grow crops in Greenland, or wine grapes in England - according to the consensus).


Yeah, and what people don't appreciate about the Medieval Warm Period was that it was WARMER then than now.

Areas of the Greenland coast that are still covered by glaciers are part of where the Vikings farmed, for example.

Global Warming isn't the imminent crisis that the Enviros and most of the media want us to believe. But we should be taking steps. We should be pushing much more nuclear of the pretty safe pebble reactor variety. We should be doing even more research than we are on a crash basis to bring in the hydrogen fuel cell car, with electricity from nuclear pulling the hydrogen out of water as the fuel. (The fuel cell's exhaust is water, and zip CO2, but he production of the hydrogen costs LOTS of energy. It's essentially storing electrical energy, rather than being a source of energy -- since it's only found in large quantities on earth trapped in water, etc.)
2.2.2007 3:14pm
M. Gross (mail):
We're talking about mean global sea level here. You may or may not see any increase at any given coast, sea levels can be pretty irregular.
2.2.2007 3:48pm
eLarson (mail) (www):
Water vapor is also a greenhouse 'gas'.
2.2.2007 4:13pm
bellisaurius (mail):
The percentage of water vapor in the atmosphere is a function of its partial pressure, which is a function of temperature. The question for water is whether it affects the earths aldebo via cloud cover or not (the report assumes it's more reflective than absorbtive, so the answer to that point works against this).

I read through the report. It was remarkably even handed, nonjudgmental, and thorough. I used to be skeptical, but now I'm on the side of taking case by case looks on adaptation, and looking to reduce CO2 emissions where possible (nuclear being a good choice, solar power being used to generate hydrogen via electrolysis would be another. stuff like that). Costs are now the issue, not survival.

At this point, I want to see what the one-handed economists economists have to say.
2.2.2007 4:23pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Seawalls are rather simple to construct (the Dutch figured them out centuries ago). They work well too.

Unless you were stupid enough to build onto the water (this means you, Hollywood stars and producers living in Malibu), a rise of an inch every 5 or 6 years is not a problem.

Nick
2.2.2007 4:24pm
Paul Dietz (mail):
dougjnn wrote:

Completely wrong.

The ice sheet dynamics issue isn't that they don't understand how much precipitation will fall -- the climate models deal with that reasonably well, I think -- but rather how the existing ice will respond to the changing conditions.

Recently researchers placed GPS units on glaciers to track their motion in time. What they found, as I understand it, is that the glaciers they monitored show greatly variability in how fast they moved. The motion was much more rapid when more melting was occuring the surface. They think that melt water is seeping down through cracks, to the rock/ice interface, lubricating the interface and accelerating the motion.

This is bad news if it's a general phenomenon, since melting will increase on the surface of many ice sheets. If those sheets begin to slide en masse into the oceans then the rate of sea level rise could be seriously underestimated. Already, Greenland's ice sheet is showing disturbing signs of this kind of disintegration at the edges.
2.2.2007 4:37pm
Pat Joy:
This is the problem with the global warming debate. If you say you agree the earth is warming and humans are a large part, the other side immediately steals a couple of bases and say you must agree to make drastic changes to stop the warming. Buth that does not necessarily follow. We do the same thing regarding extinction. The 'enviromentalists' believe that all extinction that is man made must be stopped but never answer why. I accept manmade global warming, i just do not think we have to do anything about it. Just like if the northern spotted owl is going extinct - that does not mean we have to save it.
2.2.2007 4:53pm
mzed (mail):
"There are still some extremely odd omissions from the report, like the Medieval Warm Period (apparently, people didn't actually grow crops in Greenland, or wine grapes in England - according to the consensus)."

I would argue they don't need to discuss it--this is a summary for policymakers, not a summary of all climate research past and present. (Besides, not only was the Medieval Warm Period in Europe quite possibly a local extreme, but the summary does point to evidence that current temperatures are warmer than they have been in the last 1300 hears, which includes the medieval period. However, one would hope that this is addressed in the technical report released this May.)

