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Science and Politics. Part II. Climate Controversies. Session 4. 1. The discovery of climate change. Discovery of the greenhouse effect by Joseph Fourier (1824-1827)

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1 the discovery of climate change
1. The discovery of climate change
  • Discovery of the greenhouse effect by

Joseph Fourier (1824-1827)

  • John Tyndall identifies carbon dioxyde as a driver of the greenhouse effect (1860-1870). Water vapor is the main gas that controls temperature. First measurements of air quality.

Law of Arrhenius (1896):

    • If the quantity of carbonic acid rises following a

geometric progression, the resulting rise in temperature

will follow an arithmetic progression.

    • He establishes that a doubling of CO2 quantity in the atmosphere would lead to a temperature rise comprised between 5 and 7°C.
    • According to Arrhenius, the doubling of CO2 would take about 3000 years. It will actually take ony about one century.

Roger Revelle makes the first measurements of CO2 concentration in the 1950s. He shows that climate change is linked to human activity(1956).

  • James Hansen shows that climate change is happening faster than expected. His testimony before US Congress marks the entry of climate change into the realm of politics.
1957: First measurements in Hawai’i and Antarctica
  • 1970s: James Hansen starts modelling climate change
  • Jimmy Carter commissions a report by the American Academy of Sciences
  • Reagan, Bush and Clinton don’t care, Gore worries - but he’s only VP.

The establishment of

a scientific consensus

scientists in the policy process
Scientists in the policy process
  • Increasingly present
  • Especially in policy fields where knowledge is technical
  • Are they neutral?
    • We assume that they are, but:
    • Epistemic communities (Haas & Keohane)
    • Advocacy coalitions (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith)
science and expertise
Science and expertise
  • Is it the same thing?
  • Science for the sake of it, or science for policy
  • Are experts different from scientists?
    • Often the same people
    • Are they neutral?
    • Do they have to be neutral?
2 at the core of the policy process the ipcc
2. At the core of the policy process: The IPCC
  • Created in 1988
  • Key-role in the policy-making process:
    • Establish a common scientific basis for the negotiation
    • An intergovernmental organisation… in which governments play a role
the creation of the ipcc
The creation of the IPCC
  • Established in 1988 jointly by UNEP and WMO
    • At the request of sceintists themselves, concerned that science was not followed by policy actions.
  • Open to all member countries of UNEP and WMO
  • Main task: assess the risks and impacts of climate change
    • The IPCC doesn’t conduct research directly, but synthesises the best research on the topic.
    • And make it accessible to policy-makers.
  • Main outcome: the Assessment Reports, issued every 5 or 6 years (4 reports so far)
    • 5th Assessment Report due in 2013.
a political history
A political history
  • The consensus on climate science was the IPCC’s key endeavour
  • Process started in the 1980s
  • Whistle-blower role
  • A key episode: the replacement of Dr Watson

Dr. Robert Watson, the highly respected leader of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, was blackballed in a memo to the White House from the nation's largest oil company. The memo had its effect last Friday, when Dr. Watson lost his bid for re-election after the administration threw its weight behind the ''let's drag our feet'' candidate, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri of New Delhi, who is known for his virulent anti-American statements.

Why is this happening?

Because the largest polluters know their only hope for escaping restrictions lies in promoting confusion about global warming.

Just as Enron needed auditors who wouldn't blow the whistle when the company lied about the magnitude of its future liabilities, the administration needs scientific reviews that won't sound the alarm on the destruction of the earth's climate balance.

  • Al Gore, NY Times, 21 avril 2002.

U.S. to Back Scientist From India To Replace Global Warming Expert

  • Auto manufacturers and oil companies have long seen Dr. Watson as a foe, and their lobbyists have said that Dr. Pachauri, who has worked with industry in the past, was clearly preferable.
  • - A. Revkin, NY Times, 3 avril 2002.
  • Dr. Pachauri heads the Tata Energy Research Institute in New Delhi; Tata is one of India's largest industrial groups.
  • NY Times, 20 avril 2002.

Mr. Gore's derogatory statements about me reflect deep disappointment at my election as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with 76 votes for me against 49 for his protégé, Dr. Robert T. Watson.

  • R.K. Pachauri, NY Times, May 1st, 2002.
composition and neutrality
Composition and neutrality
  • About 2,500 (unpaid) scientists, appointed by their government: lead authors, contributing authors, reviewers.
  • A balance between:
    • Junior and senior researchers
    • Men and women
    • Researchers from developped and developing countries

Key assumption: collective neutrality emerges from the addition of individual subjectivities.

the scientific process
The scientific process
  • The IPCC does not carry out any research
  • The Assessment Reports are just a synthesis of previously published works
  • Triple peer-reviewing
    • Peer-review at the time of publication of original works
    • Scientific peer-review by experts
    • Political peer-review by governments
  • The reports need to be approved by both all scientists and all governments: they are bpth a scientific and a political document
  • Reports organised on the basis of scenarios
a political actor
A political actor?
  • The IPCC reports pave the way for policy milestones: UNFCCC 1992, Kyoto 1997
  • Interferences from governments
  • Attacked as a political actor, yet responds as a scientific actor.
comments and criticisms
Comments and criticisms
  • Highly authoritative, due to intensive peer-reviewing
    • But this authority is currently being questioned: ‘climate gate’, mistake about the Himalaya glaciers, etc.
    • The IPCC as a political actor
    • How to address these criticisms?
    • Can we doubt about climate science?
  • Minimal consensus
    • Are the reports too prudent and conservative?
  • Scenarios underestimate reality
    • Need for revision
    • Need for a global reform of the IPCC?
memo by f luntz 2003
Memo by F. Luntz2003

The scientific debate

remains open. Voters

believe that there is

no consensus about

global warming within

the scientific community.

(…) You need to

continue to make the

lack of scientific

certainty a primary

issue in the debate…


From: Phil Jones <>



Date: Mon Feb 21 16:28:32 2005

Cc: "raymond s. bradley" <>, "Malcolm Hughes" <>

Mike, Ray and Malcolm, The skeptics seem to be building up a head of steam here ! Maybe we can use this to our advantage to get the series updated !... …The IPCC comes in for a lot of stick. Leave it to you to delete as appropriate !



PS I'm getting hassled by a couple of people to release the CRU station temperature data. Don't any of you three tell anybody that the UK has a Freedom of Information Act !


P. Jones:

“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”

> Wrongly and over-interpreted by the media and climate sceptics

main issues
Main issues
  • Communicate science
  • Stimulate action
  • Make climate change taken for granted
  • Mainstream climate change into politics
different repertoires
Different repertoires
  • Alarmist
    • ‘Climate porn’
    • Maximising the problem and minimising the solution
  • Small actions
    • Tackling climate change seems easy, cheap and even fun
  • Economic benefits
  • Techno-optimism
  • ‘There’s nothing to do’
  • ‘We’ll be fine anyway’

> Are these divergent repertoires an asset or a problem?

problems in communicating climate change
Problems in communicating climate change
  • Uncertainties
  • Seasonal variations
  • Complexity
  • Impact of small actions (free-riding)
  • Multiplicity of actors
  • Skepticism
  • Long-term effects
  • Ideological views
role of the media
Role of the media
  • Creating bias where there’s consensus
climate skeptics
Climate skeptics
  • Main arguments
  • Climate change is not occurring
  • The global climate is actually getting colder
  • The global climate is getting warmer,

but not because of human activities

  • The global climate is getting warmer,

in part because of human activities, but this will

create greater benefits than costs

  • The global climate is getting warmer, in part

because of human activities, but the impacts are

not sufficient to require any policy response