Posts Tagged ‘global mean temperature’

Hurricane Bill - NASA

This week and next, intense and furious talks will take place in Copenhagen in an attempt to find a solution to the climate crisis the world is facing. To paraphrase someone from over 60 years ago “Never in the history of mankind has the welfare of so many been in the hands of so few.” And yet by all accounts the probablility of achieving a workable solution in time is very low.

Why is this when a possible solution exists and the consequences of not applying that solution are so devastatingly serious? To most people involved in the science of climate change the writing is on the wall in six foot high letters. It is essential that we in the scientific community ask ourselves why this message that seem so clear to us does not seem to be passing into the consciousness of the mainstream.

At a recent round-table discussion at the LSCE in preparation for the Copenhagen Summit Jean Jouzel presented these two tables and introduced them as the two most essential pages from the IPCC report that synopsise the problem we are facing.

The 6 IPCC Stablisation Scenarios

IPCC Scenario Categories

Indeed, to the initiated these tables do make scary reading. However to the vast majority whose self-interests lie in not understanding them, it is all too easy to obscure their meaning.

I would like to make three points about these tables and the difficulties involved in the transfer of their meaning across the human synapses into the brain.

Firstly, they refer to average global warming between 2° to 6.1°. To most people who experience twice or three times this range of temperatures during an average day how communicative is this?

Secondly, the range within each scenario is quite precise and small. For most people the defining characteristic of climate is its variability so that they have a hard time understanding the relative constancy of the average global temperature and why any, even tiny, change is cause for concern.

Finally, in the IPCC tables the ranges of emissions corresponding to the various temperature scenarios can make people feel that there is a choice. (I’ll take the 25%  reduction in CO2 emissions, thank you very much!)

Perhaps this is the simplistic view of a newcomer but I can’t help but feel that there must be a better way to communicate the problem.

Another Winston Churchill quotation seems to me to be particularly apt in this context. “The reserve of modern assertions is sometimes pushed to extremes, in which the fear of being contradicted leads the writer to strip himself of almost all sense and meaning.”


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