This is a guest post by Sabrina McCormick, a lead author on the IPCC report released today: Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX)
Almost 24 months ago, I boarded a plane to Panama City, Panama to attend a meeting of over a hundred people I had never met. Unfortunately, I had gotten a haircut the day before. I walked into the salon with shoulder-length mousey-brown hair, and walked out with bright red pin curls. I don’t know what happened in there, but when I met the new Lead Authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for a Special Assessment on Managing the Extreme Impacts of Climate Change, I was a tiny bit embarrassed. Lucky for me, none of them had ever seen me before and some even thought it was real.
The group was from all over the world, a body balanced across the developed and developing nation divide reflected in every color and style of dress. Between that November, 2009 and today, many became friends. Maybe more importantly, we brought together our collective knowledge on climate change, disasters and adaptation to assess how the world should accommodate the impending changes.
We met in four different countries around the world over the last two years and developed a report that is bound to have a tremendous ripple effect. I mostly worked on the chapter focused on local impacts of climate change. This is a topic close to my heart as I have seen how extreme events and disasters related to climate have rocked many lives. In my studies, I met a woman in Louisiana who got West Nile Virus – a disease fostered by increased rainfall and warming temperatures. She is still unable to walk seven years later (go to www.evidencebasedmedia.net to see her story). I have spent endless days with a couple in Los Angeles shooting a new documentary. They lost their home and memories to a wildfire, a disaster expected to get much worse with drought. I’ve been to inner city Philadelphia to interview older adults where heat waves have already killed hundreds.
The other people I met writing the report have studied disasters around the world. Some of them have devoted their lives to accurately reporting how the climate will change in the future. Together, we spent time missing our families and sitting in a room for endless hours, writing not to get paid, but to do scientific service. Yet, despite the dedication by this group and other IPCC authors, these scientists have been attacked constantly. Last week, Fox News published an article calling them “a slapdash, rule-breaking, not-to-be-trusted teenager.” This was not the first criticism of these authors, nor will it be the last. Little does Fox, or these other critics know, how to address the 18,784 review comments sent by reviewers all over the world. That is where our expertise comes in, and where their lack of it becomes apparent.
Maybe if the rest of the world understood a bit more about our experience authoring this report, they’d stop blaming us for trying to give warning to a warming world. Maybe then, they’d join in educating themselves about their own risks and prevent the worst.
Sabrina McCormick, PhD is Assistant Research Professor at George Washington University and Senior Fellow at the Wharton Risk Center. She is also President of Evidence Based Media www.evidencebasedmedia.net.