IPCC report on global warming

On Friday, February 2nd, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their report on climate change and, no surprise, they predicted disaster.

Not only did the report state that there is an overwhelming probability that human activities are responsible for planet warming but that by the year 2100 the most conservative estimate is that there will be an increase in global temperature of between 3.2 and 7.8 degrees Fahrenheit and sea levels will rise between 7 and 23 inches.

Declaring that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” the authors said in their “Summary for Policymakers” that even in the best-case scenario, temperatures are on track to cross a threshold to an unsustainable level. A rise of more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels would cause global effects — such as massive species extinctions and melting of ice sheets — that could be irreversible within a human lifetime. Under the most conservative IPCC scenario, the increase will be 4.5 degrees by 2100.

The panel did not perform any new research, but studied peer-reviewed literature done up to the middle of 2006.

While the summary did not produce any groundbreaking observations — it reflects a massive distillation of the peer-reviewed literature through the middle of 2006 — it represents the definitive international scientific and political consensus on climate science. It provides much more definitive conclusions than the panel’s previous report in 2001, which said only that it was “likely” — meaning between 66 and 90 percent probability on a scale the panel adopted — that human activity accounted for the warming recorded over the past 50 years.

So the UN report says that global warming is here and increasing and that if we don’t do something drastic, the ice will melt, the seas will rise, there will be droughts and floods and tornados. One of the lead authors of the report, Richard Somerville, says that to avert severe global warming, the world will need to reduce emissions by 70 to 80 percent.


Why does it strike me that this whole report functions like a UN directed scare tactic, intended to silence the contrarians (or the global warming deniers as they like to call those who disagree), bring the politicians into line and push an environmental agenda?


There appears to be little disagreement amongst scientists that there has been an increase in global temperatures. The disagreement has been whether the trend is man-made, short-term or even a serious threat. The UN report purports to answer all of those questions once and for all.


Part of my problem is that I am somewhat cynical about scientific purity. Over the years there have been far too many cases of scientists who have manipulated their research to advance a particular theory and historians who have falsified data to present their personal version of history.


A secondary problem I have is with anyone forecasting 100 years down the road. In the late 1960s Paul Ehrlich predicted in his book The Population Bomb that due to the world’s inability to feed a burgeoning population, hundreds of millions of people would starve to death in the 1970s and 1980s. Ehrlich recommended drastic measures be taken to ensure that the world’s population be reduced and was taken seriously by many people. As history proved, Ehrlich was wrong. 


Ehrlich summed up his approach to overpopulation with a flourish worthy of the great totalitarian dictators of the 20th century,

A cancer is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells; the population explosion is an uncontrolled multiplication of people. Treating only the symptoms of cancer may make the victim more comfortable at first, but eventually he dies — often horribly. A similar fate awaits a world with a population explosion if only the symptoms are treated. We must shift our efforts from treatment of the symptoms to the cutting out of the cancer. The operation will demand many apparently brutal and heartless decisions. The pain may be intense. But the disease is so far advanced that only with radical surgery does the patient have a chance of survival.

Based on the evidence of the past 25 years, this would have been a horrible “solution.” The world turned out to have a case of the flu, and Ehrlich recommended the equivalent of bleeding the patient.


I think that the drafters of this report recognized, as did Erhlich, that crisis is what moves governments to action and the intent of this report is to force governments to come onside on global warming and pass legislation that will force industry and the general public to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It has probably already made an impact on government. Even politicians skeptical of the report’s conclusions will be reluctant to voice that opinion in public for fear of being labeled a ‘global warming denier’.


Regardless of any doubts about the long range forecasts for global warming this report may move governments and industry forward to reducing our greenhouse gas output. But trying to meet Richard Somerville’s goal or even Kyoto guidelines simply is not in the cards. A good goal for Canada would be an attempt to stop or even reduce the continuing increase in our emissions.  


If, as the UN report says, global warming is being caused by human activity we will be hard-pressed to deal with reducing emissions world-wide as third world industrialization adds to the problem.


The danger now is that instead of doing nothing about greenhouse emissions governments will now feel that they have to do “something” in order to prove how green they are and in the end make stupid and costly decisions (as governments are often wont to do).


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