Monday, August 15, 2016

Scientific Consensus, the IPCC and Just How Bad It Really Is

Here is a great graphic showing possible pathways we can take. It shows how soon we start emissions cuts will determine the rate at which we must get to zero emissions and how much ultimate warming we will see.
This graphic demonstrates the projections made within consensus science, including the IPCC projections.  These IPCC projections are terrifying, but show a 50% chance of staying under 1.5C warming if we get to zero emissions by 2035 and a 66% chance of staying under 2C warming if we get to zero emissions by 2050.

IPCC projections are unusual in science, as a self-conscious attempt to sum up the consensus. Normally, in science, consensus simply emerges from the literature over long periods of time.  Given we don't have long periods of time, the IPCC attempts to move that forward more quickly. 

Faced with these contradictions, the media and the polity generally assume the more recent studies are the better or more accepted science.  However, in science, it usually works in reverse.  The newest studies have yet to be vetted and require more time for attempts to confirm or rebut their conclusions.  In the case of climate change, we don't have that kind of time.  Moreover, new data is available on a daily basis, adding weight to the newer studies.  On top of that, the IPCC often is suspected of slanting toward the more conservative, more palatable, less scary conclusions as a matter of policy.

So, what is a climate concerned citizen to do?

It is still very important to stay grounded in scientific process. Newer, cutting edge projections do not have the benefit of as much vetting by the scientific community. One of the reasons science is so trustworthy is that vetting process. So while we should keep an eye on the newer projections, we cannot dismiss what scientists have supported en masse already.

This is my take.  The scientists MUST continue to pursue the scientific process.  That means, leaning heavily on the consensus and looking to the cutting edge with skepticism.  But looking to challenge and confirm or rebut it.

The activists, the politicians, the polity, on the other hand, has this:  the reality is that whatever the scientists express differences on, they ALL agree on that we must cut carbon today by ending infrastructure that supports a carbon economy and we must do it as quickly as we can muster.

So a climate concerned citizen must must must continue to work on the certainty that we must cut carbon and leave the uncertainties to the scientists.

This is challenging because politicians want to know how much time we have.  This is challenging because the uncertainties leave those without science literacy think scientists don't know what they are doing and climate activists are not reading the right studies.  This is challenging because none of us want to face the reality that things are really really dire.  This is challenging because good messaging may seem out of touch with the reality, particularly when the reality is uncertain.  This is challenging because the initial steps we can take are dwarfed by the enormity of what we must accomplish.

This is challenging.

But, then, no one said this was easy.

I, for one, will write another letter to the editor, hang dry another load of laundry, replace another incandescent bulb, plan my next year's teaching and plan for my EV purchase this Winter.