At a glance – How the IPCC is more likely to underestimate the climate response
Posted on 14 November 2023 by John Mason, BaerbelW
On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added “At a glance” section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a “bump” for our ask. This week features “How the IPCC is more likely to underestimate the climate response“. More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the comment thread there.
At a glance
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a United Nations body founded in 1988. Its purpose is to inform governments about the status of our scientific knowledge with regard to our changing climate. In order to accomplish this role, it gathers and summarises evidence, producing an Assessment Report (AR) every few years. Each AR is an up-to-date account of the impacts and risks of a changing climate. However, because it takes 6-7 years to bring an AR to publication, by the time one is produced, the science is already moving ahead – as is the climate. The laws of physics wait for nobody.
It is important to clear up a couple of serious misunderstandings about the IPCC that are often encountered in online discussions. Firstly, the IPCC does not conduct original scientific research. That includes modelling. But how often do we see commentators ranting about ‘IPCC models’?
In fact, climate models are managed by multiple modelling groups around the world. Together, these groups form the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). In AR6, published in 2022-23, the latest generation CMIP6 output was featured. The modellers, however, did the modelling, not the IPCC.
The above example illustrates the depth of confusion that is out there. The confusion was sown by the same merchants of doubt who created and distributed all the other denialist talking-points that we deal with here at Skeptical Science.
A second frequently-cast aspersion is that the IPCC is alarmist, exaggerating the threat of climate change to cause needless worry or panic. Let us repeat: it merely collates what the science is saying. And what the science is saying is very worrying.
We have understood the heat-trapping properties of certain gases such as water vapour, methane and carbon dioxide for more than 100 years. Yet we have raised the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide from a pre-industrial level of ~280 parts per million (ppm) to 420 ppm (in 2023). That is a 50% increase.
A CO2 level of 420 ppm last occurred on Earth during the middle of the Pliocene division of geological time, some 3.5 million years ago. Back then, the Polar ice-sheets were much smaller and vegetation distribution, detailed by the fossil record, differed dramatically from that of today. As an example, mixed woodlands were able to grow in Arctic Siberia, where today there is just stunted tundra. Sea levels were metres higher than today’s. In AR6, the IPCC summarises, in its typically non-dramatic language:
“While present-day warming is unusual in the context of the recent geologic past in several different ways, past warm climate states (i.e. the Pliocene) present a stark reminder that the long-term adjustment to present-day atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations has only just begun. That adjustment will continue over the coming centuries to millennia.“
If you’re not worried about the threat of climate change, then you haven’t been paying attention.
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