by David Holmes
Well, it’s here, the long awaited IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. It is led by the Summary for Policy Makers as the document that is most quoted by news outlets and has more influence over public understanding of climate science than any other single text. It represents a distillation of the work of thousands of climate scientists around the world, summarising 9,200 scientific publications on the physical science, impacts, vulnerabilities, adaptation and mitigation options, with 7000 of these being published since Assessment Report 4 (AR4).
With 259 authors and over 54000 comments spanning 39 countries, the fact of this report achieving more than 97 per cent consensus is itself remarkable.
That this consensus has held its ground in the midst of the competing pseudo-science and tabloid hostility toward climate change science is even more impressive. The summary points out that the certainty of AR5 has bettered that of AR4 because the climate models have improved, and have reproduced observed surface temperature patterns.
But will AR5 make any difference to public understanding and, more importantly, action on climate change? Well, let’s go first to the certainty. The really big item that quality press outlets will be reporting in the morning is the 95 per cent (that’s 95 per cent) confidence that most global warming is caused by humans. That much certainly is astonishing for a report like this, from a body that is renowned for its restraint.
Whilst the 2013 report is far less uncommittal than the 2007 report, some climate science communicators have already suggested it does not go far enough. For example, Abraham and Nutticelli, point to evidence that natural external factors had no net influence on global temperatures in the last 60 years, and that therefore the summary should spell out that the 95 cper cent confidence relates to humans causing 100 per cent of global warming.
But part of the reason for the restraint here may be the masking effect of human-made aerosols which the full report on the physical science should explain on Monday. That is, humans may be causing 100 per cent of the warming, but human activity also offsets this warming with sulphur aerosols that reduce the rate of warming by up to 30 per cent.
Another resolute but sobering item that the IPCC summary communicates is that “climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped”. In otherwords, what climate scientists call “committed warming” is now being talked about not just as fixed global average temperature that we would be committed to, but a commitment to temperature rise that will continue to increase even if mitigation of C02 dropped to zero. This is because the residence time of current CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere is potentially hundreds of years.
Overall, other trends identified in AR4 will continue, sea ice retreat, glacial melt, ocean warming, warming of surface air temperature. And these trends have now been tied to the observation that the last three decades were the warmest in the past 1400 years. These observable trends fly in the face of so many attempts by tabloid news outlets, both print and their echo-media in radio and television bulletins, to spike uncertainty and misinformation ahead of the release of the report. The standout here was the great “global cooling” swindle inaugurated by the Daily Mail, and scandalously parroted by press outlets that have deemed themselves unaccountable to journalistic codes.
Whilst the summary does not communicate the science in terms of regions of the globe, it forecasts that heat waves are projected to occur more frequently and last longer, which is likely to be bad news for Australia, in particular. There seems to be a lot more certainty about more of those “angry summers” than there is of the severity of floods and storms.
As an exercise in public communication, the summary is much more confident, resolute and useful for policy makers, as its “likelihood terminology” has been ramped up by the improvement in the modelling. How the tabloid assisted denier industry is going to respond to it, or whether is will be effective in dismantling the manufactured “debate” remains to be seen. But with this much certainty and this much consensus, the consequences of not taking any action to stop dangerous climate change are far too great to entertain a debate.
This article originally appeared on The Conversation.
Find out more:
- Dr David Holmes
- Communicatiosn and Media Studies
- School of English, Communications and Performance Studies
Monash musician honoured by Royal Academy of Music
A multi-award winning Monash researcher has been recognised by one of the world’s foremost academies … Continue reading Monash musician honoured by Royal Academy of Music
The Big Idea Competition
Interested in doing something positive for your community? Do you see yourself as a little … Continue reading The Big Idea Competition
Expanding research paradigms: new Digital Humanities unit available at Monash Arts
Are you interested in learning about cutting edge digital research and interdisciplinary collaboration approaches in … Continue reading Expanding research paradigms: new Digital Humanities unit available at Monash Arts
Monash graduates make their mark at News Corp
Monash journalism graduates are scoring key roles and winning awards at News Corp publications, particularly the … Continue reading Monash graduates make their mark at News Corp
Special Seminar on the Dramatic World of Jon Fosse with May-Brit Akerholt
The Centre for Theatre and Performance is hosting a special seminar on the Dramatic World … Continue reading Special Seminar on the Dramatic World of Jon Fosse with May-Brit Akerholt
The state of imprisonment in Australia: it’s time to take stock
by Dr Marie Segrave This article introduces The Conversation’s series, State of Imprisonment, which provides snapshots … Continue reading The state of imprisonment in Australia: it’s time to take stock
Monash at the Malthouse: Panel Discussion – ‘Meme Girls’
The second Monash Panel Discussion uses Meme Girls as a starting point to discuss post-gender expression in the … Continue reading Monash at the Malthouse: Panel Discussion – ‘Meme Girls’
Iconic boab trees trace journeys of ancient Aboriginal people
by Haripriya Rangan Baobabs, the iconic bottle trees of Africa and Madagascar, have a single … Continue reading Iconic boab trees trace journeys of ancient Aboriginal people
When jihadists post selfies the government struggles to respond
By Noor Huda Ismail Like many of us, jihadists with Islamic State (IS) like to … Continue reading When jihadists post selfies the government struggles to respond
Saudi incursion in Yemen more about security than sectarianism
by Ben Rich With claims that Saudi Arabia has mobilised 150,000 ground troops for its … Continue reading Saudi incursion in Yemen more about security than sectarianism
American revolution on Australian radio
The face of radio documentary making in Australia is changing, driven by American influences and … Continue reading American revolution on Australian radio
Critical Matters: A review of book reviewing in a one day symposium
Monash University’s Centre for the Book is hosting a one-day symposium on Thursday April 9th … Continue reading Critical Matters: A review of book reviewing in a one day symposium