Raising the Standard.

Political Heat and the IPCC

Why not trust the United Nations? (Photo: IPCC AR4.)

On Monday, The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth Assessment Report on the science of global warming, and the takeaway is that we are all about to bake in our beds. Or is it that the IPCC’s phony house of cards is about to come afluttering down? I’m not entirely sure, and I’ve been reading commentary on the release for the better part of three hours.

Clearly, the issue of global warming makes partisans hot under the collar. It also leads to ideologically-inclined bouts of hyperbole and selective amnesia, during which inconvenient findings go bloop down the memory hole and convenient findings are clung to, white-knuckled, like rosaries in an insane asylum.

This is all very predictable for a subject whose stakes are the trajectory of nations. Even more predictable? That the nations concerned would attempt to rig the science, and so the trajectories, themselves.

The United Nations has for decades been a hive humming with nations pursuing dubious policy ends under the auspices of international authority. The IPCC is no different.

While the IPCC’s full Assessment Reports are authored by some of the best scientists in the field, the release that gets the most coverage is each AR’s Summary for Policymakers. This may have something to do with the fact that ARs run thousands of pages (and are “virtually unreadable” according to Arthur Petersen of the Dutch scientific delegation), while their summaries run roughly 35.

As the name suggests, the Summary for Policymakers informs legislative and policy debate about global warming. Each is, in theory, a summation of the monolithic ARs released further down the road.

In theory.

As it happens, the summaries are written by both the IPCC scientific team and delegations of 195 member countries, which review drafts of the AR under question and discuss alterations they would like made.

For example, the London Daily Mail reports that the German government, which has bet heavily on green at the energy casino, wanted to nix references to a 15-year lull in global warming. The Hungarian government, whose binding renewable energy target of 14.65 percent by 2020 was passed under the fitting acronym “REAP,” was concerned the report would be fodder for “deniers.” And the Belgian government, big into nuclear, suggested using the years 1999 or 2000 as the starting point for statistics because they gave graphs “a more upward-pointing curve.”

We may never know how many of the member countries’ questionable wishes became holy writ in the summary, but a few discrepancies between the AR draft and the summary have already cropped up.

“From what I see, the summary, which is written by governments, does not match up very well with some of the things said in AR5, which is written by scientists.,” Dr. Steven F. Hayward, senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, said in an exclusive interview with THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE. “So for example, Chapter 9, which is the chapter on evaluating climate models, includes all kinds of admissions about the weakness of the models, about scientists’ inability to match the models with the underlying data and about how they don’t actually have much confidence in models’ ability to predict the future, which is odd, because that is ostensibly the purpose of climate models. So even though the summary expresses great confidence that the scientific community know what’s going on and knows what’s going to happen in the future as regards global warming, the actual report undermines that claim..”

None of this indicates the IPCC’s underlying science is discredited. But the situation is illustrative of what results when power and policy preferences trump concern for science — of what Dutch delegate Petersen admitted was the “tension between how much you can deliver based on the peer-reviewed science and what the governments would like to have.”

The exploitative wording of that statement (“how much you can deliver,” “would like to have”) is illustration enough.

So what do we know about global warming from the science? We know that human activity is likely responsible for much of the industrial period’s warming; that, ceteris paribus, a doubling of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere will result in a temperature increase of between 2.7 and 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit (down from a tail of 3.6 degrees in 2007); that the 15-year lull in warming could be an irrelevant blip (the “leading hypothesis”), or that it could indicate the warming bias of current models (the opinion of, among others, Hayward and IPCC Lead Author Hans von Storch); and that global warming will probably lead to bad consequences like sea level rise and more frequent severe weather.

But perhaps what we know best, at this early date, concerning this subject of globe-spanning enormity, is how much more there is to learn.

I suggest we leave that task to scientists, rather than governments.

—M. Blake Seitz is Editor-in-Chief of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE

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