by Judith Curry
I can’t predict in advance when a thread will generate a lot of activity; I’m learning that anything with “climategate” in it is likely to have a lot of traffic. Since the first thread has almost 500 comments, I would like to address some of the questions and issues raised, and redirect the discussion.
The previous post was written for the Purdue event, I had 10-15 minutes to make a statement. I put forth an argument (the feedback loop) with premises. To many, the premises I put forth seem self evident. Others are demanding “proof” and “evidence” of my premises. My argument, and the premises that it is based on, are offered up for discussion on this blog.
Are any of you tired of the endless debate over who is hero and who is villain in the scenario unfolded in the CRU emails? Even if we were to get rid of all of the “objectionable” characters on both sides of this, would climate science be fixed? Would we have sensible energy policies? No and no. And we can’t frame/narrate/communicate our way out of this either. The problems and the issues are much bigger: geopolitics, economics, clashes of values. An extremely wicked problem for which science does not provide a solution.
I’m surprised that people thought I was attacking climate scientists in my original post. Climate scientists have been pawns in all this; some have been victims and others have benefitted. If anyone can be labeled as a “villain” in all this, it would arguably be the UNEP/UNFCCC; but in a way that begs the question of how all this started and who started it.
The point of my previous essay is that there was a complex set of mutual reinforcing motives and policies that snowballed without any checks and balances. The “system” was running out of control.
So on this thread, I would like to talk about big picture issues related to the institutions and the larger forces at play in all this. And speculate on how we can fix this situation, or at least get some checks and balances in the system.
Moderation note: no discussion of emails or individual scientists on this thread (keep that on the other thread, if you haven’t had enough yet.)
A simple history of the IPCC and UNFCCC
1988: IPCC is established under the auspices of the UNEP and WMO
1990: AR1 Report published
- WGI conclusion: “The size of this warming is broadly consistent with predictions of climate models, but it is also of the same magnitude as natural climate variability”
- WGIII: entitled “Response Strategies”; mitigation and adaptation received pretty much equal consideration
1992: UNFCCC treaty (precautionary principle, dangerous climate change, and all that)
1995: AR2 Report published
- WGI conclusion: WG1 conclusion: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.” Ben Santer takes major heat for “discernible.”
- WGIII: focused on “no regrets” opportunities
1998: Kyoto Protocol
2001: TAR Report published
- WGI conclusion: “Most of the warming of the past 50 years is likely (>66%) to be attributable to human activities.” The icon for the TAR was the “hockey stick.”
- WGIII: entitled “Mitigation”
2007: AR4 Report published
- WGI conclusion: “Warming is unequivocal, and most of the warming of the past 50 years is very likely (>90%) due to increases in greenhouse gases.”
- WGIII: entitled “Mitigation”
Once the UNFCCC treaty was in place, there was pressure on the IPCC to back this up with science. Hence the “discernible” in the SAR. Ben Santer has taken huge heat for that, but look at where the pressure was coming from. The whole UNFCCC treaty wouldn’t make sense unless there was at least “discernible” evidence that this was actually happening.
Once the Kyoto Protocol was in place, the emphasis of WGIII was clearly on mitigation and stabilization targets (the FAR WGIII was on mitigation and adaptation, and the SAR WGIII was on robust policies, the TAR and AR4 are on mitigation). Building political will for the Kyoto Protocol was a high priority for the TAR. The hockey stick icon fit the bill, with Michael Mann plucked from graduate school to serve as a lead author.
With political will not solidifying around the Kyoto Protocol, there was pressure on the AR4. We are now seeing the words “unequivocal” and very likely, although there wasn’t really much evidence beyond that provided in the TAR. In the AR4, political pressure actually acted to moderate the conclusions.
The “discernible” and the hockey stick should never have made it into the summary for policy makers. Do we blame Mann and Santer for this? Heck no (well they were complicit, but not to blame). These were decisions made by people that were higher up and with pressure from policy makers. At the time of publication of the TAR in 2001, Mann was 3 years post Ph.D. Santer is a few years younger than I am, which was pretty young (early 4o’s) in the early 1990’s when the SAR was being prepared. Whatever their scientific talents or contributions, they were put into a highly political situation that required a lot of judgment and experience to navigate these things.
In spite of being “burned” as part of the IPCC process, both Mann and Santer remained very loyal to the IPCC and defensive of it, and have been rewarded professionally. I argue that they have also been victimized by the IPCC (they can hardly enjoy the threats, etc.) Some prominent climate scientists left the field because it was too political, notably Starley Thompson.
So, do we spend time beating up or defending scientists like Mann and Santer, or do we try to understand the nature of the system that both victimize and rewarded scientists like Mann and Santer? I for one am trying to get at the issues with the system and to understand how this all went so wrong.