In terms of climate change and variability on the regional and local scale, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) report on surface and tropospheric temperature trends, and the U.S. National Assessment [of Climate Change] have overstated the role of the radiative effect of the anthropogenic increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in relation to a diversity of other human climate- forcing mechanisms. Indeed, many research studies incorrectly oversimplify climate change by characterizing it as being dominated by the radiative effect of human-added CO2. But while prudence suggests that we work to minimize our disturbance of the climate system (since we don’t fully understand it), by focusing on just one subset of forcing mechanisms, we end up seriously misleading policymakers as to the most effective way of dealing with our social and environmental vulnerability in the context of the entire spectrum of environmental risks and other threats we face today.
What is your criticism of the IPCC?
Mainly the fact that the same individuals who are doing primary research into humans’ impact on the climate system are being permitted to lead the assessment of that research. Suppose a group of scientists introduced a drug they claimed could save many lives: There were side effects, of course, but the scientists claimed the drug’s benefits far outweighed its risks. If the government then asked these same scientists to form an assessment committee to evaluate their claim (and the committee consisted of colleagues of the scientists who made the original claim as well as the drug’s developers), an uproar would occur, and there would be protests. It would represent a clear conflict of interest. Yet this is what has happened with the IPCC process. To date, either few people recognize this conflict, or those that do choose to ignore it because the recommendations of the IPCC fit their policy and political agenda. In either case, scientific rigor has been sacrificed, and poor policy and political decisions will inevitably follow.