The great climate change walkback

When the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was released last week, I noted that the widely-publicized executive summary provided to lawmakers was considerably more alarmist than the report itself.  Actually, there are three layers of alarmism in this smelly little onion of hype, because global warming cultists and their media allies portray the executive summary as even more high-strung than it actually is.  They also don’t like to mention how often speculative phrases like “could” and “might” appear throughout the report.

There’s some controversy over exactly how much the executive summary was “sexed up,” and who was responsible.  One contributor to the IPCC project, Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University, refused to sign the final report because he was “uncomfortable” with how “the four horsemen of the Apocalypse” could be heard galloping through its executive summary.  He’s now facing a smear campaign from the Church of Global Warming, coordinated by someone who isn’t even a climate scientist.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation (a merry band of “deniers” whose masthead includes the graph of largely unchanging 21st-century climate that no “climate change” fanatic can explain away) notes that the IPCC executive summary not only exaggerates many of the predictions in the report, but in several cases directly contradicts what the report actually says.

For example, the summary claims increasingly extreme weather will cause massive population displacements over the coming century, but the report says the exact opposite: “Current alarmist predictions of massive flows of so-called ‘environmental migrants’ are not supported by past experiences of responses to droughts and extreme weather events, and predictions for future migration flows are tentative at best.”  (Chapter 9, Page 13 of the final report.)

Even more eye-opening, one of the most widely publicized (and widely ridiculed) sections of the executive summary claims climate change will cause wars in the century to come, but in fact the report itself says “research does not conclude there is a strong positive relationship between warming and armed conflict.”  In fact, extreme measures to combat climate change are cited as an equally likely cause of violent conflict.

This chapter of the report (Chapter 12) is lengthy and highly speculative, discussing all sorts of things unpredictable human beings might do in response to conditions that may or may not exist; the closest thing to a firm conclusion is the rather obvious conclusion that “low per capita incomes, economic contraction, and inconsistent state institutions are associated with the incidence of violence,” and these undesirable conditions could be imposed by anything from climate change that messes up the food supply, to environmental regulations that depress the local economy.

There is also an assertion that “people living in places affected by violent conflict are particularly vulnerable to climate change,” which appears in boldface, but the same paragraph later admits that it’s merely an inference, based largely on the (again, rather obvious) conclusion that people who are busy trying to kill each other don’t have a lot of energy or capital left over for adaptation to a changing environment.

Then you’ve got the part where the report authors admit that all of their conclusions about human impact are absolute speculation (count the number of times words like “can,” “may,” and “potential” appear in the passage from Page 18 below), and environmentalist policies carry considerable risk of creating the sort of social stresses that lead to violence:

Actions taken in response to climate change can aggravate existing significant inequalities or grievances over resources (Marino and Ribot, 2012), limit access to land and other resources required to maintain livelihoods, or otherwise undermine critical aspects of human security (Bumpus and Liverman, 2008, Fairhead et al., 2012).   Maladaptation or greenhouse gas mitigation efforts at odds with local priorities and property rights may increase the risk of conflict in populations,  particularly where institutions governing access to property are weak, or favour one group over another (Barnett and O???Neill, 2010; Butler and Gates, 2012, McEvoy and Wilder, 2012). Research on the rapid expansion of biofuels production includes studies connecting land grabbing, land dispossession, and social conflict (Molony and Smith, 2010; Borras et al., 2010; Dauverge and Neville, 2010; Vermeulen and Cotula, 2010). One study has identified possible links between increased biofuels production, food price spikes, and social instability such as riots (Johnstone and Mazo, 2011).

The provision of financial resources in payment for ecosystem services projects, such as are associated with Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), has the potential to stimulate conflict over resources and property rights (Melick, 2010). For example, efforts to ensure ???REDD readiness??? in Tanzania (Beymer-Farris and Bassett, 2012; 2013; Burgess et al., 2013) and the Congo basin (Brown et al., 2011) have been contested, and placed communities in conflict with conservationists and governments. Eriksen and Lind (2009) similarly find that climate change adaptation interventions in Kenya have aggravated surrounding conflicts.

