February 1, 2010

'Junk Science' and the One-World 'Green Religion'

Sloppy Science is Seeping into the Climate Watchdog

By Charles Clover, The Sunday Times
January 24, 2010

You need a steady nerve if, like me, you think it is a matter of evidence, not belief, that the world is warming as a result of human activity.

After Climategate — the emails that appeared to show scientists using tricks to “improve” the evidence for global warming — comes Glaciergate, the disclosure that the Nobel prize-winning panel on the world’s climate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published an unsubstantiated assertion that Himalayan glaciers were in danger of melting away by 2035.

When you stop to think about it, the assertion made in 1999 by an Indian scientist, who now disowns the statement, is absurd. Some of the Himalayan glaciers are a third of a mile thick and those on Everest, for instance, start at more than 20,000ft. So even though glaciers the world over are melting, a date for the total disappearance of the ones in the Himalayas is more likely to be nearer 2350, if ever.

How did the 2035 figure get pasted into an IPCC report that was apparently scrutinised by experts from the countries most familiar with the annual Himalayan snow-melt?

While we ponder that question, it looks this weekend as though Glaciergate could be followed by Disastergate, Hurricanegate, Floodgate and Droughtgate. It is beginning to look as though the more alarming assertions published by the IPCC — that climate change is behind the increasing frequency of, and damage caused by, natural disasters — may not have been properly peer-reviewed. They lack the gold standard of credibility that we have been assured the panel’s 3,000-page assessment enshrines.

It is a mess. And politically it couldn’t have come at a worse time, just as the election of a Republican senator in Massachusetts brings the end of Barack Obama’s super-majority in the Senate, in a Congress in which only one party believes in doing anything about global warming. The drip, drip of error gives ammunition to even the most scientifically illiterate Republican senator who wants to talk down Obama’s climate bill. The frail global pact to reduce emissions that survived the ill-fated Copenhagen conference will not survive the defeat of cap-and-trade in America.

Are the CNN bulletins right to suggest that the improper use of “grey” literature — reports that were not peer-reviewed — has undermined the case for concern about global warming and for steep cuts in our emissions?

Absolutely not. The 2035 figure was not central to the IPCC report’s findings or even mentioned in its summary. That is why it has taken so long to be challenged, in the end by another IPCC scientist working on melting glaciers, not a sceptic. Established IPCC rules on sourcing and evaluating “grey” literature say such sources should be identified and actively reviewed. These rules were clearly breached.

To be fair, I think it is understandable that one or two details were missed in a report stretching to 1,500 pages that went through several drafts. Modern scientists are unforgivably prolix and, as any author knows, the longer the book, the more likely it will contain mistakes. Nevertheless it is the job of the IPCC author, the chapter’s author and the working group chairman to spot strong statements that are unsupported by strong evidence. That is their job. In this case they screwed up.

Though their errors are worse than any yet shown to have been committed in an email from a scientist at the University of East Anglia, I think it would still be forgivable if it turned out to be just one incident. We all make mistakes. But if it turns out to be just one example of a general sloppiness creeping through the IPCC, then it will reflect disastrously on the chairmanship of the IPCC itself, currently occupied by Rajendra Pachauri.

Pachauri already stands accused of poor judgment for defending the report’s general conclusions about Himalayan glaciers after they were called “alarmist” by India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh. Pachauri accused Ramesh of relying on “voodoo science.” Pachauri looks pretty silly now.

The IPCC chairman also stands accused of making policy statements — for example, encouraging the world to eat less meat — when he is meant to be an adviser to policy makers, not one himself.

Pachauri also seems to have an awful lot of jobs. He already has a full-time job as director general of the Indian Energy and Resources Institute, which seems to benefit from UK government funding. He is also an adviser to Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and the Chicago Climate Exchange — all of which stand to benefit from carbon trading. His predecessors, Bert Bolin, a Swedish scientist, and Bob Watson, now chief scientist at Defra, were part-time, but they put enormous effort into the job. How much time is Pachauri putting in? It doesn’t appear to be a lot.

If we are to have the best possible predictions about climate change, urgent decisions need to be taken. The agreeable but gaffe-prone Pachauri should accept it would be wise to walk now, so some heavy-hitters can step in and prevent a disastrous slide in the IPCC’s credibility. The sooner, the better.

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Updated 7/26/10 (Newest Additions at End of List)

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