[asa] IPCC

From: Randy Isaac <randyisaac@comcast.net>
Date: Sat Feb 10 2007 - 10:43:14 EST

On Thursday, day before yesterday, the lead IPCC authors testified before the House Science & Technology Center. CSPAN2 aired the entire hearing yesterday and I just watched a recording of it. I didn't expect to see much of it but I found it more interesting and enlightening than I expected. I'll try to share some highlights while staying away from any politics.

Susan Solomon, Kevin Trenberth, Richard Alley, and Gerald Meehl were the four co-authors who testified. Their written statements are at www.science.house.gov but their verbal reports were quite different and definitely more interesting.They also appeared before the Senate committee on Thursday afternoon but I haven't found any video of that. Other than the opening statements, the format was rather frustrating for the scientists. Each committee member had exactly five minutes for Q&A and few of them could even complete their question in that period of time. The scientists were left with only a few scant moments to answer complex questions. Nonetheless, I felt they did an admirable job and I learned more bits and pieces.

Richard Alley got the most rave reviews. His obvious passion for science inspired everyone. His candor drew compliments from the strongest critic. And his creative analogy of ice sheets to pancake batter was greatly appreciated by everyone, even IHOP said Chairman Gordon.

We've been through most of the technical data in this forum so there's no point repeating it. The IPCC challenge was immense indeed. The task was not to do any research but to review and report on the published technical literature. Participation was open to anyone and comments were received from anyone. They received and dealt with 30,000 comments!

Cong. Vernon Ehlers, the only ASA member in Congress and one of three or four scientists there, asked about the impact on regional climate, such as Michigan. He quipped that he didn't mind Michigan getting warmer but didn't want it to get drier and become like Kansas. (Thereby he managed to offend those of us who are Kansas natives!)

One member read headlines from the '70's warning of the coming ice age and asked why should we believe you now when you were wrong before? Richard Alley astutely pointed out that in the 70's there was no consensus view in the technical community and no comprehensive studies from bodies like the National Academy of Sciences and no tested models. Rather there were individual isolated papers that were picked up and amplified by the media. The committee member couldn't resist commenting in mock astonishment "you mean the media exaggerates?"

The only clash worth noting was when Dana Rohrabacher, the California representative who was the sharpest critic, asked Susan Solomon what percent of carbon dioxide was due to human influence.He said his own sources told him it was only 10%. It wasn't clear to me whether he meant the percent of total CO2 or of the change in CO2. Susan tried to answer accurately but four times he rudely interrupted her after a few words to say she wasn't answering the question. Finally he called her "dishonest" and "you're supposed to be a scientist" and taunted the others with "are the rest of you afraid to answer the question too?" Later, in this turn, Ehlers said "the answer is 35%."

At the end, Rohrabacher was given the final statement. He had been given the opportunity to bring in witnesses in opposition to the IPCC authors but he hadn't been able to get anyone. He did submit for the record, though he didn't read it and it's not on the web, a list of names of scientists who do not agree with the IPCC report. But he didn't bring up any substantive comments.

In total, I was pleasantly surprised at the degree of support and understanding by the committee members from both political parties. Dissent was actually noticeable in only a couple of the members. Perhaps the committee will get into some serious debate about the difficult issues of what to do about it all.


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Received on Sat Feb 10 10:44:16 2007

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