Tuesday, October 09, 2018

IPCC 1.5 degrees of obfuscation

So, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released an important document today, allegedly demonstrating that 1.5 degrees of warming is preferable to 2 degrees, and that with an enormous about of effort, we might actually be able to achieve it. I, an Earth Scientist with a PhD and 17 years of professional experience, tried to read it, because it is important, and good scientist citizens ought to at least try to do the right thing.

Unfortunately, the report, as I found it on the IPCC website, is an incomprehensible tangle of bureaucratese and parenthetical rabbit holes. For example:

Warming greater than the global annual average is being experienced in many land regions  and seasons, including two to three times higher in the Arctic. Warming is generally higher over  land than over the ocean. ( high confidence) {1.2.1, 1.2.2, Figure 1.1, Figure 1.3, 3.3.1, 3.3.2}
Trends in intensity and frequency of some climate and weather extremes have been detected  over time spans during which about 0.5 ° C of global warming occurred (medium confidence). This  assessment is based on several lines of evidence, including attribution studies for changes in  extremes since 1950. {3.3.1, 3.3.2, 3.3.3}
A.2. Warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre -industrial period to the present  will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in  the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts (high confidence), but these  emissions alone are  unlikely to cause global warming of 1.5°C (medium confidence ) {1.2, 3.3,
Figure 1.5, Figure SPM.1}
 It has all of the pitfalls the 9/11 report managed to avoid, in terms of failing to ensure accessability, readability, and currency to your average human being. In fact, it comes across as a fantasy edict beamed down by aliens, which is probably not too bad a description of Ivory Tower science these days. For example, It spends lots- perhaps most (I've pretty much glazed over a third of the way through the Summary for Policy Makers- you know, the part that should be clear and simple for non-specialists) of the time describing the benefits of aiming for a 1.5C warming target instead of a 2 degree target.

Of course, we aren't on course to hit a 2 degree target. We are on course for a 3 or 4 degree target. So the relevance of the report is completely at odds with the reality of the world we live in. Now, there are technical reasons why it is hard to write a report describing the difference between 4 degrees and 3.5 degrees. It has been tens of millions of years since the world was that warm, so reconstructing that climate is much more difficult than a 1 or 2 degree warmer world, which we had an order of magnitude more recently. So explaining where we are going is actually quite hard. But they don't even try, or acknowledge this. Instead they are off in this fantasy land where we all have ponies, and they want to sell us on the benefits of unicorn horns and sparkles in the manes.

However, this may be more of a dark fantasy than a rainbow pony fantasy. The "target" CO2 emission reductions curves (Figure SPM.3a) they show have no rollover or transition period, but drop precipitously from the present day at a rate comparable only with that seen in the collapse of the USSR. They don't explicitly talk about this, but there is a blathering world government waffling towards the end that goes:
Cooperation on strengthened accountable multilevel governance that includes non-
state actors such as industry, civil society and scientific institutions, coordinated sectoral and cross-
sectoral policies at various governance levels, gender-sensitive policies, finance including innovative
financing and cooperation on technology development and transfer can ensure participation,
transparency, capacity building, and learning among different players (high confidence). {2.5.2,
4.2.2, 4.4.1, 4.4.2, 4.4.3, 4.4.4, 4.5.3, Cross-Chapter Box 9 in Chapter 4, 5.3.1, 4.4.5, 5.5.3, Cross-Chapter Box 13 in Chapter 5, 5.6.1, 5.6.3}

In otherwords, the governments of the world, which are currently assassinating skeptical journalists,. locking up children, and dropping trillions of dollars of bombs in proxy wars which endanger millions of people,  all just have to join together and sing kum-by-yah while dismantling their transportation and industrial facilities, and we'll all be fine. Frankly, I suspect we're more likely to solve global warming with nuclear winter at this point, at the IPCC report gives me no hope that they have a more reasonable or concrete plan.

In summary, the world experts on climate got together and wrote an unreadable report.  If you piece the bits and pieces that might mean something together, it awkwardly hints that saving the planet is completely possible if the entirely of human nature and politics is magically transformed in the next year.

In other words we, every one of the 7.8 billion of us, is totally, completely, and thoroughly fucked.

1 comment:

Chris Phoenix said...

And you're not even writing from the Land of Trump, where one of our two political parties is busy dismantling both our education system and our environmental protection system.

It reminds me of what Edward O. Wilson (entomologist, specializing in ants) said about Communism: "Great theory. Wrong species."