30 September 2010

The Real ClimateGate, Part 2: Why the IPCC stands stronger than ever

In Part 1, we showed that the University of East Anglia climate emails scandal was nothing but a colossal waste of time that proved only the hysterical idiocy of fossil-fuel financed climate ‘scepticism’. Continuing to be amply funded by their fossil-fuel benefactors, the leading climate ‘sceptic’ front groups weren’t ready to give up. Not surprising given the degree to which their views are given such media prominence.

One reprehensible example of ridiculous media coverage of climate non-issues was in early 2010, and squarely targeted the IPCC’s famous ‘hockey-stick’ graph. The graph depicts global average temperatures over the last millennium, and shows that the temperature rise of the twentieth century is “likely” to be “unprecedented”. This time, the mainstream media outlet was the Wall Street Journal.

The WSJ claimed that the IPCC’s ‘hockey-stick’ graph – and others like it – were based on the questionable “tree-ring techniques” used by scientist Keith Briffa, as well as on data gathered from these techniques – an issue which emerged in relation to the climate email fiasco we reviewed in Part 1. Yet as one of the climate scientists who contributed to the ‘hockey-stick’ graph study, Michael Mann, points out: “Neither the multiple proxy-based ‘Hockey Stick’ reconstruction of Mann et al nor the multiple-proxy based Jones et al reconstruction used ‘Mr. Briffa’s tree-ring techniques’ let alone their data.”

In fact, the IPCC ‘hockey-stick’ graph has been corroborated and reinforced by numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies. In 2008, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences extended the multi-proxy reconstruction of global average temperatures back nearly 2,000 years. The study was explicitly non-reliant on tree-ring data, and found that: “Our results extend previous conclusions that recent Northern Hemisphere surface temperature increases are likely anomalous in a long-term context. Recent warmth appears anomalous for at least the past 1,300 years whether or not tree-ring data are used.” With tree-ring data, this conclusion can be extended back 1,700 years.

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Michael Mann, a lead author of the paper, told the National Geographic: “You can go back nearly 2,000 years and the conclusion still holds – the current warmth is anomalous. The burst of warming over the past one to two decades takes us out of the envelope of natural variability."

With Mann himself completely exonerated from 'sceptic'-fuelled allegations of misconduct and fraud by an official university inquiry, and with the scientific validity of the 'hockey-stick' graph vindicated years ago by a detailed peer-reviewed synthesis report by the US National Academy of Scientists, the 'sceptics' have nothing left to stand on.

Self-styled ‘sceptics’ have tried to counter the compelling evidence encapsulated in the ‘hockey-stick’ graph by claiming it ignores events like the Medieval Warm Period (950–1250). But this again illustrates the dire lack of understanding of very simple elements of climate science. The higher temperatures associated with the Medieval Warm Period were only regional, and did not represent the global average temperatures illustrated in the graph. While warmer temperatures were concentrated in certain regions, other regions were even colder than during the lower regional temperatures during the ensuing Little Ice Age (1300–1850). Again, the MWP issue is dealt with in the peer-reviewed literature.

‘Sceptics’ were also overjoyed when it emerged that the IPCC had promulgated the following major error within its 3,000 pages: that the Himalayan glaciers could “completely disappear” by 2035 and “perhaps sooner” at current rates of warming. The IPCC later conceded that this was an unjustifiable statement which relied not on the peer-reviewed scientific literature, but on a single media interview with a scientist in 1999.

Although widely claimed as a victory of climate ‘scepticism’, the error was not discovered by any ‘sceptic’, but by glacier expert Georg Kaser, himself a lead author of Volume 1, Chapter 4 of the IPCC report.

The way 'sceptics' jumped on this mistake, one would think it disproves the whole of climate science. Unfortunately for the planet, it doesn't - painstaking scientific research repeatedly confirms that the rate of glacier melt is accelerating due to global warming. There is no doubt that Himalayan glaciers fall into this trend of an increasing rate of melt over the last decades. And earlier this year, new peer-reviewed research in Nature Geoscience showed that 75 per cent of ice loss in the Greenland glaciers is due to ocean warmth due to climate change.

Nevertheless, for certain ‘sceptic’ commentators – such as the Telegraph’s Christopher Booker – this was only one out of several alarmist declarations in the IPCC’s 2007 Fourth Assessment Report which were “based, not on hard evidence, but on scare stories, derived not from proper scientists but from environmental activists”:

“Those glaciers are not vanishing; the damage to the rainforest is not from climate change but logging and agriculture; African crop yields are more likely to increase than diminish; the modest rise in sea levels is slowing not accelerating; hurricane activity is lower than it was 60 years ago; droughts were more frequent in the past; there has been no increase in floods or heatwaves.”

Booker’s alarmism about the problem of ‘global warming alarmism’, it should be noted, has involved such journalistic wonders as claiming that the threat to human health from white asbestos is “non-existent”, and that passive smoking does not cause cancer. No wonder then that all he had really done was repeat parrot-fashion the equally shoddy journalism of Jonathan Leake, science and environment editor at the Sunday Times, in an article whose research was done by Richard North. It is no coincidence, of course, that Richard North is Christopher Booker’s co-author of a well-known anti-science screed, Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming – a book resoundingly lambasted by both left and right. The Guardian describes it as replete with “egregious errors that would shame a junior reporter” (including “reporting a non-existent interview”), while Richard D. North writing for the Social Affairs Unit slams it for being “strikingly wrong in important respects”. Together, the work of Leake and North, backed up by intellectually-challenged pundits like Booker and James Delingpole, fed into a cycle of news-regurgitation fueled by climate ‘sceptic’ groups, propelling the ‘meme’ of the IPCC’s discrediting worldwide.

