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Pachauri: Don’t hound the climate scientists

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"Pachauri: Don’t hound the climate scientists"

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“As inhabitants of planet Earth, our lives depend on a stable climate, and it is our responsibility to ensure that future generations do not suffer the consequences of climate change”

To dismiss the implications of climate change based on an error about the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are melting is an act of astonishing intellectual legerdemain. Yet this is what some doubters of climate change are claiming. But the reality is that our understanding of climate change is based on a vast and remarkably sound body of science – and is something we distort and trivialise at our peril.

So writes IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri in a blunt article published by the Guardian Friday.

Given how much the IPCC and climate scientists have been attacked, much of it based on falsehoods and half-truths from the anti-science disinformers, I think it only fair to reprint his entire comments:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published four comprehensive assessments of climate change and several important special reports since its founding in 1988. The last such document, the fourth assessment report (AR4) from 2007, mobilised 450 scientists from all over the world to write the report. An additional 800 contributing authors gave specialised inputs and about 2,500 expert reviewers provided 90,000 comments.

In this mammoth task, which yielded a finished product of nearly 3,000 pages, there was a regrettable error indicating the Himalayan glaciers were likely to melt by the year 2035. This mistake has been acknowledged by the IPCC. Learning from this error, the IPCC has requested, in tandem with the United Nations’ secretary general, an independent review of its procedures and practices by the Inter-Academy Council (IAC). This review was requested in part so that the possibility of similar errors can be eliminated as much as is humanly possible.

It is important, however, to understand that irrespective of the error on Himalayan glaciers and a few other questions about some specific wording in AR4, the major thrust of the report’s findings provides overwhelming evidence that warming of the climate system is unequivocal. To quote the report: “Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG (greenhouse gas) concentrations.”

As inhabitants of planet Earth, our lives depend on a stable climate, and it is our responsibility to ensure that future generations do not suffer the consequences of climate change. We cannot ignore the fact that the impacts of climate change, which are based on actual observations, are leading to “increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global sea levels”, according to AR4.

An increasing number of researchers, and some official investigations by intelligence agencies, now point to the security implications of climate change. If we do not carry out adequate mitigation and adopt related sustainable development practices, global emissions of greenhouse gases will continue to increase, and their continuation at or above current rates will cause further warming and changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that will very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.

Altered frequencies and intensities of extreme weather, together with sea level rise, are expected to have mostly adverse effects on natural and human systems. Even more serious is the finding that human-induced warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible. For instance, partial loss of ice sheets on polar land could imply metres of sea level rise, major changes in coastlines and inundation of low-lying areas, with the greatest effects in river deltas and low-lying islands.

Human society has some critical choices. It is to be expected that some of these would pose challenges for some stakeholders and sectors of the economy. But to ignore the IPCC’s scientific findings would lead to impacts that impose larger costs than those required today to stabilise the Earth’s climate.

Thousands of scientists from across the world have worked diligently and in an objective and transparent manner to provide scientific evidence for action to meet the growing challenge of climate change. To obscure this reality through misplaced emphasis on an error in a nearly 3,000-page, rigorous document would be unfortunate.

Even more unfortunate is the effort of some in positions of power and responsibility to indict dedicated scientists as “climate criminals”. I sincerely hope the world is not witnessing a new form of persecution of those who defy conventional ignorance and pay a terrible price for their scientifically valid beliefs.

The IPCC will continue to learn from experience, including criticism of its work. Thankfully, with inputs from thousands of respected scientists, world governments and now the IAC, the panel is in a better position than ever to provide a robust and reliable scientific basis for tackling the growing challenge of climate change.

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25 Responses to Pachauri: Don’t hound the climate scientists

  1. grypo says:

    “Human society has some critical choices. It is to be expected that some of these would pose challenges for some stakeholders and sectors of the economy. But to ignore the IPCC’s scientific findings would lead to impacts that impose larger costs than those required today to stabilise the Earth’s climate.”

