The IPCC: Going Where No Scientist Should Go

May 29, 2012 at 5:15 pm

The next IPCC report will include a chapter that discusses gender inequality, marginalized populations, and traditional knowledge. So much for providing “rigorous…scientific information.”

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The upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report will contain a chapter titled Human Security. According to an official outline, this will examine the following topics:

  • Social and economic activities, including employment
  • Education
  • Inequalities, gender, and marginalized populations
  • Culture, values, and society
  • Indigenous peoples
  • Local communities
  • Local and traditional knowledge
  • Migration and population displacement
  • Conflict
  • Community resilience
  • [see page 4 here]

We’re told that the IPCC is a scientific organization and that its job is to “provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers.” But what can science possibly tell us about Culture, values and society? Or about Local communities? Why is the IPCC going anywhere near subjects such as these?

The Human Security chapter is being led by Neil Adger, a professor of environmental economics at the University of East Anglia. In 2007 he co-authored a paper that declared:

climate change increasingly undermines human security in the present day, and will increasingly do so in the future… [backup link]

Gee, given that this is the person in charge, do we really suppose the IPCC report will come to a different conclusion?

Is Adger a precise thinker, a scrupulously dispassionate researcher, the sort of person who’s likely to examine all the literature, pro and con, in a fair-minded manner? You decide. In 2009 he authored a blog post in which he declared:

we urgently need to decarbonize the global economy… [backup link]

In his view, a “much more unstable climate” is a given rather than a mere possibility. He apparently understands every nuance of the big picture so thoroughly he feels no hesitation in declaring that human actions are “committing every part of the world to fundamental changes.”

His blog post insists we need to fix “our energy system.” Predictably, it criticizes fossil fuel subsidies but expresses no concern about the outrageous amount of money being wasted on not-yet-ready-for-prime-time alternative energy projects. It quotes a report that says “warming above 2°C would be very difficult for contemporary societies and ecosystems to cope with” (italics mine) without acknowledging that it will be future societies that will deal with such warming should it, in fact, occur.

(The world has, after all, come a long way since the 1960s – when 8-track tapes were the latest invention, rotary telephones were the norm, and personal computers weren’t yet part of everyday life. Let’s give future generations some credit. They’ll be equipped with far more than our current tools.)

Adger has also co-authored a journal commentary that begins with these words:

Human-induced climate change is real and is likely to drive increasingly dramatic changes in this century and beyond. [backup link]

It’s so good to know that IPCC-appointed experts approach these matters humbly, and with an open mind. That article, incidentally, relies on IPCC reports as well as a paper in which two of the authors are Greenpeace personnel. The full citation in the latter case is:

Meinshausen M, Meinshausen N, Hare W, Raper S C B, Frieler K, Knutti R, Frame D J, Allen M R, 2009, ‘‘Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2°C’’ Nature 458 1158-1162 [bold added]

As I explain in this blog post, Malte Meinshausen and William Hare have long been regarded as “key members of the Greenpeace International climate team.”

The public is often told it can have confidence in the conclusion that human-caused climate change is a problem. We’re told that this is because this conclusion rests on multiple lines of independent evidence.

But the more you learn about how the IPCC operates the less true such statements appear to be.

In fact, the same small group of people are often involved. These people quote the IPCC in their own work and then turn around and write the next IPCC report. The fact that some of them are employed by Greenpeace doesn’t disqualify them from participating in the IPCC. Nor does it prevent other IPCC authors from citing their work.

In sum, climate science is a small, incestuous, inbred little community. In no way does it represent the world’s finest scientific minds.

And when the IPCC starts writing about gender equality, marginalized populations, and traditional knowledge, it provides ordinary people with one more reason not to take it’s so-called science seriously.

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Entry filed under: climate bible, Greenpeace, IPCC. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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