Climate change mitigation will increase demand for deployment of less carbon-intensive forms of energy, including hydropower some of which have historically resulted in social conflict and human insecurity (for example because of forced resettlement), and this is a basis for concern about increased violence and insecurity in the future (Conca, 2005; McDonald-Wilmsen et al., 2010; Sherbinin et al., 2011). Other research points to an increased use of nuclear power increasing the threat of nuclear proliferation or incidents of nuclear terrorism (Socolow and Glaser, 2009, Steinbruner et al., 2012). Climate policy responses also have the potential to reduce conflict in various ways, as explained further in Section 12.5.4.

Well, sure, I can see where forcibly impoverishing, relocating, or starving people might make them a bit testy.  Or maybe cooperative projects will lead them to devise new methods of conflict resolution, as Section 12.5.4 (pages 19-20 of the PDF linked above) hypothesizes.  Or maybe a modest increase in surface temperatures – which may, or may not, have much to do with human activity – will result in great agricultural production, defusing the sort of resource tensions that can lead to conflict between hungry people.

All of this is very, very far from the Church of Global Warming’s media-amplified, lunkheaded conclusion that ZOMG GLOBAL WARMING WILL CAUSE MORE WARS.

It’s all so absurdly hypothetical, compared to Church doctrine that “the science is settled” and heretics need to shut up, or maybe find themselves in prison.  This whole report is absolutely riddled with medium-evidence and medium-confidence predictions.  There’s not a whole lot of evidence behind most of their conclusions.  In many ways, this IPCC missive resembles astrology: climate change enthusiasts predict every imaginable disaster, and if any of it actually happens, they’ll expect applause for their prophetic insights.

Of course, they’ll also expect you to forget about the many, many predictions that didn’t come true, much as the Tarot reader wants you to focus on the stroke of good fortune she anticipated, not the tall, dark stranger who failed to appear in your life on schedule.  The Wall Street Journal took stock of how often the 2014 report actually backpedals from past predictions of doom… all of which were very stridently presented as “settled science” nobody could possibly disagree with, once upon a time:

Gone are some of the false alarmist claims from the last report, such as the forecast that the Himalayan glaciers would vanish by 2035 or that hurricanes are becoming more intense. “Current data sets,” the report admits, “indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century.” Recall the false claims of climate cause and storm effect last year after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines.

Absent, too, are claims such as the one made in 2005 that global warming would create 50 million “climate refugees” by 2010 (later pushed back to 2020). In its place, we have the refreshingly honest admission that “current alarmist predictions of massive flows of so-called ‘environmental refugees’ or ‘environmental migrants’ are not supported by past experiences of responses to droughts and extreme weather events and predictions for future migration flows are tentative at best.”

The report is also more cautious about temperature predictions. It acknowledges that the rate of warming between 1998 and 2012 “is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951,” and it predicts modest temperature increases through 2035 of between 1° and 1.5° Celsius. More importantly, it acknowledges that “the innate behavior of the climate system imposes limits on the ability to predict its evolution.”

We’re not just talking about a group of scientists trying to cadge bigger research grants with sexed-up executive summaries.  Countless billions of dollars are on the line.  The climate change movement has been rocked by more than its share of actual fraud, but even the most honest scientists are having a very difficult time explaining why conditions over the last two decades don’t match up with their computer models – a highly relevant criticism, since most of what they’re predicting now is also based on computer models.

It’s not entirely the fault of climate scientists that such heavy doses of political power and media muscle have been injected into a debate they might rather have under more austere conditions, although the more energetic clergy in the Church of Global Warming are very enthusiastic about continuing their profitable relationship with opportunistic politicians.  There’s so much money and power to be harvested from this hybrid of politics and science, which provides a vehicle for levels of domination that free people probably wouldn’t tolerate… if they weren’t convinced the fate of the planet hung in the balance.

As several critics have noted, the new IPCC report pours an unseemly amount of ink into wealth redistribution, folding climate science neatly into the totalitarian social-justice crusades gripping the Western world.  That’s a tragic mistake, because – as even the IPCC report implicitly acknowledges – economic prosperity is the key to both wise environmental stewardship, and successful adaptation to changing conditions.  Prosperous people take care of the world around them, and are better able to survive extreme weather events.

Every politician who still has to worry about the wrath of angry voters loves the idea of an unending pseudo-scientific, moralistic crusade.  That’s why they’re putting so much effort into performing public-relations CPR on the climate change movement, even as citizens drift away to deal with more urgent concerns.  The fading days of the Church of Global Warming are accompanied by its most blood-curdling demands for silent obedience.  A distinct shortage of answers is the reason they insist you stop asking questions.  The game is almost over, and they know it.