Since January there have been revelations one after another about the state of climate science, the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), inquiries into Climategate, confessions by some climate scientists that they may have both exaggerated some findings and been wrong about others and retractions of significant claims from the IPCC.
What has happened is that the mythical “scientific consensus” has come apart, key figures who have been a part of the process of “settling” climate science are now asking for a new process to replace the IPCC process and many members of power holding political parties are backing off radical policies to “stop” climate change and instead are favouring an adaptation strategy, focused on technology investments and seeking to promote green energy rather than develop systems of “cap and trade” or tax carbon. Between the collapse of Copenhagen, the world of climate change has changed.
In all of this, some key figures have been absent from the debate. Al Gore, normally effervescent and quick to come to the defense of the consensus, has all but deserted the field. In part this is because some of his own claims – about sea level rises, impact of climate change or hurricane frequency, speed of global warming - are simply unproven. Donald Trump, not a fan of global warming, has suggested that the Nobel Prize should ask for Gore and the IPCC’s prize back. A petition has been started asking for exactly this to happen.
David Suzuki, the Canada’s Patron Saint of Climate Change, has also said very little – he is missing in action just when scientists who claimed to know all about the climate need his help. Also missing is Lord Stern, author of the Stern Report which suggested that the world was at a tipping point and unless action was taken “immediately” (this was two years ago), then the world’s economies would be burdened by the impact of climate change for generations to come.
Prince Charles, the Prince of Beffudlement, has been busy promoting his views of architecture and planning, but is quiet about climate change. Days before Copenhagen and at Copenhagen itself, he saw this as the defining issue of our generation and Copenhagen as a “last chance” for humanity to do the right thing. Given that the world’s governments took a pass at Copenhagen, I suspect he is busy installing air conditioning at Buckingham Palace.
One person who has been busy, both writing titillating novels and defending his tattered reputation is the railway engineer who finds himself as Chairman of the IPCC, Dr Rajendra Pachauri. Accused of conflicts of interest, Dr Pachauri stalwartly defends the IPCC, despite the revelation of a some twenty major problems with the IPCC 2007 influential report and growing evidence of the failure of the peer review and scientific assessment process. Defending the indefensible and accusing others of failing to understand the work of the IPCC are signs of increasing desperation. Calls for his resignation are growing and very few are coming to his defense.
Even Barrack Obama, who saw Climate Change as one of the defining issues for his Presidency a year ago, now refers to the issue in terms of energy, jobs and security. Only Gordon Brown, whose opinions are seen to be less and less relevant as he is facing down the possibility of a humiliating defeat in the May election in Britain, is out championing the pre-Climategate Copenhagen science, egged on by his Climate Change Minister, Ed Milliband. Young Ed has declared war of “climate change skeptics”, which now include several lead IPCC authors.
As the science begins to take its rightful place in public discourse, with scientists seeking to understand the complex evidence and challenge that evidence and the assumed understanding, those who used science to promote their noble (and often financial) causes – Pachauri, Gore, Suzuki Foundation, Stern – are laying low to see where the bombs fall and how they can salvage something from the debacle. There are more bombs to come – hardly a day passes without another serious flaw in the IPCC’s 4th Assessment appearing. Shock and awe at the collapse of an ideologically driven science is apparent.
What will happen now is that we will begin to see new faces and new names. Some of the “deniers” will be rehabilitated and those campaigners who offer an apology for their enthusiasm and commit themselves to a serious, systematic, critical and reflective use of science will be allowed out of purdah and allowed once again to walk amongst us. Meantime, we can all play “Where on Earth is David Suzuki?”