There is a very interesting article on Nature.com that provides an example of something a bit uncommon in the climate wars: an intelligent and well reasoned disagreement with the IPCC. (h/t to Climate Etc.)
The article is well worth the read in its entirety, but its central point is a relatively straightforward one. The smaller the portion of the earth’s surface (or time period for that matter) you are examining, the more difficult and less useful it is to consider attribution of climate change. And yet, the IPCC, according to this article, is seeking research that specifically attributes biological responses to the root cause of a changing local environment.
As biological impacts provide evidence of climate change independently of temperature measurements, they have successfully bolstered ‘detection’, strengthening the scientific consensus that Earth is warming[refs]. However, now that warming is “unequivocal”[ref], contrarian arguments have shifted from whether warming is happening to whether it can be attributed to human activity. In this context, biologists are now expected to shift away from detection towards attribution — that is, assessing the extent to which observed biological changes are being driven by greenhouse-gas-induced climate change versus natural climate variability. This expectation is formalized in a guidance paper for scientists taking part in the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[ref].
The article continues:
It is rarely possible to attribute specific responses of individual wild species to human-induced climate change. This is partly because human forcing of the climate is only detectable on large spatial scales, yet organisms experience local climate. Moreover, in any given region, species’ responses to climate change are idiosyncratic, owing to basic differences in their biology. A further complication is that responses to climate are inextricably intertwined with reactions to other human modifications of the environment. Even where climate is a clear driver of change, little insight is gained by asking what proportion of the overall trend is due to greenhouse gases versus solar activity. From the perspective of a wild plant or animal, a changing climate is a changing climate, irrespective of its cause.
All very sensible stuff, IMO, and I think they make an excellent political point as well:
By over-emphasizing the need for rigorous assessment of the specific role of greenhouse-gas forcing in driving observed biological changes, the IPCC effectively yields to the contrarians’ inexhaustible demands for more ‘proof’, rather than advancing the most pressing and practical scientific questions. This focus diverts energies and research funds away from developing crucial adaptation and conservation measures.
I think this point generalizes beyond the IPCC’s focus on attribution of ecosystem respones to the broader problems with climate science communication. Being sensible, rational people (by and large), the scientific community thinks that presenting solid evidence of a serious problem will lead human societies to seek and implement solutions to said problem. Since American society is not in fact actively seeking any solutions to the problem of climate change, they must need more and stronger evidence.
But this is not the problem, the scientific case has been made. What the IPCC is striving for now, at least as evidenced by the example above, is akin to talking louder and louder to someone who simply does not speak english. I think the IPCC continues to be a tremendously valuable resource and hope it continues to fulfill its mandate, but it should, as should all working scientists, stay focused on scientifically useful topics of research and not let the false debate with false skeptics shape its direction and tone.