    Excellent messaging. Need more high-probability, concrete examples of adverse economic impacts for the short term future.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    The actions of some people that Pachauri shyly calls “unfortunate” in his third-from-last and second-from-last paragraphs are, in many cases, downright immoral. More broadly, the actions of some individuals, companies, and politicians to mislead the public have been (and are) downright immoral and highly harmful. As I’ve said before, and others have said, some able organizations, citizens’ groups, and top law firms should bring huge suits against the harm-doers. And concerned humans — or “consumers” as they say — should boycott certain companies, big-time, including (as I’ve said before) ExxonMobil, in my view. If we don’t do things like bring warranted suits, implement large boycotts, and so forth, we may as well give up and go home. I’m not joking.

    Be Well,

    Jeff

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    Also …

    At this point, then, I’d be interested to know several things:

    First, is The New York Times going to run an excellent front-page story (continuing into plenty of space in the front section) listing all of the major, bona fide scientific organizations around the world that have stated that climate change is real, caused mainly by human activities, and so forth — i.e. that essentially support the IPCC’s findings? I haven’t seen that article yet. When can we expect it? It should include compelling portions of their official position statements, background about their histories, where to go for further information, and so forth. It should also list key letters that they’ve sent out, such as the letter from 17 organizations to members of the U.S. Senate last year. You know what I mean (I hope): It should cover the things that should have been covered, prominently, long ago!

    Second, at some point, let’s discuss the topic discussed in that page A13 article (in The NY Times) yesterday: “‘Cap and Trade’ Loses Its Standing as Energy Policy of Choice”. Let’s get into that — the topic itself, and also the article.

    Third, can someone please tell us Conan’s latest status with NewsCorp (Fox)? Nobody (who is concerned about the climate and the state of the country today, or the environment, or indeed about honesty itself) should be working for, and making money for, that organization at this point in time. In my view, Conan will become un-cool, uncredible, un-comedic, and in general “un” (figuratively speaking) if he signs with the Fox Folks. So, what is the status of all that?

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  4. Lou Grinzo says:

    grypo:

    I respectfully disagree on the messaging of the “Human society…” graf you quoted. I think it’s accurate but terribly worded if we want to reach anyone but policy wonks.

    I know this is an extreme piece of imagery, but we need talk (to mainstreamers) in viscerally accessible language, e.g. “What we’re doing with energy and the environment is like borrowing more and more money from the local loan shark, without paying it back. Eventually he’s going to show up with a couple of his friends carrying baseball bats and tire irons, and we’re going to pay a huge price for all that borrowing.”

    Another example I saw some time back came from Bill McKibben. He was talking about the oft-used metaphor of comparing taking steps now on the environment to buying house insurance. He said something to the effect that it’s too late for insurance because the house is already on fire. It’s time to grab an extinguisher.

    The mindset we have to encourage is that continuing to run up our debt to the environment is guaranteeing more pain in the future, and that money spent changing our ways (getting a fire extinguisher) is much cheaper than BAU and letting things get worse (losing the whole house and lives in the fire).

  5. ken levenson says:

    great to hear Pachauri’s words but he’s preaching the the converted – as anyone “confused” has written him off….i’m afraid….

    i think a better (and newsworthy) publicity approach would be to lay out in such stark language the situation and have it signed and “delivered” by an array of “world statespeople” from all political backgrounds, such as:

    all former U.S. Presidents
    former Soviet/Russian leaders
    former non-aligned leaders
    former conservative and liberal heads-of-state

    and get as many current leaders as possible

    but be sure that for every “liberal” leader there is a corresponding “conservative” one…..make it absolutely politically balanced….

    showing the broad based understanding of the climate crisis.

    possible?

    Or maybe it should be of ONLY conservative leaders – past and present….we need a wedge to separate the wack jobs from responsible adults.

    feeling like the hour glass is running out…..

  6. grypo says:

    Lou,
    “I respectfully disagree on the messaging of the “Human society…” graf you quoted. I think it’s accurate but terribly worded if we want to reach anyone but policy wonks.”

    Yes, I was probably too high my praise of the actual comment, instead of the abstraction of its idea. My main concern is that because the “energy tax” and “economic sacrifices” memes have been so successful in pulling away the mainstream American/UK electorate because of the immediacy and impact on “real life” average people, that it is important that those who want to change this attitude do so by using examples of our own. And your fire extinguisher example is a good one, but aren’t you also in favor of finding highly probable, short term economic impacts to draw a real life picture for folks?

