To that ghost, I say Rest in Peace


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Yesterday’s New York Times op-ed piece by Al Gore is well worth a read.  It’s one of those pieces where I found myself nodding along to the computer screen.  Gore helpfully cuts through to the heart of the supposed controversies about the climate science and within the climate science community. 

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His arguments echo what I heard at a recent seminar here at the Bank on the role and functioning of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the overblown reaction to mistakes that are real but which in no way alter the overwhelming majority of existing scientific findings about climate change.

During that seminar Kristie Ebi, Executive Director of the IPCC Technical Support Unit for Working Group ll (which authors the volume addressing physical and social impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation) for the next round of assessments coming out in 2013, carefully explained the extensive review process applied by the IPCC. 

I am also looking forward to a lively lunch-time discussion this Wednesday with Mike MacCracken, the former Senior Global Change Scientist for the Office of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), and Rosina Bierbaum, Dean and Professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) at the University of Michigan, and co-director of the WDR 2010.

Such discussions feel to me like yet one more nail in the coffin of climate change denial, that beast that feeds on political motives but also more simply on individuals’ discomfort with unpleasant facts (see the WDR 2010 chapter on Overcoming Behavioral and Institutional Inertia).  But that ghost always returns, rattling its chains in the hallways of power.  To that ghost, I say, with all due sincerity and seriousness: rest in peace.


Rachel Ilana Block

Research Assistant, World Development Report 2010

Join the Conversation

March 10, 2010

It is not possible to 'wish away' anthropogenic warming. It is not possible to reconcile the forecasts of science with economic exigencies, because the two are actually not reconcilable. Global warming will just grind on, whether we are ready for it or not. Probably better to stick to the science, than anything the World Bank has been able to achieve in terms of predicting a better future for the millions that have suffered under Structural Adjustment Programs, and economic prognostications.

It is too easy to say "Isn't there a middle ground between two extremes" - but, methodologically, one has to show that the two positions are 'extreme', rather than just unpalatable, and that the two positions lie on a connected spectrum.

March 02, 2010

rachel, thanks for highlighting this op-ed, which i would have missed otherwise. it was a much-needed essay, and i hope it helps stop the ever-growing criticism against climate science.

here's a thought - would it make it easier for people to move ahead towards a (largely) common goal if both sides of the divide were to be a bit more reasoned? both sides could do with a slightly more rational approach.

Rachel Ilana Block
March 02, 2010

Thanks for the comment. I've been scratching my head, wondering what a "more rational approach" would look like.

I think one of the struggles we all face is that some of us look at the hard facts of the science, and some of us look at the hard facts of near-term economic exigencies, and some of us (including me and my Bank colleagues) are in the messy business of reconciling the two.

My experience has been that the people who take science as the starting point never deny the economic exigencies, but state that they are not enough to outweigh the imperatives for mitigation and adaptation suggested by the science. On the other hand, I see some (but certainly not all) in the "today's-economic-needs-first" camp not even accepting the factual basis of the science. We can disagree about what is important, about how we value things, in a rational way--but only if we all first agree on the facts!