After 278 leading scientists from 65 countries analysed over 18,000 studies published since 2014, the Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its contribution to the sixth Assessment Report (AR6) tagged ‘Mitigation of Climate Change’ on April 4, 2022. Because of its bulkiness (a 3,676-page report) and the esoteric manner it is usually written, only scientists can bear the pain to read the report. Most will settle for the ‘Summary for Policy Maker,’ a 64-page document condensed and specifically tailored for non-scientists.
The vast majority of the public get their climate information from the media, not from the science report. And from the perspective of the media, fear is what sells the most. But where does the media itself get its information? From the SPM. This is how it works; the IPCC ARs are written by scientists after painstakingly observing the data and meticulously reading the research literature. In order to condense the bulky literature, usually more than 3,000 pages, an SPM is prepared. These summaries, most times, are not prepared and written by scientists. That is why they are usually not in agreement with the ARs. It is the SPM that goes into the media and what the decision-makers read.
One of the disadvantages of the distorted information that people get from the media about climate has led to confusing weather with climate. In 2012, Nigeria recorded its worst flooding in 40 years as a result of heavy rainfall. But because of the poor understanding of climate, the media called the flooding one of the effects of climate change. Well, that isn’t climate change but the weather. Precipitation, temperature or other atmospheric conditions for a short term is defined as the weather. Climate is a 30-year average of weather in a given region. If that kind of rainfall continued for 30 years, then you can say that the climate has changed. Taking an extreme weather event in isolation without accounting for historical trends and confusing it as climate change, which the media do so often, has contributed to rising climate anxiety among young people. It’s not surprising that many green and environmentalist organisations are comprised vastly of young people who feel that we’re driving our world into extinction. You often see inscriptions carried by young people that read, “You will die of old age, while I will die of climate change.”
Climate change has been recognised as a growing threat to mental health but there‘s a lack of mental health professionals equipped to handle the increasing number of people anxious over the planet, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Children around the world have been skipping school for protest even though we know that a good understanding of science helps in understanding the fundamentals of climate change. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist teenager known to have challenged world leaders to take drastic steps in mitigating climate change, was alleged to have said that she can see carbon dioxide. If that allegation about Greta was true, then that speaks volumes of the lack of understanding of fundamental chemistry about carbon dioxide as a colourless, odourless gas. If you can see it or smell it, then it’s not carbon dioxide. And coming from the great-granddaughter of Svante Arrhenius, the originator of physical chemistry, who thought global warming was good for Sweden, such a high level of ignorance would be totally unbecoming. Skipping schools in a bid to protest against climate change is a huge disservice to knowledge. The school is the citadel of learning; when you’re well educated and trained to become a solution provider and net contributor to scientific and technological breakthroughs that will help human civilisation.
Do you know that nothing strange or unusual is happening as it concerns hurricanes and tropical cyclones? The WGI IPCC AR6, released last year August, states clearly that there is low confidence in long term (multi-decadal to centennial) trends in the frequency of all-category tropical cyclones. Yet, you would hear in the mainstream media that human actions are increasing the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones. Another contrary report that has taken over the media is that climate change is an existential threat to humanity and civilisation. We now know that a nuclear war is the real existential threat to humanity. This became evident in the Russia invasion of Ukraine and the U.S. refusal to battle former.
Again, read chapter 10 of the Working Group II, IPCC AR5, and you’ll be amazed; the report states unambiguously that “for most economic sectors, the impact of climate change will be small relative to the impact of other drivers. Changes in population, age, technology, relative prices, lifestyle regulation, governance and many other social aspects of socioeconomic development will have an impact on the supply and demand of economic goods and services that is large relative to the impact of climate change.”
The science of climate change is very complicated and, for now, poorly understood. That is why it is practically impossible to make accurate future predictions about climate. Nevertheless, scientists have a sense of what’s going on in the climate, which is why there’s a scientific consensus on the rise of global mean temperature degree since the 1850s and the increase in carbon dioxide emissions relative to pre-industrial era, premised on the burning of fossil fuels by humans.
One of the areas of disparity in the scientific community is the attribution of carbon dioxide as the cause of global temperature rise. Scientists opposed to climate change alarm argue that the geological history of the world, which paleoclimatology helps us to understand, has not always had a linear relationship between carbon dioxide and temperature. Just to cite a more recent example, the era between the 1940s and 1970s was when humans released the highest amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and yet global mean temperature during that time was declining.
Climate models, another area of contradiction, have exaggerated warming when compared with satellite observations. The reasons adduced by physicists for wrong climate model predictions are parameterisation and the poor treatment of clouds by the models. Therefore, asserting that anthropogenic forcing is majorly the cause of global warming of the past century and a half, with natural variability accounting for an infinitesimal cause, is yet to be scientifically proven. Many reasons might have caused the warming apart from the carbon dioxide concentration. It may be that the oceans have released more heat to the atmosphere, it may be due to high solar irradiance or urbanisation, which measuring instruments might not have cautiously taken into consideration during global mean temperature calculations.
What I have termed a quixotic recommendation in the WG III AR6 states that a temperature rise below 1.5℃ is possible if we double down on mitigation measures— one of which requires global emissions to peak at the latest in three years. To believe that it’s achievable is to believe in a tooth fairy. My reasons for thinking that recommendation is unrealistic are not far fetched, as they hinge on climate finance, available technology to guarantee energy reliability and the irreplaceable derivatives of fossil fuels.
Olaniyi writes via email@example.com