is a writer, speaker and consultant on innovation and technology, was most recently a Director at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, where he set up and led their crowdsourced innovation service. Follow him on Twitter @Norm_Lewis
The publication of the UN’s report on climate change highlights the fact that the real danger facing humanity is knee-jerk policy-making based on one-sided science, rather than impending doom from global warming.
The latest apocalyptic report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been designed to propel us into action. With less than 80 days to go until the world convenes at the Glasgow climate conference, the call to act has become deafening.
US Secretary-General António Guterres said the findings represented a “code red for humanity”. For him, “the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk”. America’s climate envoy, John Kerry agrees, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will be a host at COP26, believes this is a “wake-up call” for humanity.
Stop whatever you’re doing and act now, they urge, or it will be too late. But is that true? The short answer is nobody knows.
The science of climate change – what ought to be a field of open contestation – has been transformed into a narrow one of religious consensus. It has become a barrier to science itself. There is no doubt that climate change is real, and it is a problem facing humanity. But just because it is a problem does not mean we are facing an apocalypse.
What is needed is clarity and objectivity. We need, in short, to uphold the motto of the Royal Society, a fellowship of many of the world’s most eminent scientists and the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. “Nullius in verba”, or “take nobody’s word for it”, it cautions. Withstand the domination of authority and verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment – this has always been, and remains, the foundation of science.
However, the latest IPCC report embodies almost exactly the opposite. Its conclusions are dogmatic and, as discussed below, are based on partial research chosen to support a predetermined misanthropic narrative. We are simply instructed to trust its co-authors’ word because they, after all, are the experts. We may not all be scientists and, thus, we may find it difficult to challenge the IPCC’s expertise. But one thing’s for sure: not all experts agree.
Twenty-three of them, in the fields of solar physics and climate science, from 14 different countries, have just published an important and interesting paper in the peer-reviewed journal ‘Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics’ titled ‘How much has the Sun influenced Northern Hemisphere temperature trends? An ongoing debate’.
It’s worth a read, not because it denies climate change, but because it raises crucial questions about the science and why the IPCC has taken the approach it has. The “ongoing debate” reference should be noted.
The 68-page review (18 figures, two tables and 544 references) explicitly avoided the IPCC’s consensus-driven approach in that the authors agreed to emphasise where dissenting scientific opinions exist as well as where there is scientific agreement.
The paper, which is the most comprehensive to date, analyses the 16 most prominent published solar output data sets, including those used by the IPCC. They conclude that simply blaming climate change mostly on greenhouse gas emissions is premature. This contradicts the IPCC’s conclusion, which the study shows is grounded in narrow and incomplete data about the Sun’s total solar irradiance (TSI).
As they reveal, most of the energy in the Earth’s atmosphere comes from the Sun. It has long been recognised that changes in the so-called “total solar irradiance” – that is, the amount of energy emitted by the Sun over the past few centuries – could have substantially contributed to recent climate change.
This new study reveals that the IPCC considered only a small subset of the published TSI data sets when assessing the Sun’s role in climate change and that this subset included merely “low solar variability” data sets. As a result, the IPCC was premature in ruling out a substantial role for the Sun in recent climate change.
Each of the co-authors has different scientific opinions on many of the issues discussed. They agreed to publish the paper to show how differences can be as significant as consensus: several co-authors spoke of how the process of objectively reviewing the pros and cons of competing scientific arguments for the paper had given them new ideas for future research. They also spoke of how the report would have had greater scientific validity if the IPCC had adopted a similar non-consensus-driven approach.
The lead author, Dr Ronan Connolly, of the US’s Center for Environmental Research and Earth Sciences, who is quoted in the paper’s press release, highlights the dangers of the IPCC’s drive for consensus. While he recognises the political usefulness of having an agreement, because it makes things easier for politicians, he stresses that “science doesn’t work by consensus. In fact, science thrives best when scientists are allowed to disagree with each other and to investigate the various reasons for disagreement. I fear that by effectively only considering the data sets and studies that support their chosen narrative, the IPCC have seriously hampered scientific progress into genuinely understanding the causes of recent and future climate change”.
Dr Connolly and his fellow scientists are right: the politicisation of the science underpinning the report has, in fact, become a barrier to the future of understanding climate science.
These authors are attempting to introduce some scepticism, refocus the attention on scientific data, and encourage us to ask questions to further our knowledge and thus our ability to act, both now and in the future. They are opposed to simply invoking unnecessary alarm and fear, and eliciting a negative short-term knee-jerk reaction.
The IPCC’s narrative, with its underlying tautological tilt at appearing scientific, feeds a misanthropic agenda that thwarts human reason and action. Reason is the only truly renewable source of scientific insight and practice that will secure the future of life on Earth, and the undermining of rationality is the cataclysm threatening that. And that’s something to be genuinely petrified of.