Alex Chadwick, BURN Host
You’ll see a lot of climate news in the next few days. And maybe hear some climate shouting.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its latest report. Founded 25 years ago by the UN, the IPCC is the principle world science organization reviewing data and studies on climate. This new report is the fifth since 1990. Each one concludes with increasing certainty that human influence is causing the world to warm, and that the effects of human activity will accumulate for decades and centuries, altering the planet in ways we have never seen.
A summary paper again shows increased confidence that greenhouse gases – mainly CO2 from burring carbon-based fuels – account for most of the warming that scientists have observed since the industrial age began 200 years ago. The last report said the IPCC was 90 percent sure of this conclusion – it is now said to be 95 percent sure. But a lot more attention is probably going to explanations of something earlier reports did not completely foresee – what the IPCC calls “a pause” in the rise of average global surface temperatures over the last dozen or so years. The fundamental science of global warming is based on the earth retaining more energy and heat from the sun, much of which should reflect off the planet and back into space. If greenhouse gases are trapping that heat – and basic physics says they are – where is it?
A series of recent papers cited by the IPCC answers that – the heat is sinking into the ocean, especially the deep Pacific Ocean. There’s a pretty clear and accessible explanation for it at the site RealClimate, in an article by a German oceanographer, Stefan Rahmstorf. But climate skeptics are unlikely to be persuaded – the Pulitzer Prize winning site Inside Climate News reports they mean to seize on the reports findings to try to create more doubt. The data can look contradictory, especially for non-scientists: which set of facts do you believe?
Here’s some help from BURN contributor Richard Muller, a UC Berkeley physicist and noted former climate skeptic who changed his mind after an extensive three-year review of data. Writing in the New York Times this week, he compares climate trends to a staircase – that is, a series of risers and treads. Just because you reach a landing, he says, doesn’t mean the stairs stop going up.