The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is working on their occasional (every 5 or 6 years) assessment of the nature and impact of climate change on the world. This year, they have adopted very strong language, according to an AP report. The official version of the report is still being finalized, so I can't link to it yet. All I've got so far is the news report from the AP.
That news report has some very fascinating quotes. Here's what stood out to me:
now that world has begun to warm, hotter temperatures and rises in sea level "would continue for centuries" no matter how much humans control their pollution.
Then, later in the article, a quote from Riibeta Abeta, a delegate from Kiribati:
I hope that policymakers will be quite convinced by this message," said Riibeta Abeta, a delegate whose island nation Kiribati is threatened by rising seas. "The purpose is to get them moving."I might be missing something here... but if the sea level is going to rise for centuries no matter what we do, then what exactly is the motivation for us to "get ... moving", and what exactly are we moving toward? What will be the impact of lowering our emissions, even in the many-centuries-out perspective (as if we could even presume to predict that far)? How far must we lower our emissions to make a difference?
These questions are important, because harmful emissions are not immoral. That might be a weird way of putting it, but I think it's important. Emissions that harm our environment might not be a good idea, and we might want to limit them, but such limits have to be balanced against many other factors. Such balancing considerations are never easy... and when we beginning talking about uncertain gains that will appear at best centuries away, I start to wonder how much we should be willing to sacrifice for such nebulous goals.
Such was roughly the opinion of the Copenhagen Consensus last year, a meeting of economists who took it upon themselves to rank the 10 most pressing global problems by how much benefit would come from expending limited resources toward their resolution. Their conclusion was that, as far as comparative benefit from financial investment goes, global warming was at the bottom of the list. From what I can see, this report from the scientific angle would bear out that conclusion.
However, that conclusion is obviously not what the authors of the report intended to communicate, based on their quotes. What are your thoughts?
I have one other observation, but it's about the AP article itself, not the report. I found this sentence rather amusing:
The panel, created by the United Nations in 1988, releases its assessments every five or six years — although scientists have been observing aspects of climate change since as far back as the 1960s.Yes, it is true that scientists have been observing "climate change" back that far. It's just that for the first couple decades, they were sounding the alarm about global cooling and the coming ice age, not global warming. I'm pretty young, but I remember having my elementary school teachers impress on us how important it was to stop using aerosol cans because they were going to block out the sun's heat and we were going to be overrun by glaciers.
Considering that nowadays the terms "climate change" and "global warming" are used synonymously, the AP could have been a bit more clear on that point. :)
[UPDATE: The Volokh Conspiracy blog mentions the report, with more links and some interesting discussion in the comments. It also points to two other blogs, which take issue with the particular wording of the report regarding climate change's affect on hurricanes, and how the media has been reporting that angle to the public. Interesting stuff.]