ABC: IPCC climate report: humans 'dominant cause' of warming

The United Nations has spoken, declaring that it’s our fault. Global warming, that is.

“The heat is on; we must act,”1 declares United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, commenting on the policymakers’ guidelines just released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC’s latest report disregards scientific claims to the contrary and says that global warming is real, worsening, and dangerous. The panel further concludes that it is 95% certain “that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”1 and therefore the cause of a looming disaster.

Climate Change or Global Warming or . . . ?

For a while now, it has become more popular—and accurate—to refer to climate change, for gloom-and-doom predictions about global cooking have not come true. In fact, some scientists have even noted evidence of global cooling.2 But the United Nations panel now says the 15 year pause in warming has been insignificant, too short to reflect any long-term trends or to have predictive value. So back to global warming it is.

In their 36-page report Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis “Summary for Policymakers,” the IPCC writes, “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”3 In fact, they say the problem is so bad that “A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change resulting from CO2 emissions is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale,”3 adding, “It is virtually certain that global mean sea level rise will continue beyond 2100, with sea level rise due to thermal expansion to continue for many centuries” (emphasis theirs).3

The IPCC predicts that even the most draconian emission restrictions cannot stop the sea level from rising by 40 centimeters (15 ¾ inches) by 2100.1 With the UN-sponsored panel’s demands that policymakers worldwide take aggressive action to stem the tide, we can anticipate with at least 95% certainty that those policies—whether they affect the climate or not—will affect the lives of countless people.

Qin Dahe, co-chairman of the group that produced the report, said, “Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and that concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.” Thomas Stocker, another co-chairman, warned that climate change is our enemy, challenging “the two primary resources of humans and ecosystems, land and water. In short, it threatens our planet, our only home.”

How does the IPCC explain the seemingly favorable non-warming trend since 1988? They cite the short-term heat associated with El Niño, manifest at the beginning of the trend, and indicate that short-term change has thus obscured the bigger picture.

The report indicates that the warming of the oceans is the dominant reservoir for heat in earth’s overall climate, responsible for a 90% increase in accumulated energy from 1971 to 2010. Pessimistic about the future, the report predicts, “The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation.”3 And it concludes that the surface temperature of the earth will rise more that 1.5º Celsius by the end of the 21st century compared to 1850.

Established by the United Nations to objectively evaluate climate risk, the IPCC consists of 12 full-time staff and a volunteer staff of scientists. Every six years the IPCC issues a “Summary for Policymakers.” The 2013 report declares unprecedented confidence in its predictive value and demands aggressive worldwide action. Despite the official UN call for neutrality on the issue, Rajendra Pachauri leads the group with an aggressive posture reflecting his own green activist bias as a contributor to Greenpeace materials and recipient of the International Advertising Association’s “green crusader” award.4

Pachauri, chairman since 2002, says the IPCC relies only on peer-reviewed material, but examination of the 2007 report revealed reliance on many popular if not dubious sources, resulting in the panel’s famous declaration that the Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035, a claim based on a 2005 World Wildlife Fund publication—not exactly a peer-reviewed source!4 Though a Nature editorial in 2010 dubbed the IPCC “the gold standard for independent scientific assessment,” other experts are more skeptical of the IPCC’s objectivity and neutrality. For instance, a 2010 review by a committee of the multinational InterAcademy Council of scientific academies found “significant shortcomings in each major step of [the] IPCC’s assessment process.”4

Nevertheless, we can be sure that governments worldwide will continue to invest mountains of money and reams of regulations and restrictions in order to toe the line and not be seen to buck the word of the IPCC.

A Call for Diligence

As Christian Bible-believers, we are fully aware of our responsibility to be good stewards of the world God our Creator has given us. We furthermore understand, as our Lord commanded and demonstrated that we should love our neighbors, we would not want to discourage policies that could potentially affect the well-being of countless people. Therefore, it is incumbent on us as responsible individuals to carefully consider these claims.

