My Twitter feed has heavy volume today because of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) Working Group I’s (WGI) Summary for Policymakers official release.
I have waited since 2007 (when they released AR4) for this report’s issuance. I read most of the AR4′s WGI report (1000 pages long). Since it’s release, I have read hundreds of climate-related journal articles so I could stay current on the latest research. I have also read some of AR4′s WGII report, dozens of social science journal papers and books because it became clear to me after the AR4 WGI report that there was no significant problem with the science. As a scientist, I realized that the state of climate science hasn’t changed appreciably for decades. The same top-level messages of the First Assessment Report remain in place today. The AR5 WGI report primarily provides more confidence in the reported numbers. Detail changes are relatively minor compared to the knowledge body that existed in 1990. Scientists will continue to work on important items such as mechanisms behind deep ocean heat uptake and cryosphere dynamics. They need to better model Important feedback processes because of their nonlinearities. But the science, by and large, settled long ago.
What remains is our handling of that science, which is where social science knowledge comes in. The difference between acting today to provide cheap, reliable energy to the 1 billion people on Earth who currently have no such access with clean energy versus dirty energy is monumental. Prior to that, we need a reconciliation between believers and skeptics. Nobody should browbeat anyone else in a conversion effort. Instead, we need to identify solution pathways which acknowledge multiple worldviews. Those pathways exist but the status quo is awfully powerful within today’s systems. Changing from the status quo will not be easy, but it will be fruitful. Unfortunately, that very same Twitter feed puts that status quo on display daily; the more so when the IPCC issues a comprehensive science report. Why do the same climate scientists that demand others believe a particular stance from peer-reviewed physical science articles discount a particular stance from peer-reviewed social science articles? Should we trust experts, or not? The reason is tribalism. Tribalism runs rampant on Twitter and too many people think if they shout a little louder every day that eventually everyone will hear and agree with them, despite years of evidence to the contrary.
There is plenty to write about and discuss within the IPCC AR5 summary. I will do so as time permits. I do want to pass along a good article written by Andrew Revkin (the most salient part is at the end). My own research is climate science-based, but I am also working on a social science aspect in order to make the physical science results meaningful to policymakers.