The latest update by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change contained few surprises. The average worldwide temperature will continue to creep upward. However, it will increase more slowly as the production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane is reduced.
What is notable is not the contents of the report so much as the reactions to it. Scientists agreed that there wasn’t much new in it and said so. A few pointed out the need to plan for ways to offset the impacts of a warmer planet.
Politicians, however, seemed to be leaping for the panic button. They wanted drastic action now or the end of the world was we know it would soon be at hand.
It was as though they had read two different reports and responded in two different languages.
For example, Cliff Mass, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, pointed out that as the average temperature rises the snowpack in the mountains will likely decrease even as precipitation increases. The key for irrigated agriculture, he said, is to increase the amount of water storage.
“We can deal with it with more reservoir capacity,” he told Capital Press reporter Don Jenkins. “We’ve been lazy. We’ve used the snowpack as a reservoir.”
Such an analysis seems reasonable. We have long advocated more water storage across the West in the form of reservoirs and aquifer recharge. With smaller snowpacks likely, that only seems prudent.
“The world isn’t going to end,” he said. “The report’s really quite underwhelming. It’s not as hyped as the headlines.”
Politicians, on the other hand, seemed to read much more into the report and responded in a different language.
“This groundbreaking report makes it clear that the extreme weather now being felt around the globe and across Washington state will look mild compared to what’s ahead if we don’t act,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a press release. “The next generation deserves to be able to enjoy the bliss of a Puget Sound summer day, not be trapped inside by triple-digit temperatures and smoky skies.”
To their credit, scientists such as Mass are most interested in the facts and initiating a discussion of what we all can do to minimize the impact of climate change on everyone, including the farmers and ranchers who produce our food.
And the politicians? Well, they have their reasons to go to their grab bag of hyperbole to promote drastic measures and push through political agendas.
Instead of addressing the major causes of climate change — such as China, which produces 28% of the world’s carbon dioxide — and seeking out the best ways to cope with climate change, they want to drop everything to pursue paths that at best will only slow climate change, not stop it.
The U.S. produces 15% of the carbon dioxide and its carbon footprint is shrinking, while China’s is growing.
Providing constituents with a Chicken Little version of science will not solve the problem. It will only cause more confusion, mostly among the politicians.