But on what are the IPCC’s claims based? Are there foundational assumptions at work here that could call into question their conclusions—either about the seriousness of the problem or the manmade contribution to it? Are informed scientists even as unified in their assessment of manmade climate change as doomsayers indicate? Will the policies demanded by the IPCC help fix the problem? And could those policies have dire and possibly unnecessary consequences for economies and cultures worldwide?

Later this week this website will treat our readers to a preview of Dr. Alan White’s New Answers Book 4 chapter “Should We Be Concerned about Climate Change?” Dr. White holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Harvard University, worked as a Research Fellow for Eastman Chemical Company, holds 41 US patents, and has authored 18 peer-reviewed scientific papers. He now travels internationally lecturing on both the biblical and scientific aspects of climate change and global warming.

Climate change is not just short-term change but a change in global climate patterns. There is good evidence that global temperatures have risen somewhat for about 400 years and had trended downward before that time, Dr. White notes. But to what can we attribute these trends? The man-made contribution to the world’s total CO2 is actually a fairly low percentage. Are manmade emissions of greenhouse gases really the cause of current climate change, and would restricting those emissions worldwide fix the problem, if there is one? Or are these changes in climate part of the normal variation we should expect as passengers on planet earth?

The IPCC does note the paucity of data available to assess some aspects of the climate change question. Co-chairman Stocker said, “I'm afraid there is not a lot of public literature that allows us to delve deeper at the required depth of this emerging scientific question. For example, there are not sufficient observations of the uptake of heat, particularly into the deep ocean, that would be one of the possible mechanisms to explain this warming hiatus. Likewise we have insufficient data to adequately assess the forcing over the last 10-15 years to establish a relationship between the causes of the warming.”

Thus Stocker agrees that scientists really do not have all the information they need to draw reliable conclusions. Yet the IPCC is 95% certain that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,”5 that human behavior has created a mess, and that worldwide changes in emissions and our carbon footprints can fix it.

Dr. Alan White points out in his discussion that the sorts of measurements needed to make the determinations even about so seemingly simple a question as the global surface temperature are not easy to come by. And, he writes, “When there is a lack of good data and when people view the data from two very different perspectives, it is easy to have disagreement.” Thus, questions about the scope, causes, consequences, and “cure” for climate change are not as straightforward as the IPCC and many sincerely concerned scientists and citizens of the world would insist.

Responding to the IPCC report, Dr. White says:

The latest report from the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has just been issued. These reports happen every five or six years and are the latest thinking from this panel of experts. This time the IPCC is even more convinced that humans are the cause of most of the increase in global temperature over the past 60 years despite the fact that their models did not predict the relatively stable global temperature over the past 15 years.

It is not surprising that these mathematical climate models are not very accurate at this stage because our understanding of the earth’s highly complex climate is naïve. Remember, we have had good global temperature data for only a very few years.

Could the present apparent rise in temperature worldwide be ordinary and expected variation? History suggests previous times of global warming occurred. A millennium ago Vikings were able to farm in Greenland, but global cooling ended that a few centuries back. History suggests times of warmer climate with associated high levels of European agricultural production in the Middle Ages. Could world temperatures be simply returning to previous highs?

Answering these questions requires information about the earth’s past and not just the temperature of the Thames! Measuring the temperature of the earth’s surface and bodies of water is difficult even in the present. The paucity of accurate and comprehensive data from the past further limits the raw material available to model accurate predictions. But reliable predications also depend on an understanding of the forces that historically set the climate patterns we see today in motion. We need to look a bit further back in history—not millions of years—but just a few thousand years. The global Flood created conditions that triggered the Ice Age, the only one1 earth has ever experienced. How much of what we are seeing in earth’s climate today could be related to the global Flood and the Ice Age?

Be sure to return to this website Friday for an in-depth discussion of these and many more aspects of the global warming issue. Dr. White's chapter from the New Answers Book 4—“Should We Be Concerned about Climate Change?”—offers a different perspective on climate change. Whatever position a Christian citizen chooses to take, he or she needs to understand the present in the true light of biblically documented, scientifically affirmed history rather than uniformitarian assumptions about the earth’s past—and future.

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