No sooner was the metaphorical ink drying on my attack on National Post faux-environmentalist Lawrence Solomon’s paranoid conspiracy theory that climate change is being perpetrated by insurance companies as an excuse to jack up their premiums, that I realized I would have to return to the same deposit of BS and retrieve a sample from his comrade-in-arms, Terence Corcoran. Corcoran usually works the finance beat on the opinion pages, and why he occasionally sallies forth into environmental issues, almost unfailingly very badly, I can’t imagine.
Corcoran’s diatribe picks up on a Solomonic meme, claiming that even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which for years now has been denounced by the climate change denialist crowd as the Great Satan behind modern environmentalism, is now backing away from its previous claims that human carbon emissions are driving climate change. He has three arguments to support this claim, and they range from the merely preposterous to the unnecessarily deceitful.
The “text” Corcoran is working from, incidentally, is an unpolished final draft manuscript of the executive summary of the real IPCC report, which isn’t due out until next February. We hardly need a better example of why the average contemporary journalist isn’t qualified to report on scientific issues that Corcoran and Solomon apparently feel this is the best imaginable way of commenting on climate change science.
First, Corcoran argues, the report is a failure because it doesn’t include enough pithy, quote-worthy statements in it to be easily digested and spit out by media organizations in the form of what Corcoran calls “headline fodder.” I kid you not. Corcoran thinks the IPCC report isn’t sufficiently dumbed-down into frightening soundbytes for the news channels. I wouldn’t even mention this point except that Corcoran seems to think it’s important.
Second, Corcoran says that the IPCC has climbed down from its position that human emissions cause climate change by starting with an “upfront definition” of climate change as being caused by a combination of human and natural sources. Well, duh. Nobody, including the IPCC, has ever argued that climate change was only a consequence of human actions. If they did, Corcoran would have rightly started shrieking about IPCC alarmism.
The more serious problem, however, is that the summary report doesn’t really start with this “upfront definition” at all. Unless by “upfront” you mean that it is listed in the glossary. Well done, Terry.
Finally, and most preposterously, Corcoran says that the IPCC is only able to establish that there are likely to be major climatic extremes and resulting natural disasters in the late 2000s, but not so much tomorrow. Well, yes, Terry, that’s the way long-term trends work. For instance, the IPCC says that a day that sets a 20-year heat record today is likely to occur once every 2-5 years by the end of the century. That means that at various times in the next century, this 1-in-20-years hot day will start to recur once in 15 years, and then once in 10 years, and then once in 5 years, and then once in 2 years.
And it won’t stop there. If we don’t take action, the trend will continue. Assuming it does so at the same rate (almost certain, since human emissions continue to rise and we will soon probably be approaching a point at which natural feedback cycles take over and drive the temperature higher on their own), then during the 22nd century, that 1-in-20-years heat wave will go from 1 in 2 years, to once every two months. And then once a week. And then…
It’s easy to ignore something happening on a century timescale, but we do so only because of the small and unimpressive nature of our own brains. If the Earth was naturally warming up at 1 degree per century on a permanent basis, it would now be three times as hot as the core of the Sun.
The fact that we have 90 years left before things start getting exceptionally uncomfortable here seems almost to disappoint Terry. It’s not alarming enough, he says. It’s too long-term. I couldn’t agree less. This is a warning that we have some time left — but only some. The longer we delay, the hotter it will be, the hastier we will have to act (both at greater cost, and at greater risk of making a catastrophic mistake), and the more likely it will be that our interventions won’t be enough to ensure the survival of advanced human civilization.
Terry’s rejoinder no doubt will be that 90 years is plenty of time. Time enough for him to die and go to his reward without having to worry about the consequences of his actions, at any rate. But time isn’t as long as people seem to think. Kyoto is almost 15 years old. The IPCC is 25 years old. The basic theory behind greenhouse gases is about 50 years old (some historians would say much more, but I’ll be conservative in my estimates here). Thomas Newcomen fired up the first steam engine in 1712. So, depending on which clock you want to use, we’ve already burned through 15%, 25%, 35%, or 75% of our available time to act, and so far we have absolutely nothing to show for it besides a steadily growing mound of paperwork and a shrill crowd of deluded ignoramuses.
I don’t know about you, but I call that worrying.Tweet