Saturday, February 03, 2007

Is global warming really "Unequivocal"?

I'm sure you've heard the news. An article in The New York Times by Elisabeth Rosenthal and Andrew Revkin is titled "Science Panel Says Global Warming Is 'Unequivocal'", suggesting that the last word on global warming is in and that any further discussion over the science is moot. We'll see.

The really unfortunate thing is that global warming is now an affair of politics and big business, so science will now be taking a back seat to political and business "opportunities."

Make no mistake on four fronts:

  1. Vast amounts of money will be spent on "global warming."
  2. It is unlikely that much of that expense will have significant positive environmental impact.
  3. The money will be a vast transfer from the pockets of those who have less to those who already have too much. Politicians and corporate executives and "consultants" and public speakers will rake in the dough, and that money has to come from somewhere.
  4. Many of the "workarounds" to the use of fossil fuels could have dramatic negative impacts on the environment and public health far greater than the positive impact on so-called "global warming." For example, lots of nuclear power plants will be placed into operation with a shortage of talent to properly operate them and deal with their waste streams.

Any day now... I expect that Iran will begin to argue that they need their nuclear power plants and nuclear fuel processing plants specifically to "combat global warming."

I would off a great caution: Beware of unintended consequences and side effects. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.

In the coming months I hope to sift through the new report. I doubt that I'll find much in the way of new and more persuasive science, but it will at least be interesting reading.

Now, what on earth does "Unequivocal" really mean? The Merriam-Webster online dictionary has these two meanings:

1 : leaving no doubt : CLEAR, UNAMBIGUOUS

Leaving no doubt? Hmmm... doesn't the report itself refer to a 90% level of confidence? What about the remaining 10%? How is that "no doubt"? Food for thought.

I'm trying to track down the actual "report."

On the UN web site I find a news article entitled "Evidence is now ‘unequivocal’ that humans are causing global warming – UN report".

That's interesting. There are two distinct questions: Is their a global warming effect and is recent human activity the cause of that effect. The Times heading refers to the former but the UN article refers to the latter. Part of the problem is that the two are unreasonably being treated as the same when from a science perspective they should be kept distinct. Science should not and can not be based on bias. Of course, this depends on whethe you are seeking truth or a good "story."

The Times specifically says:

... the leading international network of climate scientists has concluded for the first time that global warming is “unequivocal” and that human activity is the main driver, “very likely” causing most of the rise in temperatures since 1950.

Yes, they are indeed linking the effect with a presumed cause, but what really is the scientific meaning of labelling the effect as "unequivocal" and the "main driver" as merely "very likely"? Hmmm... yet another question to look into.

The organization that produced the report is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their charter or mandate is summarized as:

Recognizing the problem of potential global climate change, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. It is open to all members of the UN and WMO.

The role of the IPCC is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. The IPCC does not carry out research nor does it monitor climate related data or other relevant parameters. It bases its assessment mainly on peer reviewed and published scientific/technical literature. Its role, organisation, participation and general procedures are laid down in the "Principles Governing IPCC Work"

Interesting. Their "mandate" specifically presumes that global warming is "human-induced." That does not allow for science to be independent of its political masters. That is very disheartening, unless you are a social or political activist who believes that science is simply a tool, a means to an end, where the "end" is predefined.

And read carefully this sentence from that "mandate":

The IPCC does not carry out research nor does it monitor climate related data or other relevant parameters. It bases its assessment mainly on peer reviewed and published scientific/technical literature.

Wow. The bottom line is that if you really want to get at the science of global warming, the IPCC is not a source for science.

Here is the Media Advisory/Press Release for the report. In fact, here is the whole thing (minus the PR contacts):

Paris, 2 February 2007 – Late last night, Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) adopted the Summary for Policymakers of the first volume of “Climate Change 2007”, also known as the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4).

“Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis”, assesses the current scientific knowledge of the natural and human drivers of climate change, observed changes in climate, the ability of science to attribute changes to different causes, and projections for future climate change.

The report was produced by some 600 authors from 40 countries. Over 620 expert reviewers and a large number of government reviewers also participated. Representatives from 113 governments reviewed and revised the Summary line-by-line during the course of this week before adopting it and accepting the underlying report.

The Summary can be downloaded in English from and A webcast of the final press conference has also been posted. The Summary will be available in Arabic, Chinese French, Russian and Spanish at a later date. The full underlying report will be published in English by Cambridge University Press.

Note the phrase "Representatives from 113 governments"? In other words this is the political dimension of the global warming campaign, albeit with a scientific "tint."

And their use of the phrase "Late last night." What??? What sane person with half a brain would base a profound policy and the future of mankind on earth on some words that were hammered out "Late last night." Unbelievable. Truly unbelievable. This is not the way to do science.

Here is the Summary for Policymakers (PDF file). You are unlikely to find any real science in there.

Now, it turns out the the full report is not yet available, as far as I have been able to tell so far (although I'll keep searching.) What we can get is the "summary." The full report will be available at a later date, I think. A 21-page "summary" is simply no better a source for science than a movie by a former politician.

From The Times:

"Feb. 2 will be remembered as the date when uncertainty was removed as to whether humans had anything to do with climate change on this planet. The evidence is on the table."
- ACHIM STEINER, executive director of the United Nations Environment

That is a very curious statement. There is a vast gap between "anything to do with" and whether human activity is the primary cause for sustained global climate change. There is also a clear distinction between "evidence" and proof. Evidence by itself is not necessarily proof. Accumulating larger amounts of evidence does not necessarily increase the degree of certainty of a conclusion. Finally, where is this "table" and why isn't it readily accessible to the public? Why all of the secrecy and obfuscation, especially when the claim of "unequivocal" is being made?

I have only very briefly scanned the "summary." One aspect that popped out was the use of terms like "Likely", "Very likely", "More likely than not", and "Virtually certain", suggesting that the so-called "certainty" is no where near as certain as has been publicly claimed. The strongest term, "Virtually certain", is less frequently used than the other, weaker terms. Keep that in mind.

Here's a truly wonderful line:

Magnitude of anthropogenic contributions not assessed. Attribution for these phenomena based on expert judgement rather than formal attribution studies.

That is a long-winded way of saying that the conclusion of human activity being the primary cause of a given spect of climate change was based on opinion rather than hard, data-analytic science ("expert judgement" vs. "formal attribution studies")! That was the footnote for the conclusion of "More likely than not" for the question of "Likelihood of a human contribution to observed trend" for the phenemena of "Warm spells / heat waves. Frequency increases over most land areas", "Heavy precipitation events. Frequency (or proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls) increases over most areas", "Intense tropical cyclone activity increases" (remember Katrina and how Al Gore used it in his movie as "proof" of global warming?), and "Increased incidence of extreme high sea level (excludes tsunamis)." This is from the summary itself. I am not making this stuff up. The public claims of unequivocal certainty simply are not born out by even the summary upon which the public claims are made.

More to come. Stay tuned.

-- Jack Krupansky


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