Excited new climate report cannot be taken seriously

Blog, Climate, Tom Harris

Readers get their first taste of the unbridled alarmism that permeates the newly released Climate Vulnerability Monitor report as soon as they get to the following quote from The Economist at the very beginning of the document:

“A HUNDRED YEARS from now, looking back, the only question that will appear important about the historical moment in which we now live is the question of whether or not we did anything to arrest climate change.”

No one who understands the issue would take the idea of “arresting climate change” even remotely seriously. We undoubtedly have some small impact on climate, especially at regional levels due to the urban heat island effect. But stopping climate from changing on a global basis is science fiction.

Silly as it is, the selection of this quote was perhaps appropriate for a document riddled with serious flaws. Released this week by the DARA group, a non-governmental organisation based in Europe, and the Climate Vulnerable Forum, the Climate Vulnerability Monitor report is based on the assumption that the science of climate change is sufficiently understood that we know:

  1. it will get dangerously warmer over the century due to humanity’s emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases;
  2. extreme weather events will increase dangerously for the same reason;
  3. glaciers and other ice cover will melt precipitously and sea level rise will accelerate quickly;
  4. climate change during the 20th century was mostly unnatural and caused primarily by the CO2 emissions of developed countries who are therefore “guilty” of causing climate problems in the developing world;
  5. the vast majority of scientists who study the causes of global climate change agree with the Climate Vulnerability Monitor position.

In reality, none of these are valid assumptions. For example, while some scientists do indeed give the sort of confident, absolute statements included in the Monitor report, some scientists say the exact opposite, namely that we are headed for far more dangerous global cooling no matter what humanity does. Many others simply say that we do not know the future of global climate and that we cannot make meaningful forecasts until there are considerable advances in the basic science.

Such a diversity of expert opinion may not be comforting for activists and politicians who want to make grandiose Earth-shaking announcements based on a belief that “the science is settled”. However, an adult approach to the exceptionally complex science of climate change recognizes that we have far more yet to discover than we have learned to date.

Most dangerous about the Climate Vulnerability Monitor report is their recommendations to “COMMUNICATORS AND THE MEDIA” in the “CIVIL SOCIETY AND THE PRIVATE SECTOR” section.

In a subsection entitled, “Promote awareness on risks as opportunities”, they write:

“The Monitor emphasizes that it is no longer credible that mitigation of climate change will lead to reduced economic growth.”

This statement is so ridiculous that I will leave it to others to comment on it in the reply section after this blog entry.

Then, under the heading “Take a stand”, they advise communicators and the media:

“Time is running out and the stakes are tremendous, if not incalculable.”

If the stakes are “incalculable”, a sensible observer will wonder how they can be so confident that mitigation of climate change will not lead to reduced economic growth.

The Monitor bravely continues:

“If a low carbon transition is not engineered within the decade, the consequences will be dire regardless of the ultimate magnitude since they involve irreversible damage: the extinction of whole species, and thousands upon thousands of human lives lost.”

Well, no. It is all about the “ultimate magnitude” of the changes forecast. A one degree warming over the next century (the amount of change cited by many experts as most likely) would be inconsequential. A ten degree change would obviously be catastrophic. And, of course species extinction has been going on since the origin of life. 99.99% of all species that ever existed on the planet are now extinct. This part of the Monitor’s statement is therefore meaningless.

But they go further, completely destroying whatever credibility they have left:

“In worst case, not solving the climate change could render large areas of the planet unsuitable for human existence outdoors. The injustices, environmental irresponsibility and inhumanity are simply staggering.”

The conclusion to this section of the report is ominous, bringing up the specter of future Nuremberg-like climate denier trials:

“Despite the complexity of the topic, ignorance is no excuse for inaction, and indifference can be tied to complicity. With this report, there is now a comprehensive current-day economic justification for action in addition to the human, ethical, environmental and rights-based arguments already in wide circulation. Civil society groups, communicators and people of all kinds in positions of public influence or authority within their communities, whether in faith based groups, municipal or educational establishments, should find no further obstacles to taking a stand to tackling climate change.”

The Climate Vulnerability Monitor advises COMMUNICATORS AND THE MEDIA to “Question received wisdom.” One would certainly hope this includes received wisdom included in this report from the DARA group and the Climate Vulnerable Forum.

Natural climate change has affected societies throughout history and the lack of preparedness for change ended some civilizations tragically. Consequently, we do indeed need to prepare. But climate change does not only go in one direction and we cannot stop it no matter what we do.  The Climate Vulnerability Monitor should not be used as a basis for serious policy planning.


Tom Harris is Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition and an advisor to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.