27 June 2010

Things Sometimes Aren't What They Seem — A Sketchy Allegory for the IPCC

© 2007 Mike McDowell

Remember Batty? Our little winged friend who comes every summer? And the experiences we've had with him? Well, it turns out that Batty is indeed winged — but he's no bat. We found out the other night that he's a common nighthawk! (And I don't mean "common" in a derogatory sense, it's simply his name: Chordeiles minor.)

Well, when we got home that night at twilight I watched for Batty, and sure enough, I could see why I had mistaken him for a bat one night last summer ... sort of. In fact, in some parts of America, the nighthawk is called a bullbat! (So I'm not the only one who's been fooled.) In I came, rather dejected, and did some research online, which confirmed that Batty isn't what he seemed.

That otherworldly sonic boom is the sound of wind moving through the wingtips of the male as he performs his courtship aerobatics and dives. This also explains why we suddenly, one night, don't hear him anymore — the love affair is consummated, the babies are born (in camouflaged eggs on the ground ... no nest), and the family is off on its annual migration to South America.

When I finally learned that Batty is not a bat at all, I had to grieve the loss of an animal friend I never had. Strange feeling. (Though we've made a new friend, and that's cool.)

So now, I am going to stretch to make a point.

Because of a few booboos (of little if any consequence in the whole scheme of things) in their 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now under review by the InterAcademy Council, an Amsterdam-based group representing scientific academies and organizations around the world. This review is an evaluation of the procedures and processes by which the IPCC prepares its assessments of climate change.

"In particular the IAC Committee of experts is asked to recommend measures and actions to strengthen the IPCC’s processes and procedures so as to be better able to respond to future challenges and ensure the ongoing quality of its reports." (from the Overview)

Here's the thing. Once you start reading about the IPCC, digging deeper, checking out their technical reports, etc., you discover that the IPCC isn't what it seems. It's not just a bunch of climate-related scientists coming together to synthesize their research. That "governmental" in the Intergovernmental part of their name means that their final reports are determined by policy wonks who don't let through one single word they (or their masters) don't like. Not only that, but an eye witness at the first IPCC meeting back in 1990 says the scientists censored themselves because the news was so bad, so frightening, they thought the policy wonks would just decide it was too late to do anything about the changing climate. (If you want/need the reference, let me know ... our son got married yesterday (a delightful wedding!) and I'm too tired to find the book right now.)

So, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning IPCC is a nighthawk, not the bat we thought it was. (I told you I was stretching the metaphor.) The InterAcademy Council review is seeking public input until July 1st. Why not write and suggest that the Panel should be allowed to communicate to the public what it wants to communicate — cowardly, co-opted governments be damned!

June 1st, 2014 update: Batty arrived tonight! His winging about above our house is such a welcome sound. Welcome home, Batty.

1 comment:

I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?