The fact of the matter is that all the IPCC’s statements about African crop yields, the intensification of natural disasters and erratic weather, and the potential deforestation of the Amazon are entirely accurate and corroborated by the peer-reviewed literature.

The IPCC’s statement that “yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%” by 2020 refer to a paper by climate expert Professor Ali Agoumi. ‘Sceptics’ shouted that the claim is discredited because the paper is not peer-reviewed. Although technically correct, the paper was a report published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Climate Change Knowledge Network. It constituted “a summary of technical studies and research”, much of which is peer-reviewed, “conducted to inform Initial National Communications from three countries (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,” and was therefore “a perfectly legitimate IPCC reference.” In fact, the IPCC’s specific projection on the potentially devastating impact of climate change on African crop yields is supported by a whole series of peer-reviewed scientific studies from 1994 to 2007.

What about the IPCC’s statements about the link between climate change and natural disasters? Also accurate. The source cited and highlighted by ‘sceptics’ as problematic was a Risk Management Solutions paper by Dr Robert Muir-Wood, a former Earth Sciences Research Fellow at Cambridge University. The full paper is entirely credible, and “was peer reviewed and accepted for publication in November 2006”, a few weeks after “the cut-off date for the IPCC 4th Assessment Report in October” – explaining why an earlier draft version of the report was referenced by the IPCC. The latter was “aware of the full report and that it had been accepted for publication.” Dr. Muir-Wood himself has publicly confirmed that the IPCC did not misrepresent his conclusions. It’s worth remembering that the link between climate change and the increased risk of natural disasters, including dangerous weather, is widely acknowledged and explored in the peer-reviewed literature.

The other main issue targeted by ‘sceptics’ was the IPCC’s assertion that up to 40 per cent of Amazon rainforests “could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation.” The statement was based on an activist report written by a layman, and published by environmental lobby group, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

In fact, the statement was entirely true. The WWF report sourced a peer-reviewed 1999 paper in the journal Nature by Yale University tropical forest scientist Daniel Nepstad, which categorically confirmed the IPCC’s warning. Nepstad himself responded to the ‘sceptic’ media reports, noting “The IPCC statement on the Amazon is correct”, and citing further peer-reviewed papers written by himself and others corroborating the same conclusion.

We should not forget the 'sceptic' claim that the IPCC's warnings about sea-level rise were false. An independent peer-reviewed 2009 study in Nature Geoscience corroborated the IPCC's sea-level projections due to global warming, warning that levels will rise by between 7 and 82 cm.

Finally, what of claims of financial corruption? Even IPCC chairman Dr. Raj Pachauri did not escape unscathed, being accused of exploiting his position to secure fabulously huge research grants with which he enriched himself. Not only have the allegations been proven to be “untrue” by an independent KPMG audit of all his financial relationships, but Dr. Pachauri has further been found to be “scrupulous to the point of self-denial.”

The degree to which Dr. Pachauri, and other climate scientists – as well as climate science itself – have been subjected to smearing and demonization despite facts being plain for journalists and editors to see if they really cared to is shocking, but illustrative of the extent to which vested special interests want to muddy the waters to stall meaningful political action.

All this goes to prove a single point. The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report has not been discredited as a signifier of the scientific consensus that global warming is anthropogenic. The IPCC itself has not been discredited. The University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit has not been discredited - there was no ‘email scandal’.

So let’s cut the bullshit and get over the anti-global warming alarmists.

2 comments:

  1. Trouble is Nafeez, nothing that rationalists and systems thinkers say will counter the emotive rightness of the climate skeptic movement. I know some of these people, they come from left and right, they are prone to conspiratheorism, and they are the mouthpiece of the irrational majority.

    I like your writing and I like the themes you espouse. I don't want to sidetrack you from some excellent insightful prose on key topics. But here is something to make a note of for perhaps a future visit: something I feel illuminates a significant problem of skeptic-fear-reactionism facing us as we move into the century of chaos-change. This is the fear-driven mindset. Bob Altemeyer (and Thoedor Adorno before him) identified the personality trait behind conservatism, authoritarianism, and to my mind also conspiracy theorists, reactionaries, and skeptics who rail against messengers of change whatever the message. Altemeyer's book The Authoritarians (a title which does not do justice to the spectrum of fear-driven beliefs-behaviours elucidated therin) can be found at http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf and from the way his web hosting has recently moved my guess is people are starting to realise the importance of what he has been saying. The Nazis were potentially nothing compared to what could be unleashed when a time of change sparks off reactionaries globally. We have a facebook group Authoritarian Watch http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=120180491799

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  2. If you are ready to Mann up and read about actual man-made climate change I suggest you look into the life, work, & death of Nikola Tesla. This man was thwarted from offering all of mankind pollution-less energy production science. Since his death the entire world's climate has been suffering. Help right the wrong against Tesla and you help bring man back into balance with this planet & the universe at large.

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