In sum, the dynamics of the global coupled human-environmental system within the dominant culture precludes management for stable, sustainable pathways and promotes instability.
In other words, we’re f*cked!
The quote was actually from the abstract of a sober, technical paper by geophysicist Brad Werner. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report will also be sober and technical, based on peer reviewed literature, at least accepted for publication two to three months before the draft of each section is finalised, plus ‘grey’ material, which I take it means reliable sources such as government reports and reports prepared by or for organisations such as the International Energy Association, the World bank and our erstwhile Climate Commission.
There will be three working group reports, each with a summary for policymakers, plus a synthesis report. The working groups are:
- WG1: The Physical Science Basis
- WG2: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
- WG3: Mitigation of Climate Change
It remains to be seen how urgent and dramatic the summaries for policymakers will be. The full import won’t be on view until the publication of WG3 in April next year, but the first should give us an idea of the seriousness of the situation.
Here’s the timetable for releasing the reports:
Two important concepts in assessing climate information are confidence and likelihood. Confidence is rated in terms of agreement (low, medium or high) and evidence (limited, medium or robust).
Likelihood is graduated according to the following scale:
There’s been a series of ‘leaks’ reported in the denialist press of what the IPCC might contain. Dana Nuccitelli there and others like Graham Readfearn have done a good job in denialist wrangling. I think now we can wait to see what the report says.
Issues I’ll be interested in include:
- The likelihood rating given to whether humans are causing global warming. This is expected to move from “very Likely” to “extremely likely”.
- Climate sensitivity – the temperature increase expected from a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere, and whether long-term feedbacks will be taken into account.
- Prospective sea level rise. In 2007 there was a problem in that ice sheet decay was left out of the numerical calculation, giving an unrealistically low number which was widely quoted.
- Expected temperature rise by 2100 under BAU
- The conceptualisation of dangerous climate change and whether there is any change in the so-called 2C guardrail.
- The changing pattern of extreme weather, and forecasts as to how this will change.
- “So-called tipping points such as methane hydrate release.
- The conceptualisation of risk and irreversibility..
Some of these may have to await later reports. I’ll be very interested in what they have to say about aerosols and clouds, and about the paleoclimate.
We should be aware that the IPCC reports are consensus statements and as such tend to be conservative. In addition, the summaries for policymakers have to pass a political as well as scientific filter. Subsequent research is likely to show climate change as more rather than less severe in its effects compared with what was expected. Newspapers, on the other hand, normally to overstate the degree of “disagreement”, and underrepresent scientific consensus.
Joe Romm made this point in 2012 and then in a long post detailed the then state of play in many sectors of climate change.
Any alarming statement will be attacked as extreme, but it is worth remembering that it’s likely to be a conservative statement, over time remaining a useful compendium of research, but increasingly out of date.
Returning to Werner’s initial quote, he was aware that scientists work within the social press of the dominant economic, political and ideological culture, one that is predicated on infinite growth in the use of non-renewable resources, and one that is seriously disturbing the continuity of ecological systems. It’s based on a capitalist system which privileges greed and is essentially predatory and expansionist in operation. In the end we’ll have to reform the system from within or break it open in order to remake it.
Also what I said here.
The IPCC report may sound alarmist in parts, but it is unlikely itself to express a call to arms which challenges or seriously disturbs the prevailing system. If it nevertheless carries the message that we are f*cked, we’d better believe it. Some say we only really concentrate the collective mind when catastrophe looms or strikes.