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The latest last chance

13 Apr 2022 | News Roundup

The IPCC has produced its latest brick, Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change, aka the Working Group III component of its Sixth Assessment Report. And naturally it includes a brief (well, 64-page) Summary for Policymakers and a Technical Summary (145 pp.) because not even the authors’ mothers are going to read the full 2,913 page doorstopper. But before you rush to do so, let’s play a little game. Close your eyes and imagine what journalists were saying it said within hours of its appearance last week, namely before they too had read it. No, not “We’re all going to die.” That messaging, they have discovered, encourages fatalism and discourages people from bothering with the climate crusade. So this report takes a comparatively cheery tack: “We still have one last chance to save the planet, honest we do, for real this time. But only if, as usual, you give a lot more money and power to politicians.” There, we saved you having to read the rest.

Which you should thank us for, because to be honest both the full report and alleged summary, which kicks off the complete document, are typographically strange documents that start with footnotes embedded in the main text and do not summarize anything. At the risk of halting your headlong rush into the details, it quite literally starts

“A. Introduction and framing/ The Working Group III (WG III) contribution to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) assesses literature on the scientific, technological, environmental, economic and social aspects of mitigation of climate change. [FOOTNOTE 1] Levels of confidence [FOOTNOTE 2] are given in () brackets. Numerical ranges are presented in square [] brackets. References to Chapters, Sections, Figures and Boxes in the underlying report and Technical Summary (TS) are given in {} brackets.”

The footer says “Subject to copyedit” to which we can only reply that we should certainly hope so. “Call me Ishmael” or “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” or even “I dropped to one knee and fired twice” it’s not.

After a few more stage directions about organization, it serves up the meat of the summary with

“Total net anthropogenic GHG emissions [FOOTNOTE 6] have continued to rise during the period 2010–2019, as have cumulative net CO2 emissions since 1850. Average annual GHG emissions during 2010-2019 were higher than in any previous decade, but the rate of growth between 2010 and 2019 was lower than that between 2000 and 2009. (high confidence) (Figure SPM.1) {Figure 2.2, Figure 2.5, Table 2.1, 2.2, Figure TS.2}”.

Again, if the purpose of the first page is to tell readers where they’re going, it’s apparently to bed. With a headache.

In the face of such pseudo-prose we have some sympathy for John Kerry’s recent call for another climate conference to say it all again. Though not for him taking yet another intercontinental flight to prepare for it even if perhaps he did it to deliver an impassioned personal appeal that the next conference feature as participants some of the many English majors currently employed as environmental reporters but not, evidently, as IPCC authors.

You can plough on further if you care to. For our {} part, we now want to offer a look at what some journalists extracted from this mess in time for a tight deadline. The report was actually due on Friday April 1 but appeared some 40 hours late, on Monday April 4. And within hours the Associated Press wire service hollered, and Flipboard shared: “UN warns Earth ‘firmly on track toward an unlivable world’”. A phrase that, you may well not be surprised to learn, is nowhere in the actual report. It is, rather, another pithy line from UN Secretary-General António Guterres about another bloated report he had not read to journalists who hadn’t either.

The New York Times came up with “Stopping Climate Change Is Doable, but Time Is Short, U.N. Panel Warns”. But their as-usual not available online email teaser to that story was even more strident: “Nations must move much faster to avoid a perilous future on an overheated planet, though some progress has been made, a major U.N. report said.” And of course the actual report did not contain one single instance of the word “perilous”, let alone “overheated”. So why bother reading it?

Robinson Meyer of the Atlantic, who recently told us a nuclear war would be bad for the climate, said

“On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations-led panel of scientists and scholars charged with summarizing the world’s understanding of global warming, released its newest report. Unlike its previous reports, which focused on the physical and social consequences of climate change, this missive looks at how humanity can reduce its carbon pollution and avert climate collapse. If most IPCC reports present a warning, this week’s is more of a ‘how to avoid the apocalypse’ guide.”

And once again you don’t need to be told that the phrase in quotation marks is not a quotation from the report. (In fact the report does not contain the phrase “carbon pollution” either.)

Nature Briefing read the tea leaves and found, well, the usual sludge:

“The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report makes it clear that the window to avert the most destructive and irreversible effects of climate change is rapidly closing. It is the third of three IPCC reports that assess the scientific basis of climate change, how bad it is and how to fix it. The report finds that: • Governments are acting too slowly, held back by the lobbying efforts of fossil-fuel companies. • Greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise. • Wealthy countries must lend a helping hand to the countries that contributed least to the problem but face the worst impacts”.

Who saw that coming? Not the snark who searched the text for “worst impacts”. But why quibble?

