This is a diatribe in three chapters. It was inspired by a report this evening on CBC’s As It Happens, and is a prelude to the IPCC press conference tomorrow on the Fourth Assessment Report on the current and future state of the climate. The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is sponsored by the UN and the WMO (World Meteorological Organisation), and is the main body that determines the world consensus on the scientific, social, and economic impacts and implications on climate change.
The word consensus is very important here. People have often been disappointed by the weakness of previous statements, especially regarding the scientific consensus on what the climate is doing. Because it is a consensus everyone has to agree on the exact wording, so even if 95% of the scientists in the working group (Working Group 1) supports a definite stand, the 5% or less that dissent can add the words “may”, “probably” , etc. This allows government and industrial leaders to cast doubt on the overwhelming preponderance of evidence supporting global climate change due to anthropomorphic carbon dioxide emissions, and annoys and distresses most climate researchers to no end. It also sends most organisations concerned with climate change up the wall, for some reason.
As It Happens interviewed a member of the IPCC who discussed a related report published in Science today (Science is one of the main journals on cutting edge research in the sciences, along with Nature). It looks at the predictions from the last IPCC assessment report in 2001, and finds that sea level rise may be greater than the previous model predictions indicated.This led me to check out the publications of the lead author, Stefan Rahmstorf, a prominent and respected oceanographer and climate change researcher.
Facts versus Fiction
On his web page were some interesting articles.
- The first is a very nice fact sheet summarising the main findings of climate change research, which summarises the scientific predictions, the social, economic, and ecological impacts, and addresses an approach to reducing and coping with the problem.
- Second is RealClimate, a well-respected blog written by climate change scientists.
- The Climate Skeptics looks at the arguments and approaches taken by climate changes skeptics, and gives advice on how to come to your own conclusion,
- and finally, there is a review of a “popular” movie on climate change.
Facts within Fiction
In the last few years I’ve seen two movies that relate to climate change. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is possibly the best discussion of the science and implications that I’ve seen, and the science is very close to being impeccable, with the problems being extremely minor. As I’ve said before, it is a must-see.
The seconds movie is one that I despised so much that I went to see it again, so as to find all the errors and pitfalls. As a person who has been around climate change science, and who did a Master’s Degree in climate change modelling, it was particularly annoying that people with little real knowledge besides what they see in the news (almost zip) and popular science magazines (often not much better) enjoyed it as an action adventure, and totally missed much of the fantasy in this near-future SF&F movie.
However, Rahmstorf made some very relevant comments regarding some positive elements of the movie that I missed in the avalanche of small to major bloopers. Here are a few of the more insightful and cogent remarks from his comments.
- Early in the movie the protagonist gives a talk on the shut-down of the North-Atlantic Current (the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Drift). He argues that the shut-downs could occur in a few hundred years, a few thousand, or not at all. Rahnstorf gave the same talk with the same diagram in real life.
- The politics and skepticism portrayed in the movie also rang true.
- Some of the dialog and the research work areas also rang true.
- Relevant and important questions were raised.
Rahmstorf believes that most of the audience would understand the main fantastic elements of the movie, and would understand and be intrigued by the implications of rapid climate change (but less rapid than what would fit into a feature-length movie). If you grit your teeth and ignore the sciencific errors, it isn’t that bad, and its heart is in the right place.
Addendum and Example: At the beginning of the movie is a sequence where an Antarctic Ice shelf splits from the mainland, and an actor has a leg on either side of the split. Also, the split occurs in about 5 minutes. Now if you check out the story of the Larsen B Ice Shelf, you’ll see the truth behind the fantasy. There are several other cases in the movie (Jack Frost chasing people around to show the cold air isn’t one of them, however.)
The press conference tomorrow will hopefully have the strongest statment about climate change to date, and might be very useful to hear. Make up your own minds, but looks at the preponderence of evidence first.