  7. Jeff Huggins says:

    I agree with ken levenson’s Comment 5. I think that prominent and credible leaders, from all political camps, should convey the important message, and that message (or others) should also include key business leaders who are willing to speak up honestly on the issue.

    The public should see that key, key, key people “get it” and understand that we must address the problem.

    Also, as ken mentions, in addition to the fact that the message itself will be beneficial, the exercise will also help distinguish those leaders (among Republicans etc.) who are genuinely serious from those who don’t really “get it” or are too chicken or political to put their names to the matter. That, in and of itself, will help us see who is who.

    Good idea ken.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  8. Wit's End says:

    Lou Grinzo, I agree, the message needs to be graphic. I loved the fire extinguisher example – there’s Joe’s “Hell.”

    Here’s the “High Water”:

    http://www.desdemonadespair.net/2010/03/worst-ice-conditions-ever-recorded-kill.html

  9. Jimalakirti says:

    We know we must somehow get the message to the masses at all costs. To do so, we must first be able to overcome the noise from the cable news people and strident deniers with microphones, cameras, and pulp publishers.

    It might seem that to overcome the noise the “graphic” approach could work. Kind of the “shock and awe” approach. But history has shown that “shock and awe” does not actually motivate Homo sapiens very well. They either strengthen their resistance, or they hide their heads in the straw.

    Perhaps one of the biggest problems we face is that most deniers already discount any talk of climate change as “alarmist”, so it is possible that the more “graphic” the message the harder these folks will hit the “OFF” switch.

    We need some great rhetoricians who can come up with a strategy to reach “down” to the mass audience without being condescending or elitist. Not an easy assignment.

  10. mike roddy says:

    Good comments all, especially Jeff and Ken. You’re right- time to put some pressure on them, for a change.

  11. Leif says:

    Key people? There is even a growing and diverse list of “Fundamentalist” folks out there with significant clout that have been too quiet too long. Richard Cizik of Creation Care comes to mind.

    I am not sure that those folks can be enticed to corporate with a bunch of pagans, agnostics and even atheists but this is the future of humanity we are talking about. Some have learned to embrace Gays and Lesbians and it is painfully obvious that the Catholic Church has been willing to turn a blind eye to pedophile Priests, surely there is room for some tree huggers.

  12. David Smith says:

    The phrase “conventional ignorance” in the next to last paragraph caught my attention. What a great and useful expression.

    Great post. Should be widely disseminated.

  13. David Smith says:

    Raising the ethics or morality of the climate change debate is a tough one. Personally, I believe that it is immoral not to move forward with great haste to correct for this problem. That being said, ethics and morality are not fixed systems of belief. They are different systems for each person. And I just don’t get what alot of persons consider moral behavior.

    For example, how many people die, say, per gallon of gas, in the effort to maintain a continuous flow of fuel to our cars? (American soldiers, unlucky souls who live in the path of pipelines, others….). Everyone knows that this reality exists, but most tend to ignore it. As a people we accept this.

    We have accepted that we can’t eat much fish because of mercury contamination, (largely because of coal burning to generate electricity). This threatens our health with children being the most vulnerable. We have a right to have as much energy as we can imagine, without restriction even with these hazardous side effects.

    Many religions have a “thou shalt not kill” belief, but there is an addendum that says, if someone really important tells you that you have too and its for your own good.

    Next to these types of ethical challenges, a threat that could mean the end of life as we know it but might take centuries to manifest itself can’t compete with that which is in our face today.

    My point is, what may be ethical to you and me may not be ethical to someone else which makes ethics a weak tool in this battle. I wish it weren’t so.

  14. This is going to be very exciting. Because we now can more clearly identify the climate denialists and change obstructionists.

