Climate change: What can I do?

Frankly, I don’t know what you can do.

I know what I can do: I have a talent for writing and talking, so I do that; I have oodles of time for reading and thinking, so I do that. Maybe you are good at persuading friends and acquaintances to send letters to leaders of opinion — in which case, look no further! This is for you.

I’ve prepared a model letter for the IPCC — specifically for the co-chairs of Working Group 1 — asking them to recalculate their number for ice cap melt.

Here is the letter.

Here’s where to send it:

Dr Vicente Barros / IPCC WG1 Co-chair                         Dr Chris Field / IPCC WG1 Co-chair
Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales                     Department of Global Ecology
Universidad de Buenos Aires                                              Carnegie Institution for Science
Argentina                                                                                    260 Panama St.
                                                                                                        Stanford – CA 94305 – USA

And here’s why. 

1. Context

The climate situation is really bad. Desperate in fact. OK, actually it looks fucking hopeless. But we can’t just roll over and let a thousand generations die. That would be morally indefensible. So we have to try to somehow pull something out of the fire. The Paris conference planned for December this year (COP21) will likely be the last chance we get to organise any sort of top-down response. The last time a COP (Conference Of The Parties) looked like actually achieving anything, in Copenhagen in 2009), the denialist liars sabotaged it. They hacked into a university server and invented a cock and bull story about scientists fixing their results. In due course it was all proved to be groundless, but the press was full of it at the time and the scientists concerned had to waste a great deal of time dealing with it. I have no doubt the bad guys are planning something for COP21 and I want the scientific community to get in first with a media coup.

2. The science
Temperature decadal averages

Decadal averages work well for temperature rise

As far as the science of climate change is concerned, the generally accepted reference is the IPCC’s AR5 (Assessment Report n°5) which said very clearly (i) global warming is happening, (ii) it’s caused by CO2 emissions, and (iii) things are going to get very shitty unless we introduce radical change very quickly. The IPCC’s numbers are solid. If it’s in AR5 you can be sure it’s “true”; but it ain’t necessarily not true if it’s not in AR5. This is because the IPCC only includes stuff it can defend against all comers. For any given factor, whatever its potential importance, if they don’t have sufficient data, they mention it briefly but leave it out of their conclusions. In other words the IPCC is ultra conservative and has been widely criticised by the scientific community for being over optimistic. In addition, new research on climate change is accumulating so quickly that AR5 was virtually out of date as soon as it was published.

3. Sea level rise

Of particular concern are the AR5 predictions for seal level rise caused by melting ice caps. They are obtained through the use of a statistical method (decadal averages) which condences 25 years of data into just two points on the graph. Quite reasonably, the IPCC points out that you can’t extrapolate anything useful from two points on a graph, so their conclusion is that more research is needed. However, ice cap melt is now recognised as the single most important factor in calculating sea level rise, and hardly a week goes by without new research indicating that it’s evolving more quickly than was previously thought. If this is indeed the case, we need to keep a very close watch on what’s happening. We can’t afford to wait another five years for AR6 to get a third point on the graph.

4. My suggestion
Temperature decadal averages

Decadal averages recalculated year on year

If the IPCC were to recalculate their decadal averages for ice melt year on year, the numbers might be a whole lot more interesting. They would still have built-in protection against anomalies, but you’d get one data plot per year over a 15-year period. I’m pretty sure that graph would reveal the existence of another “hockey stick” – an exponential curve with horrifying implications for sea level over the next two or three decades. If that  information bomb were to burst in the media in November, the impact on public opinion during the run-up to COP21 could be a game changer.

5. Strategy

I’ve already written to the IPCC asking for that recalculation, but I got no answer (there’s a surprise!). What’s needed is a whole lot more people writing to the IPCC and making the same request. If the co-chairs of Working Group 1 were to receive 500 letters all asking for the same thing, that might do the trick.We could strike a major blow on behalf of the science and give the denialist mob a bloody nose. Isn’t that worth spending half an hour of your time?

This is something that you can actually do. Please, please — do it.

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