As for the last chance at a last chance, the Times for instance wrote “The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of experts convened by the United Nations, warns that unless countries drastically accelerate efforts over the next few years to slash their emissions from coal, oil and natural gas, the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, will likely be out of reach by the end of this decade.” Which astoundingly turns out to be a fair paraphrase of the mangled verbiage in the report to roughly the same effect. (Footnote 27 of the Summary for Policymakers says

“Immediate action in modelled global pathways refers to the adoption between 2020 and at latest before 2025 of climate policies intended to limit global warming to a given level. Modelled pathways that limit warming to 2°C (>67%) based on immediate action are summarised in Category C3a in Table SPM.1. All assessed modelled global pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C (>50%) with no or limited overshoot assume immediate action as defined here (Category C1 in Table SPM.1).”)

Politicians were equally quick to find in the report what they knew would be there without the bother of checking, and to emit verbiage so predictable you got the uneasy feeling they spent the delay between promised and actual release time drafting it. Laurel Collins of Canada’s federal NDP loosed a press release Monday starting “Today’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was clear: we must act immediately to reduce our use of fossil fuels and make large-scale efforts to reduce emissions across the country.” And before lunch on Monday our Environment Minister said it proved he was exactly on track, that the crisis was very real but he was solving it in precisely the vigorously complacent manner he would expect of himself:

“The science shows that it is vital that countries do more to address climate change and keep the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C within reach, and on a faster timeline. We must increase our ambition to avoid catastrophic climate change and fully seize the economic opportunities that ambitious action presents. Canada is warming at twice the global rate and up to three times the global average in the North. Canadians regularly experience the devastating effects of weather and climate extreme events on their communities, economy, and environment. Across the country, Canadians are calling for ambitious climate action that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while building a strong economy for today and tomorrow. It’s critical to Canada’s economic and social well-being that we take rapid action to fight climate change. Through the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan: Clean Air, Strong Economy, Canada has laid out its plan to meet its 2030 target of reducing emissions by at least 40 percent below 2005 levels. It builds on the significant progress made to address climate change across the country, including those measures outlined in Canada’s strengthened climate plan released in December 2020…”

Blah blah blah zzzzz. How can they bear to hear themselves talk?

5 comments on “The latest last chance”

  1. Before working ourselves into a froth and running around weeping and wailing that the sky is falling, it might be as well to ask ourselves two questions:
    1. What do we know, in terms of hard facts; and
    2. What is merely conjecture.
    What we actually know is that atmospheric CO2 concentration in 1958, which is the earliest time at which regular measurements were available, was 316 ppm, whereas today it is 420 ppm. Weather patterns have not significantly changed in the intervening 64 years, i.e. have not significantly changed above and beyond the normal range of variability of weather.
    What is conjecture is firstly the extent to which this increase in CO2 can be ascribed to human activities. Since the oceans contain about 50 times as much CO2 as the atmosphere, and since the world has been naturally warming since the end of the Little Ice Age about 1850, outgassing of the oceans must be expected. However, I have not seen any serious attempt to quantify this effect by the IPCC, other than to dismiss it out of hand.
    Secondly, any data concerning overall global temperature changes in the last 100 years or so seems to have been well and truly mangled by the powers that be, to the extent that any such change is now more a matter for conjecture than hard fact. Historical data which records massive, long-lasting heat waves in Europe and N. America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries seems to have been forgotten. Drought conditions in America's dust bowl in the 1930s were far more severe than anything we experience today.
    Thirdly, predictions of the effects of future global temperature increases, assuming that there are any increases, seem to be more a matter of apocalyptic science fiction than sober analysis. In particular, the mainstream media seem to be having a competition to see who can provide the most lurid predictions. The media used to say if it bleeds it leads. Nowadays I think they say if it doesn't bleed, just make it up.

  2. I will give the IPCC one thing, and that is, they are up front about what science they are focused on, and that is the science in the mitigation of climate change and certainly not the real cause of it.

  3. I found it edifying to review the list of projected doomsday predictions which have been made over the years, listed on the website extinctionclock.org. Currently, fifty of these predictions have had their deadline come and go, and the success rate stands at a whopping 0.0%. I find it harder and harder to be convinced by the IPCC that the sky is indeed falling.

  4. As I said last week, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it think. Here, for example, is a recent comment from my local newspaper:

    "I do not need to post my own version of science, I'm content with that of experts in climate science. If you too methodically and objectively followed all the science you'd come to the same conclusion as them. That is: The earth is warming at unprecedented levels, its caused by humans, 97% of climate scientists agree, it's having a negative impact and making places unliveable, it could be fixed. That's the summation of what those with expertise objectively know."

    It never ceases to amaze me how ill-informed some doom-mongers are. They will happily tell us we're all going to fry and die, and yet as serious as they believe the issue to be, they steadfastly refuse to carry out independent research to determine, as you say, the difference between facts and conjecture. Also, without appreciating the irony, they will dismiss the revelations of those who do so as a combination of misinformation, disinformation and denialism; reference another quote from the same author:

    "I'm certain psychiatric help is not required here, at least not for those protesting [XR again]. What we are in serious need of, is for people to take climate change and it's devastating impact seriously. To pretend it isn't happening or to trot out well worn denier nonsense isn't going to make the reality go away. Denial is delusional, and delusions are the business of psychiatry."

    Though I try, facts and logic are meaningless when dealing with issues of faith.

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