    This is meaningful because climate chaos is inevitable. Unlike wars – no one really could have predicted the World War One, or the various revolutions – history can show how they unfolded logically, but few could layout the deep and precise events that made them inevitable

    Not so with global warming. Inevitable. Only the details of weather are missing. Sea level rise is certain. Overall warming will increase another 4 to 10 degrees. And even if we all turned into Adam and Eve today, we face 50 years or more of continued warming.

    In the future, blame and retribution will be an easy game. Not a very smart thing for any fanatical anti-science group to proselytize against such an inevitable action. This just means that climate denialists will face the added burden of having to revise history. Again not very smart.

    Or it could be that they do not care about the future, which makes them very dangerous to those of us who do.

  15. Leif says:

    Richard< #13: "Or it could be that they do not care about the future, which makes them very dangerous to those of us who do."

    Dangerous, yes, intelligent, no. It has been said, "never underestimate the power of stupid people in a large crowd," however, when the chips are down I believe most on the fence will side with the smart folks. The challenge appears to be to show that choosing sides is closer than most want to believe. Without being fatalistic.
    The more the "ranting right" speak, the more obvious the choice, IMO.

  16. climateprogressive says:

    richard#14:

    “Or it could be that they do not care about the future, which makes them very dangerous to those of us who do.”

    This is my take on the situation. But – there will come a point at which their arm-waving, ranting and raving will be ignored. Changes will be too obvious to most people. Hopefully, it will not be too late. Let us just hope that that point will come sooner rather than later. Folks – we’ve got ever more work to do!

  17. Jenny says:

    Pachauri “…partial loss of ice sheets on polar land could imply metres of sea level rise…”

    This is precisely the sort of wishy-washy wording that must be avoided if we are going to make any progress in educating the general public about climate change. Specific word choices matter, a lot. I think the phrase “…could imply..” is essentially unintelligible to the average person and serves to undermine completely the point that Pachauri is trying to make.

  18. Leif says:

    One often hears that there is not 100% guarantee that AGW is a serious issue. I would ask. Do you need a 100% guarantee that you will be in a car crash to use a seat belt? You know as well as I that seat belts are not a 100% solution even if you get into an accident. In fact, science tells us that the chance of being in a car accident on any given day is less than 0.0001% (?). What does that same science tell us about serious problems for humanity resulting from Climatic Disruption? 95%+!

    Mitigating Climatic Disruption is like putting your kids in seat belts and improving the economy and world living standards in the process.

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  19. Doug Bostrom says:

    Dr. Pachauri has also just done an interview w/the Independent, revealing among other things that he’s had his own finances audited to address fallacious charges of wrongful gain such as what Dr. Pilke Jr. has so enthusiastically promoted and defended without evidence.


    ‘I’m not quitting’ says under-fire UN climate boss

    I never realized how asinine some of the rumors about Pachauri were until reading this article; apparently the rejectionists have concluded that Dr. Pachauri is a pornographer. Loons, all of them.

  20. Fredo says:

    Just a quick reminder to set your homepage to include “global warming” search results. Whenever you log on, if you have an extra minute, click on whatever inane, badly-reported, denier-fueled news story tops the search results… and add a quick reality-based comment at the bottom. (I have even started keeping a file of cut and pastable arguments for this purpose).

    Repetition of reality-based comments is extremely important, given the recent level of repetition of lies and irrelevancies by the delayers/deniers. Repelling the recent Internet-based attack on scientific epistemology is probably one of the most important things you can do every day.

    For a beautiful example of a recent denier story getting swarmed by reality-based comments— and even appearing to turn one of its usual misinformed readers— check here.

  21. Francis says:

    Fredo – great stuff, adding comments to articles.

    If anyone, especially in the UK, wants some people to do what Fredo says with, please get in touch. We meet on Skype once a week, and write comments together.

    Would love to start building resources like Fredo’s copy/paste arguments.

    Email contact@seriouschange.org.uk

  22. Edward says:

    9 Jimalakirti: See “Fighting Identity” by Michael Vlahos. I think there is an identity issue involved with the deniers. They have built a personal identity that makes science impossible for them. That makes converting them 10 times as hard, but gives you a clue as to where to start.

  23. Dan Miller says:

    I agree that “conventional ignorance” is a great phrase! Let’s promote it.