"There's also very little discussion of how insolation seems to be the larger influence on climate, comapred to CO2."

That's because it apparently hasn't been for the last few decades. However, one would again hope that there will be also a general discussion of this in the technical report.
2.2.2007 7:46pm
Fearmonger (mail):
Pat,

I don't recommend using that analogy when debating environmentalists about the appropriate response to man-made global warming. Not that I necessarily disagree with you, but it makes you sound cold-hearted, and its actually a pretty bad analogy anyway:

As I understand it, most environmentatlists worry about extinction because of 1)"sentimental" reasons (i.e., "it would be a shame to lose a beautiful creature forever") and 2) the scientific loss association with losing the ability to study extinct plants and animals.

In contrast, global warming alarmists often claim that man-made global warming will seriously threaten mankind, for a variety of reasons, most of which I have yet to fully understand. Anyway, its a notable distinction.
2.2.2007 8:33pm
Francis (mail):
[fools jump in where angels fear to tread]

There is a tiny bit of merit to the alarmist case [no, i'm not one]

a. Increased hurricane strength around the globe. The percentage of people living near the coast has risen dramatically and a lot of them (Haiti, El Salvador, New Orleans) are really unready for big storms. This could get expensive.

b. Crop impacts. As China gets richer the worldwide demand for grain is expected to skyrocket (to turn the grain into meat). At the same time, there is some concern that relatively minor changes in climate can make substantial differences in growing seasons.

c. The 1% Rule. There is some possibility of truly catastrophic impacts -- rapid deglaciation of Greenland and Antartica, shut-down of the Gulf Stream. There is also some concern that the tipping point for catastrophic impacts may be difficult to detect in advance.

Given that catastrophic impacts would kill billions, ensuring that we don't hit that seems to be worth a substantial expenditure.
2.2.2007 9:09pm
Dr. T (mail) (www):
Even the newly lowered estimates of sea level rise are too high. The climate model used by the IPCC (a meta-model combining ~two dozen individual models) overestimates average temperatures in the polar regions by almost 6 degrees centrigrade. Despite that overestimate of polar temperatures, the IPCC uses the climate meta-model to predict polar ice melting and sea level increases. The reason for this is political: the only truly dangerous consequence of global warming would be a big rise in sea level that threatens coastal populations. Without a sea level rise, global warming is not a big deal, and the "people are ruining the earth" folks will have to find a different reason for being Luddites.

Since sea level is unlikely to rise, the mild global warming predicted for the next 100 years will just make most countries a bit warmer. Canada, Russia, and the Scandanavian countries will have much nicer climates and should oppose any anti-greenhouse gas interventions.
2.2.2007 10:04pm
Tony2 (mail):
ARRGGHH!!!

They are not "doing climate science by consensus". The science is "done" independently by different groups. The IPCC is offering a report on the consensus of scientific opinion, i.e. what the scientists all agree on.

This "science by consensus" canard betrays deep ignorance of how science works and how this report was produced. It's a sound bite straight from the oil industry propaganda machine.
2.2.2007 11:10pm
Lev:

c. The 1% Rule. There is some possibility of truly catastrophic impacts -- rapid deglaciation of Greenland and Antartica, shut-down of the Gulf Stream.


If that happened, wouldn't be Ice Age time?


They are not "doing climate science by consensus". The science is "done" independently by different groups. The IPCC is offering a report on the consensus of scientific opinion, i.e. what the scientists all agree on.


So consensus of scientific opinion is not doing science by consensus?
2.2.2007 11:52pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
About one sigma short of a conclusion, I think.

Lord Monckton points out that scaremonger-in-chief Solomon used -- and I note she made much of -- the '90% confidence level' that humans are affecting climate. However, the usual threshold among scientists for thinking that statistics are pointing at a real phenomenon is not 90% but 95%.

