The IPCC Report is not an Entirely Serious Document

The Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was charged with making a scientific report. However, whenever a scientific report involves policy issues on which commitments already exist among politicians, the scientific conclusions and especially the emphases are often strongly affected.

Major politicians in major countries, e.g. Vice-President Gore of the U.S. are eager to be told by science that global warming is a serious danger and that prompt and drastic action should be taken. As is usual with politicians, it isn't clear what this action would be. In their own countries, they are likely to propose actions inadequate to reduce CO2 emissions enough to bring world emissions to 1990 levels.

The effect of this political interest was to persuade the editorial committee of scientists to beef up the Executive summary of the report from the drafts, even though the conclusion was rather weak - only that there was a "definite signal" of CO2 induced warming.

The balance of the evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.
- 1995 IPCC Report

This beefing up elicited a strong protest from Frederick Seitz, a distinguished physicist and former President of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Seitz protested that the beefing up was not in accordance with proper standards for handling reports related to policy by scientific committees. In particular, it wasn't in accordance with the standards that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences adhered to in reviewing reports by the National Research Council before publication.

Seitz's warnings turned out to be prophetic. Now in the middle of 1997, the picture of global warming has become more cloudy, and scientists involved in the leadership of the IPCC have had to warn against over-interpreting the report. The 1997 May 16 issue of Science has an editorial about it by J.W. Zillman, President of the World Meteorological Organization. Another article quotes Benjamin Santer, the editor of the IPCC Report, as warning about overinterpretation. Some present scientific concerns are given in How Dry is the Tropical Free Troposphere? Implications for Global Warming Theory from the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Egging on the politicians, the major NGOs (non-governmental organizations, almost all of an environmentalist bent) have been lobbying all along for drastic action against global warming. Their concerns have affected the emphases of the report, most obviously in its perfunctory treatment of nuclear energy (which the NGOs vehemently hate). The scientific point is that nuclear energy does not emit CO2 into the atmosphere. The IPCC report says that much, but here's all it says about the subject.

First we have a note under energy supply.

a. Energy Supply: Emissions from the supply sector can be substantially reduced by:

- more efficient conversion of fossil fuels; - increased use of low carbon fossil fuels, by switching from coal to oil to natural gas; - decarbonizing flue gases and fuels coupled with carbon dioxide storage; - increased use of renewable sources of energy, in particular biomass, solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal; - switching to nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy is in a list that includes options that today supply trivial amounts of energy, and one way of reducing CO2 emissions that is entirely speculative at present - carbon dioxide storage. Remember that today nuclear energy generates 20 percent of the world's electricity.

3.5 The scenario of highest emissions (IS 92e) assumes high economic growth, moderate population growth, high fossil fuel availability and a phase-out of nuclear power.

The phase-out of nuclear power has a lot of political muscle in it in Europe, though probably not enough to make it happpen.

* Increasing the use of nuclear energy

Nuclear energy could replace baseload fossil fuel electricity generation, if public concerns about reactor safety, radioactive waste disposal, and proliferation can be resolved. The long construction lead times and high capital costs make nuclear power a relatively inflexible option.

This ignores the fact that nuclear energy is in a different political position in different countries. In some countries it is completely stalled, but in others it is heavily and increasingly used. France generates 82 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants and sells electricity to other European countries. The United Kingdom is moving ahead. Japanese electricity is 34 percent nuclear, and its use is continuing to expand. China, the world's largest user of coal, has made a commitment to multiplying its nuclear electricity by a factor of ten. Alas, that's not much, since today China produces less nuclear electricity than Taiwan.

One interpretation of the way the above quotes are phrased is that the authors are hinting that nuclear energy is the clear path that does not produce CO2 and keep mentioning it casually but are inhibited from making any actual analysis of the potential role of nuclear energy. A more extended analysis would take into account the use of nuclear energy for other applications than just generating electricity, i.e. for process heat and space heating, either directly or via electricity. Evidently this matter is too hot to handle. Ideology and Science contains an extensive discussion of ideology and how ideology inevitably affect science.

There is a tendency to attribute any remarkable weather event, e.g. the recent ice storm in Quebec and New England, to global warming. Maybe, but the 1995 IPCC report includes

"Overall, there is no evidence that extreme weather events, or climate variability has increased in a global sense, through the 20th century ...".

I suppose that other parts of the IPCC report are not so affected by previous commitments.

Here is a link to an IPCC Report Draft that was maintained for comments by U.S. Government agencies. It may disappear now that the report is out on paper. [Alas, it did disappear.]

Here are the UN page on IPCC as of 1997 October.

Here's a page Common Questions about Climate Change. It is definitely a party line document to educate the public and not confuse them with doubts. No references to the opinions of dissenters are given and none of them are included among he reviewers. This is what the politicians want from IPCC and the World Meteorological Organization.

Dr. Richard Lindzen of M.I.T., Professor of Meteorology, has been one of the main critics of IPCC in the meteorology world. Here is Lindzen's testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on 1997 June 10.

In Australia John Daly maintains a Web page critical of the IPCC estimates.

The claim is often made that global warming will bring the tropical diseases, e.g. malaria, dengue and yellow fever, further north. This claim has been made by many scientists eager to do good, but apparently not by the specialists in these diseases. Dr. Paul Reiter, Chief, Entomology Section, Dengue Fever Branch, Centers for Disease Control, wrote Global warming and vector-borne disease: is warmer sicker?. In it he complains about "rocket scientists" spreading myths about tropical diseases. This is only a side remark in the long article which tells about the current state of insect borne disease world wide. His main point is that "wealthier is healthier", i.e. the elimination of malaria from Western countries isn't a matter of climate but of being able to afford screens, air conditioning and anti-mosquito control measures. It provides more evidence of the effect of ideology on scientists outside of their own fields.

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