The IPCC has released its final synthesis report. I don’t really want to discuss it in detail. Sou already has a post about it and Carbon Brief has a good summary. I thought I might comment, though, on a view that seems to be prevalent amongst people like Richard Tol (who I should probably ignore as his credibility appears to be diminishing rapidly) and Roger Pielke Jr. The view can probably be summed up by a couple of tweets from Roger Pielke Jr.
I engaged briefly in a discussion between Michael Tobis – who appears to be one of the more thoughtful people involved in the climate debate – and Roger Pielke Jr – who, in my view, is not. Michael was trying to get Roger to clarify his position. Needless to say it didn’t go well. Roger accused people of being childish and of Trolling. To be fair, I happen to agree with Roger that much of the online climate debate is indeed very childish. If, however, he thinks he’s some kind of mature influence, then I think he’s sorely mistaken (to be clear, though, I’m certainly not suggesting that I am either).
Roger’s response was essentially to read his books. Apparently, if we did that we’d understand his views. Well, there are a lot of books in the world. I’d certainly like some kind of sense that I’m not going to be wasting my time. All indications, so far, are that I would be.
Acknowledging that maybe Roger’s position is more nuanced that it seems, based on his tweets, it seems rather silly. It’s my understanding that the goal of the IPCC is to inform policy makers and the public, not to influence policy directly. If policy makers and the public are more informed, then they’ve succeeded. If we choose not to do anything, despite this information, it’s not the IPCC’s fault. It’s the fault of our policy makers. Of course, maybe there is indeed a more effective way to communicate this information, but it’s hard to see what it would be. If there are any policy makers who haven’t got what is clearly an extremely simple and clear message, they must be living in a cave somewhere.
Additionally the term apocalyptic seems to be Roger’s own construct. I don’t think it’s an IPCC term. Also what is he actually implying? That the IPCC should adjust it’s message so as to be more effective at influencing policy. Well, that’s not formally their goal. Their goal is simply to inform. What they say should be consistent with the best evidence available. Either there are potentially catastrophic outcomes, and they should say so, or there aren’t, and they shouldn’t. Suggesting that they should choose what they say, so as to have a better chance of influencing policy, sounds like Roger is suggesting that they shouldn’t be entirely honest. If so, this seems absurd.
So, maybe I misunderstand what Roger is getting at, but as it stands he seems to be essentially arguing that IPCC reports have never successfully influenced policy in the past and that therefore they won’t now, and that they should adjust their message so as to be more effective. Well I think that’s just a classic example of shooting the messenger. It’s also consistent with my basic view that as it becomes clearer that we should have acted sooner, people will start to blame climate scientists and the IPCC for not having done more. However, it’s hard to see what else they could have done and how anyone can be confused about the information coming from their reports. The message appears to be absolutely clear. Of course it’s well within our rights to choose not to act, but blaming inaction on the IPCC seems absurd. Maybe if some people spent a bit more time convincing people to consider the information in the IPCC reports, and less time criticising the IPCC, we’d have a better chance of making sensible policy decisions.