And for you non-statisticians, the difference between 90 and 95 in this context is not five. The confidence doubles when you go from 90 to 95.

Try going to FDA to get your drug approved with studies showing good results at the 90% confidence level and see how fast you are shown the door.
2.3.2007 2:16pm
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
Another "Inconvenient Truth" ... our Courts ... massive paper-based filing system ... the biggest contributors to the deforestation of trees ... causing global warming ... resistance to paperless electronic filing systems for all litigants ...

No wonder there is not enough funding in the state and federal courts to pay the judges enough and safeguard fundamental Constitutional rights ... all the funding is all wasted on global warming paper!!! Meanwhile, no one is taking any acgtion to stop contributing to global warming!

I think it appropriate to reprint my earlier global warming contribution from The Federalist Papers thread:

The Federalist Papers

It is just amazing how so many in todays world continue to debate the meaning of these papers, while losing sight of the most important fact of all — what the writings are inked upon, "Papers." And so it will come to pass as their worlds as-they-know it collapse from all around them, the temperatures heat up, waters rise, and the great northward migration begins.

American papermaking began just over 300 years ago in Philadelphia. The first paper mill was established in 1690 in Philadelphia, historybuff, the hotbed of a youthful Bar and Bench.

Papermakers learned how to make paper from trees in the mid-1800s, allowing a massive expansion in communications via paper usage. At the time, people considered forests and energy to be unlimited, and air and water infinitely capable of cleansing and renewal. Today, we recognize the limits of resource demand and the necessity for environmentally sustainable production systems — i.e., the place paper should have in our brave new world.

The United States produces more paper and paper-board than any country in the world. It has maintained this position by consistently producing about one-third of total world production, far more than any other country. That's a lot of blame for who's causing global warming.

Todays Courts and Bar Examiners in at least four States — Florida, Georgia, California, and Kentucky — vigorously support massive deforestation efforts to maintain their paper-based judicial and attorney licensure systems. And lets never forget in addition to the Florida State Courts Systems resistance to paperless change, the number of paper briefs people have to file at the Florida Supreme Court, paper ballots, hanging chads, and Bush v. Gore.

As we are about to hear on February 2nd, when the first of the devastatingly grim global warming disaster climate change reports is released, it will become more clear than ever — these State Courts and Bar Examiners should no longer have the right to exploit the environment by utilizing deforestation to maintain a massive paper-based system that locks out disabled paperless electronic assistive technology users from meaningful access to the Courts and their licensure while destroying our Earth. Three centuries of global warming destruction is enough.

I have said it before, and I'll say it again — the northward migration from Florida is at the threshold, we need global climate change attorney reciprocity now.

As Bob Dylan warned many many years ago ...

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone

— Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin'

Now there's something for The Federalist Papers to really write about.
2.3.2007 2:42pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Actually Harry, what you forgot to say was that Dr. Solomon and the SPM say the probability is between 90 and 99%, not that it is 90%. On the other hand, this is a Summary for Policy Makers. Should a policy be based on a greater than 90% probability or a less than 10% probability. (Given US policy in Iraq, I hesitate to ask for an answer, but given the results of that policy, the answer is clear)
2.3.2007 11:37pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
We don't need a climate policy. We've never had one and we're doing OK.
2.4.2007 2:45pm
Riskable (mail) (www):
Fearmonger wrote,

"As I understand it, most environmentatlists worry about extinction because of 1)"sentimental" reasons (i.e., "it would be a shame to lose a beautiful creature forever") and 2) the scientific loss association with losing the ability to study extinct plants and animals."

Actually, the loss of species constitutes a loss of biodiversity. *That* is why extinctions are important.

-Riskable
http://riskable.com
"If you elect leaders that act irresponsibly towards nature, you'll find that irresponsibility is the nature of your leaders."
2.4.2007 4:56pm