IPCC report – understanding the evidence

A letter to the Economist about the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report encourages us to see climate models not as ‘a prediction machine’ but as ‘living maps, drawn up by scientists with the most recent evidence available…’

It’s the phrase ‘living maps’ I like. Wouldn’t it be great if policy discussions generally could use living maps, mapping out options and actions and consequences, with full context, and a decent attempt at impartiality?

The press would hate it, and so too the politicians. Maybe I would too, to be honest. Democracy as we know it is all about confrontations. But a few occasional living maps are useful, so well done the IPCC.

And, yes, the IPCC is impartial. Errant reporting of the movements of Himalayan glaciers doesn’t vitiate reams of irrefutable evidence. How we respond is a different matter: are consequences manageable, how much does it matter if they’re not, what on balance is best for the world? But we need to accept the evidence before we can have that debate. Increasingly acidified oceans and retreating ice sheets and, yes, glaciers, are there to remind us.

We need those living maps, to work out our options. There are different routes to take and we may get lost. Routes we can argue. But we’re mad to challenge the contours. When the deluge comes we don’t want to find ourselves in a river valley all the while claiming the mountains don’t exist.

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