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Climate Scientist Questions Consensus Process

IEEE Spectrum talks with climate panel veteran Michael Oppenheimer

5 min read

Members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have a tricky task. After aggregating the most credible research on the causes and impacts of global climate change, the group must somehow package it into a report that policy-makers and the public can digest. In the process, sometimes they omit contentious and hotly debated items to get their main points across. But there is discontent among some climate scientists with a process that is so reliant on reaching consensus. After 20 years and four assessment reports, a few members of the committee are taking a critical and public look at how the panel represents uncertainty in predicting the magnitude of such changes as the rise in sea level. They detailed their concerns in the 14 September 2007 issue of Science .

One of those committee members, Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University and a lead author of several IPCC reports, spoke with IEEE Spectrum reporter Morgen E. Peck on 11 September 2007. (This interview has been edited for content and clarity.)

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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