Home Blogs Climate Change: Natural or human-induced?

Climate Change: Natural or human-induced?

Much to my surprise, I came across an organization called the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) or, as some say “Not-the-IPCC”, that maintains that there is no scientific evidence for human-induced climate change. It is clear that a leap of faith is required to reach such a position. Full scientific certainty is a very theoretical concept and can never be attained: demanding it from others implies that you have to fulfill the condition yourself before you make (bold) statements.

Share your comment on thesis | anti-thesis below and we’ll place it in the next Europe Geospatial Digest issue.

Thesis

The arguments of NIPCC (stated in “Climate change reconsidered II”) are as follows:

  • Properties inherent in models make dynamic predictability impossible. Without dynamic predictability, other techniques must be used to simulate climate. Such techniques introduce biases of varying magnitude into model projections.
  • Several of these important [biological and chemical] processes are either missing or inadequately represented in today’s state-of-the-art climate models.
  • Limitations in computing power frequently result in the inability of models to resolve important climate processes.

Plus some arguments related to uncertainty in general and in nitrous oxide emissions in agriculture in particular.

The NIPCC conclusion is then: ”…any human global climate signal is so small as to be embedded within the background variability of the natural climate system and is not dangerous. At the same time, global temperature change is occurring, as it always naturally does. A phase of temperature stasis or cooling has succeeded the mild twentieth century warming. It is certain that similar natural climate changes will continue to occur.”

Apart from research by the NIPCC or its adherents, there is an interesting study of the Dutch company EARS called “MeteoSat derived planetary temperature trend 1982 – 2006”. This study seems to support the NIPCC position, at least partly: “our observations point to a decrease in planetary temperature over almost the entire hemisphere, most likely due to an increase of cloudiness. Two small areas are found where a considerable temperature increase has occurred. They are explained in terms of major human interventions in the hydrological balance at the earth surface.”

References:

NIPCC (2012). Climate change reconsidered II.

Rosema, A. et al (2013). MeteoSat derived planetary temperature trend 1982 – 2006.

Anti-Thesis

The NIPCC states that there is no “full scientific certainty” supporting human-induced climate change, although they continue more cautiously with “in the face of such facts, the most prudent climate policy is to prepare for and adapt to extreme climate events and changes regardless of their origin. Adaptive planning for future hazardous climate events and change should be tailored to provide responses to the known rates, magnitudes, and risks of natural change.”

Even taking this weakened position into account, it is clear that a leap of faith is required to reach such a position. Full scientific certainty is a very theoretical concept and can never be attained: demanding it from others implies that you have to fulfill the condition yourself before you make (bold) statements. In addition, the conclusion that there is no human-induced climate change is simply weird: inferring that because something may not be true, the opposite must be true, is a logical fallacy, or at least a flaw in critical reasoning.

Since the industrial revolution, scientists have been observing a change in the climate that cannot be attributed to the ‘natural’ influences of the past only. Industrial manufacturing, agricultural processes, transportation emissions and biomass burning have contributed to the amount of greenhouse gases and aerosol in the atmosphere that is affecting our climate system. Land-use change and deforestation too are affecting the surface albedo, contributing to global warming.

In support of the NIPCC it must be said that unreasonable (or at least unscientific) attacks by pro-IPCC scientists draw the discussion in a quasi-religious domain, where “heretics” and “guardians of the true faith” battle each other: believing seems to be the issue at stake. That the biggest PR-company in the world, Edelman, issued a (however conveniently vague) statement recently, apparently under pressure, that they do not accept client assignments that aim to deny climate change, shows how sensitive the issue is.

It seems to be prudent to follow Blaise Pascal here: “Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.” Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

That the worst need not be the worst is shown by the World Bank in “Climate smart development – Adding up the benefits of actions that help build prosperity, end poverty and combat climate change”. The report provides practical recommendations to contribute especially to the reduction of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, without compromising economic development.

Another practical example, worth copying, is provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency. In the Narrangansett Bay Sustainability Pilot that is part of EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries programme, a system dynamics approach is adopted to addressing the problem of nutrient pollution in Narragansett Bay. Experts, together with communities and policymakers carry out an impact assessment to identify sustainable solutions to avoid, reduce, or manage the negative effects of nutrient pollution on the bay and its watershed.

Climate change is, after all, a threat we better take seriously.

References:

World Bank / ClimateWorks foundation (2014). Climate-smart development – adding up the benefits of actions that help building prosperity, end poverty and combat climate change.

EPA (2012). Climate change and coastal watersheds. Climate Ready Estuaries.