A Reasonable Objective-An Unfortunate Emphasis
George M. Woodwell
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been regularly attacked by critics for representing the scientific community’s experience and data on the global disruption of climate as a global problem. Their treatments of that topic, however, have been scrupulously probing and objective despite the obvious threats to human welfare. Their objectivity has been guarded by scientists who in my view have weakened interpretations of existing data, sometimes their own, and limited their presentations unnecessarily to avoid criticism from more conservative scientists and from the political right, ever poised to leap on any sign of opinion. The entire process of publication is open to political review and criticism before publication, further extinguishing any flicker of bias or opinion. The institution has done well in suppressing judgments and presenting well-defended data. One of the effects of that highly refined approach has been to limit participants, excluding de facto potential scientific participants. Some scientists of whom I am one, are alarmed by the consequences of changing climates out from under all life. They are impatient and unwilling to concede ignorance of consequences that are known to be real, however unpopular with others. Eliminating such perspectives introduces a clear bias never discussed.
A new report appears in its title to abandon that carefully crafted objectivity. “Managing The Risks of Extreme Events and Disaster to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” can be interpreted as accepting the awkward but unfortunately popular conclusion that nations can muddle through by accommodating the climatic disruption…and the scientific community will help tell how. The report itself does little to alter that impression offering as it does a clinical dissection and interpretation of ‘risks’ in 500 page document. It might have been much more effective as well as appropriate to avoid the suggestion of “adaptation” as a policy and emphasize “mitigation’ of both cause and effects throughout. Otherwise the merchants of poison appear to get all that they want. Mitigation is in fact the only realistic objective, for the disasters discussed are unacceptably multiplying tragedies, however modulated in the dissection . A journalistic propensity for a balanced treatment might lead to a discussion of what can now be done to stabilize the composition of the atmosphere. All nations have agreed to do so under the Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992, a very important treaty that was virtually universally ratified and cannot be ignored. Such an analysis might reach even further to what might be done to reverse the trend, however difficult and long-term that process may be.
“Adaptation” to accelerating continuous climatic disruption as a policy is optimism run wild. Those advocating it set conditions that make it sound reasonable: ‘we must accept the changes already induced and correct for them”; “we shall continue to work to halt the trend and reverse it, but meanwhile, we must adapt”. Alas, those palliatives are attractive but misleading. This document unfortunately suggests the acceptance of a decision to allow the continued accumulation of the tragedy. Such an acceptance would be a confession to the industrial world that we shall continue on a suicidal course and the scientific community will help. Surely, the IPCC can emerge with a more powerful statement of the most serious disruption of life on earth short of social and political collapse into universal war.