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IPCC: All (climate) politics is local

IPPC Briefings

Did the IPCC get a PR agency? Gasp!

On Friday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released yet another poorly edited but brilliant compendium of climate science, this time detailing the impacts of climate change(pdf). Today, the IPCC kicked off a series of regional news conferences to publicize portions of the report most relevant to local geographies.

The regional briefings played out in press around the world: Flood and fire in New Zealand, droughts and disease in Africa, increasing mortality and morbidity in Latin America; and drought, floods and hunger in Asia. The US conference is scheduled for April 16th.

As Tip O’Neill famously quipped, “All politics is local.” Unfortunately, many Americans still seem to believe that global warming is a problem caused by factories in China with effects too far off in time and location to be worth worrying about. Katrina woke a lot of people up to the potentially destructive force of nature. The IPCC report takes the lesson much further, with both a summary of impacts that have already occurred and expected future impacts around the world. Climate change becomes a lot harder to ignore when people start to realize how it affects them directly.

This new PR savviness on the part of the IPCC is welcome. Climate change is gaining momentum as a worldwide political issue. Let’s hope this report tips a few more dominoes.

The report also provides some useful ammo with which to refute the canards of global warming denialists. Cable talk show hosts, when they’re not counting the toilets in Al Gore’s pool house, like to point to every cold snap as a refutation of global warming. Of course, weather and climate are different things entirely, which unfortunately is not a point that lends itself readily to sound bites.

But here is a handy factoid from the latest IPCC report:

Of the more than 29,000 observational data series, from 75 studies, that show significant change in many physical and biological systems, more than 89% are consistent with the direction of change expected as a response to warming.

These observations met the following criteria: 1) Ending in 1990 or later; 2) spanning a period of at least 20 years [remember that difference between weather and climate]; and 3) showing a significant change in either direction, as assessed in individual studies. Pretty convincing, and a new talking point for us.

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