Truth isnít out there

The upcoming IPCC report is likely to confirm that there are only uncertainties on climate change.

The leaked draft of a report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admits what the sceptics want to hear: that the predicted rate of global warming was overstated, that there has actually been a pause in warming and that scientists have not given due weightage to the planet's natural weather cycles of ice ages punctuated by warmer spells ó the last was the Medieval Warm Period. Paradoxically, the report also claims to be 95 per cent sure that increases in global temperature owe to human activity. In short, the report reconfirms old truths, the only truths out there: the issue of global warming remains as contentious as ever, the outcomes of modelling climate remain as uncertain as ever, and it remains 95 per cent futile to expect absolute certainties from a probabilistic model.

Climate change has always been a polarising issue. The strangest ideas have flourished in the debate. The North has charged that methane produced in the guts of Indian cattle is more damaging than automobile emissions. The South has countered by championing gobar as the clean fuel of the future. The debate has been dominated by extreme opinions, which assume certainties where only probabilities exist. The "truth" about global warming, if it exists, lives somewhere in a constantly shifting probability cloud. The only certainty is that, worldwide, there will always be a need for growth in the sectors of industry, energy and food. If growth has unintended consequences, they must be offset. The process of cancelling them out would create new, specialised industries, disciplines and jobs. Not entirely a bad thing in a world that is constantly job-starved.

The IPCC report, the first since 2007, is being treated as infallible even before it is out. On the contrary, it is a scientific review of the literature of the last six years and at least one of its authors has protested against it being treated like a religious tract offering certainties. Meanwhile, the 195 countries which back the IPCC have filed 1,800 questions concerning the report. Since the quest for truth is illusory, governments should decide on green taxes and subsidies according to their political inclinations, using climate science reports only as rough guides, not as justifications of scriptural force.

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