It is often the case that what is absent in the nightly news sheds more light on media priorities than what is actually covered. The lack of any serious coverage, for example, of a topic front and center in most other countries is one indication of very low media quality. Curiously narrow topic selection is the reason that I have had to read about the release of the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change from foreign news sources such as the Guardian in the UK, or by reading selected U.S. sources online.
The efforts of the IPCC represent one of the largest consensus-building undertakings in human history, and deal with an issue that affects not only the present, but all future generations. From the IPCC website, “a total of 209 Lead Authors and 50 Review Editors from 39 countries and more than 600 Contributing Authors from 32 countries contributed to the preparation of Working Group I AR5.” The exhaustive work, both pro-bono and peer-reviewed, produces policy guidelines for world leaders. The importance of being pro-bono, and therefore free of financial or governmental influence; and peer-reviewed, which guarantees a level of certainty beyond any single source, cannot be understated. The last report, AR4, was released in 2007. As has been the case since the group’s founding in 1988, the recent report continues to confirm the dire predictions for life on this planet under the business-as-usual model. A key update in the report is the change from a 90 percent confidence level to 95 percent concerning man’s role in the changing climate. Better understanding and accounting of aerosols, as well as better instrumentation contributes to the increased certainty. Converging to a 95 percent level of confidence from such a diverse body of scientists is no trivial matter, and impossible to write off even for the most relentless of conspiracy theorists.
In an article covering the recent report, columnist George Monbiot rightly suggests that the benign wording of “Climate Change” be more accurately expressed as Climate Breakdown. Every result of the IPCC report not only supports, but would in fact require this improvement. Every decade since the 1970s has been hotter than the previous decade. The oceans, which reflect the state of the planet, absorb around 90 percent of the planet’s excess heat in the form of acidification and increased temperature.
The following is paraphrased from recent Citizens Climate Lobby speaker Dr. John Abraham, an associate professor of thermal sciences at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and author of over 75 peer-reviewed journal articles. Dr. Abraham addressed the new IPCC report. Here is what he had to say about common, non-scientific arguments against climate change:
The authors of the report address some the most common claims of those who misunderstand climate change, claims that, even after having been long debunked, continue to be cited for reasons of ideology. One such claim is that the sun is getting hotter. If this were the case, we would expect the entire atmosphere to change. This isn’t happening; nights are warming faster than days. Another persistent claim is that there has been no warming for 15 years. This is simply not true. To come to this conclusion, a hot year of 1998 is compared with a La Niña year, which is always cooler. Short-term fluctuations are confused with long-term trends, which never occur for the world as a whole. Every decade since 1970 has been hotter than the previous. Another issue concerns sensitivity, particularly regarding the rate of temperature increase. Whether we are looking at the 2 to 4.5-degree C range or the 1.5 to 4 range is relatively unimportant, as the discrepancy amounts to the difference between a fast boil and a slow simmer. As a last point, fighting climate change makes sound economic sense. Any $1 spent will return more than $1 in the future in the form of avoided damages (think Sandy).
So what is a solution? I particularly like the position of Art Laffer, former economic adviser to President Reagan and outspoken proponent of a carbon tax. Laffer supports the market-based solution of “tax the polluters, not the people.” A thoroughly researched form of the idea is Fee and Dividend, as proposed by the non-partisan group Citizens Climate Lobby. Under their proposal, the price of carbon starts as $15 per ton. The dividend part of fee and dividend is returned equally to the people through the IRS. It is the most efficient and perhaps only way to break the grip of oil companies on the political process.