Tuesday, October 07, 2014

A nuanced climate

The orthodox climate debate seems to be spinning off some nuances in the face of static global temperatures. Subtle changes in emphasis and a leaching away of previous enthusiasms. A split seems to be developing between the old climate orthodoxy and a newer, more nuanced approach.

Even the BBC seems less enthusiastic about climate stories these days. For example, tonight there is a new Horizon programme, the first of a three part series about cats.

Will the moggy series be more popular than another airing of alarming climate forecasts? Very likely, because political polling suggests the general public have also lost much of their enthusiasm for the climate narrative.

This slight change in attitude by the BBC is more than a straw in the wind too. The BBC originally adopted the bog standard orthodox climate narrative, shorn of even the most obvious caveats. These days it seems less keen, as if even its internal narrative is cooling off – pun intended. 

This is significant. The BBC has been a major player in the orthodox climate narrative and even though it hasn’t defected, any change in tone is presumably significant. Although without being a fly on its well-funded walls one can never be quite sure of these things.

Yet there has always been an important divide between the public climate narrative and the science behind it. Take this well-known example from the IPCC 2001 Assessment Report (TAR), issued when the orthodox narrative was in full swing.

The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.

Prediction is not possible it says, but that’s not what the general public heard and not what organs such as the BBC reported. There is a nuance here though. The predictions we hear about via the BBC and others are actually scenarios, not predictions.

These scenarios were endorsed as predictions by activists and many scientist who should have known better. Instead they threw professional caution to the winds and now there are early signs that the winds are no longer favourable. From the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios published in 2000.

What are scenarios and what is their purpose?

Future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the product of very complex dynamic systems, determined by driving forces such as demographic development, socio-economic development and technological change. Their future evolution is highly uncertain. Scenarios are alternative images of how the future might unfold and are an appropriate tool with which to analyse how driving forces may influence future emission outcomes and to assess the associated uncertainties. They assist in climate change analysis, including climate modeling and the assessment of impacts, adaptation, and mitigation. The possibility that any single emissions path will occur as described in scenarios is highly uncertain. [My emphasis]

As to why these scenarios and the orthodox narrative were constructed in the first place – try this from the UN in 1996.

Energy production and use is the main source of many of the threats to the Earth's atmosphere. Despite tremendous increases in commercial energy use to date, the majority of the global population still has inadequate access to the kind of energy services enjoyed by the inhabitants of the industrialized countries. A lack of adequate energy services is one of the symptoms of poverty. The inequalities are so large that it would be virtually impossible for the majority of the world's population to enjoy similar resource intensive energy-use patterns as those prevailing in the industrialized countries. More sustainable energy patterns throughout the world and the protection of the atmosphere are recognized as important policy objectives at both the national and international levels. International environmental agreements are being extended from the local and national to international levels.
Second session New York, 12 -23 February 1996

Climate change is and always has been a question of tying a knot between global equality and global energy policies. As the above document made clear enough back in 1996. If there are scientists prepared to say that CO2 causes this or that problem with this or that level of certainty then that's fine as far as the policy-makers are concerned - welcome aboard. These people are professional bureaucrats.

So the nuances are there, they always were.


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Sackerson said...

Welcome clarification. So the dog days have gone and the cat days are upon us?

A K Haart said...

Sackers - could be the mog days.

Sackerson said...

Or smog days.