The evidence for climate change posing a threat to global food stocks, animal security and human populations is now overwhelming says the IPCC in its new report, with a WMO spokesperson adding ‘Ignorance is no longer a good excuse’. This morning I went online to answer your questions.
QUESTION What’s the fuss? (Brendan Spar, Vernamo)
ANTHONY The fuss is: global colding. It is here, it is evident, it’s all around us and it’s on the march. With four chilling winters and one of the wettest winters in a row, and last year one of the coldest springs since 1891, it’s time for sceptics to put down their keyboards, stop interrupting everyone else trying to watch the news, and start watching the news themselves on television.
QUESTION Some mistake, right? The IPCC’s emphasis is on global warming. Aren’t you in contradiction? (Justine Jennings, Sydney)
ANTHONY Well, the mainstream media headlines emphasise global warming but, as always, go straight to the report. This 5th report is quite newly specific: there is a verifiable ‘pause’ in temperatures. Previous reports have not said this. So while the mainstream media headlines have been fantastic in highlighting the pressing need for action, they’ve missed the meat – partly because – as Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, co-chair of the new report – points out, the headline writers demand a clear, consistent narrative:
“The natural human tendency is to want things to be clear and simple, and one of the messages that doesn’t just come from the IPCC, it comes from history, is that the future doesn’t ever turn out the way you think it will be… Being prepared for a wide range of possible futures is just always smart.”
Similarly, the New Scientist is up to speed, delicately pointing out ‘more cautious statements’. My translation: there are more cautious statements about warming; huge risks remain, i.e. there are still huge risks from climate change because we happen to be in a dangerously worrying cooling phase (again, my translation).
QUESTION If, as you seem to be insisting, the new report acknowledges the existence of a pause in global warming, does this mean climate sceptics were right ten or so years ago to bring the subject up then? (Steve Wald, California)
ANTHONY Not in the least. The fact is at the time the science wasn’t on their side.
QUESTION Even if the IPCC report is ‘more cautious’, aren’t you in contradiction with most climate scientists who still insist the problem is warming? (Bet Fever, Truro)
ANTHONY Not at all. The fact is advocates for action on climate change have never been 100% in agreement on everything, there has always been back and forth, argument and counter-argument, it’s how science works. We are big enough and strong enough to admit there are areas of disagreement, whilst still maintaining an overall shared concern that not acting is not an option. Again, report co-chair Chris Field had it spot on here when he said on Today today: “We don’t try and get everyone to cleave to a single position”. The IPCC, climate science in general, has never been about establishing an iron consensus. A Venn diagram might be helpful here to show how it works in my particular case:
Getting back to the IPCC report, the takehome message for me is highly acceptable. There’s been a definite swing to accepting that climate change is not a one-dimensional, monolithic statement about global warming and its effects, but a much more complex and dynamic account of the risks of climate change, which is consistent with worrying about colding.
QUESTION Many commentators are saying the new IPCC report is shifting from ‘alarmist’ mitigation strategies to more optimistic strategies of piecemeal adaptation . If climate science is a big church does it therefore also include environmental eminence grise James Lovelock who recently argued we should frack for shale gas, noting that because of it, and without even trying to, the US’s carbon emissions have gone down by 200 million tonnes to levels last seen in the mid-1990s? (Gwen Pope, Vale of Glamorgan)
ANTHONY One side effect of the US shift from coal to gas is that coal use globally has risen. This is because the US’s turn from coal is causing a glut of coal on the market, so naturally prices have dropped making it more economically attractive for the rest of us to use. Contrary to the myths, then, fracking has caused global carbon emissions to rise, even while US emissions have slightly declined. Now, imagine if the whole world started fracking.
Coal emissions would skyrocket wouldn’t they? Lovelock is an interesting character, but a silly one if he can’t see this. So my choice would be to keep him and his pet theories outside the fold.
QUESTION In the next few days we will no doubt be swamped by sceptics pulling apart the IPCC report. A few days ago you mentioned a campaign to stop these confusion merchants in their tracks. Where the hell is it?
ANTHONY Don’t worry, we’re very aware of the coming deluge. The campaign launch we promise will be in the next few days, please check back then.
UPDATE: Our campaign page is now up. Click here.