The world climate revival meeting in Glasgow ended with Alok Sharma (the UK’s minister to COP26, as well as the presiding chief priest) in tears over a last minute word change. The countries which have built more coal fired capacity, more quickly, than just about anyone else in history (that’s you China and India) would only agree to phase its use “down”, rather than “out”.
Despite the (quite literal) imprecations of hellfire, the only truly substantive outcome of the conference may be the Chinese government’s practical suggestion that the world should aim for a global temperature increase of 2°. (Bill Gates also chipped in some climate realism, noting that 1.5° was probably unachievable.)
But China’s efforts to inject a wider perspective seem to have had little effect on our media coverage. So perhaps one shouldn’t expect too much from Dr Judith Curry.
Which is a shame.
As she explains in her low key way, she left academic climate science because of her distaste for the politicisation of the field. She set up her own consulting outfit and provides commentary on her blog Climate Etc.
Time-pressed readers looking for context on climate issues will enjoy her 15 minute explanation of the climate debate.
Her gripe is that the fervour of ‘code red for humanity’ oversimplifies the debate and results in “overemphasizing the role of climate change in societal problems”. Perhaps this is her academic way of identifying overt politicisation.
Which in her view diverts attention from the really consequential questions about the nature, extent and appropriate response to warming.
This is distressing because there is in fact some good news. The most recent work for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that the risks of its most extreme climate change scenarios have been pitched “implausibly high”. (Again something which did not get as much celebration at COP26 as one might have hoped.)
Her preferred approach is one of climate pragmatism, which she explains here:
“The problem is with the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels, driven by fears about global warming. By rapidly transitioning to this so-called clean energy economy, we’re taking a big step backwards in human development and prosperity. Nations are coming to grips with their growing over dependence on wind and solar energy. Concerns about not meeting electricity needs this winter are resulting in a near term reliance on coal in Europe and Asia. And we ignore the environmental impacts of mining and toxic waste from solar panels and batteries, and the destruction of raptors by wind turbines.
To thrive in the 21st century, the world will need much more energy. Of course we prefer our energy to be clean, as well as cheap. To get there, we need new technologies. The most promising right now is small modular nuclear reactors. But there are also exciting advances in geothermal, hydrogen and others. And the technology landscape will look different even 10 years from now.
For the past two decades, people have equated environmental disaster with manmade global warming. We’ve been hearing about the climate crisis, climate catastrophe, existential threat and most recently a code red for humanity. Note that the IPCC itself does not use the words ‘crisis’, ‘catastrophe’, or even ‘dangerous’; rather it uses the term ‘reasons for concern.’ Apart from the scientific uncertainties, the weakest part of the UN’s argument about man made global warming is that it is dangerous. The link to danger relies on linking warming to extreme weather events, which is a tenuous link at best.
I have an old-fashioned view of environmental problems, focused on pollution of air, water, soils and the oceans, and also on land use that destroys habitats and diminishes species diversity.”
Some readers may be around to see if she is right when she says:
“In 50 years time, we may be looking back on the UN climate policies, and this so-called green economy, as using chemotherapy to try to cure a head cold, all the while ignoring more serious diseases.”
And after reading her, one is inclined to agree with her wry observation:
“What you get when [you] mix politics with science is . . . just politics, unfortunately.”