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Climate change report faces still challenges, despite scientific consensus

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 20th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

How many scientists does it take to convince someone the climate is changing because human activities are warming the planet? This is the challenge that the IPCC intends to wrestle with next month when it issues its latest report, now with a greater degree of certainty than ever before.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Some details of a pending International Panel on Climate Change report have already been leaked and the basics are known. The IPCC says they are now 95 percent certain that human activities are warming the planet.

They also say that the pace of warming has slowed, likely a result of a number of factors, including increased quantities of volcanic ash in the atmosphere. Finally, they concede that the Earth is a tremendously complex system and that predicting the local impacts of the broader changes, of which they are certain, is nearly impossible.

Unfortunately, that last concession reduced their work to a question of how to reign in warming, because local adaptations cannot be planned in advance, since nobody can say with certainty how one place or another will be impacted.

There may be some exceptions to that. After all, a rise in sea level will be global, and that can be anticipated. However, questions of how much, and more specific questions than that remain unanswered.

All the IPCC can say with certainty is that the planet, globally on average, is warming and that warming is the direct result of human activity.

Despite the sophistication of modern science and computer systems, models remain incomplete. No model has yet successfully predicted changes over the long term. So far, scientists have managed to tease only a gradual trend out of the data.

Scientists can, with the right data, pin down specific correlations between time, location, and temperatures, but beyond that their work tends to be very local and specific. Meanwhile, general data about things like historic CO2 levels and degrees of climate change remain just that -general data often taken from a time when humans did not exist.

Still, the IPCC is working hard to communicate to the world that there is a consensus view on anthropogenic climate change and that the consensus is now shared by 95 percent of the world's climate researchers.

The IPCC does not do any direct research itself, but rather aggregates thousands of papers and reports every year to develop what the panel believes is a genuine measure of agreement on the issue. The IPCC says they evaluate what is being published and produce a report.

Based on their most recent work, they say that 95 percent of the scientific community supports the conclusion that humans are impacting the climate for the worse.

The challenge, as always, remains how to convince the public that this is happening and that it is a bad thing, which requires attention. So far, 90 percent consensus has proved inadequate.

It's unlikely that 95 percent consensus will help much either.

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