Jun 30, 2010

IPCC Says Climate Prediction Impossible

On page 85 of their excellent book, Taken By Storm: the Troubled Science, Policy, and Politics of Global Warming, Christopher Essex and Ross McKitrick call our attention to an astonishing line in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2001 Assessment Report:
The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible. [bold added]
This statement appeared in the Executive Summary of Chapter 14 of the report produced by Working Group 1. (See the first bullet point on the right, page 3 of this 18-page PDF - or the third bullet point from the bottom here. The quote appearing in the book differs slightly from the IPCC version now online and reproduced above.)

The remainder of the page includes a great deal of gobblygook about the need to "project future climate changes" and the need to understand how probable some future scenarios may be when compared to others.

But there's no doubt about it. The IPCC admitted, a decade ago, that future long-term climate cannot be predicted. The system is chaotic. It is non-linear. It does not, and will not, behave the way we mere mortals expect it to.

So tell me again why we're scaring little kids witless by telling them there won't be a habitable world left by the time they grow up?


>> The big picture: the Y2K lesson
>> Ten-year snow prediction fails miserably
>> Global disaster is so 1976
>> We're always out-of-touch with the future

Jun 28, 2010

The Legal Disclaimers Behind the Climate Science

In December 2009 Swiss Re, one of the world's largest insurance companies, published a 32-page paper (PDF here) which attempts to rebut climate skeptic arguments. This is a perfectly legitimate exercise and the tone of the paper (which describes itself as a "fact sheet") is professional.

Whether such rebuttals are persuasive is another matter. On page 27, for example, the paper tries to explain away global cooling between 1940 and 1970 (a period during which CO2 emissions were increasing) by declaring that "aerosol emissions…counterbalanced the increasing greenhouse effect."

In truth, this explanation is highly controversial. It is a hypothesis, not a proven fact. Nevertheless, Swiss Re dismisses 30 years of inconvenient cooling by citing a single scientific document - the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In other words: The IPCC says it, so it must true. Next topic.

What's most interesting to me, though, is the very fine print at the very bottom of the very last page of that Swiss Re paper. We readers are supposed to have been persuaded by the time we get there that climate change is a serious concern, that it is humanity's fault, and that the entire world needs to take dramatic steps in response.

But this paper's fine print reveals that Swiss Re is not prepared to stand behind any of these claims. In fact, it accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of the paper's statements – and won't for one moment risk being held accountable for the information it is distributing. Thus reads the fine print:
The material and conclusions contained in this publication are for information purposes only and the authors offer no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of its contents. All liability for the accuracy and completeness or for any damages resulting from the use of information herein is expressly excluded. Under no circumstances shall Swiss Re Group or any of its entities be liable for any financial or consequential loss relating to this publication. [bold added]
Isn't that fascinating? This company isn't prepared to even defend a lawsuit based on the foregoing information, but it thinks the rest of us should consent to a redesign of the entire fossil-fuel-based-economy.

Nor is that the only disclaimer out there. As Tom Fuller has pointed out, the US Environmental Protection Agency's decision to regulate greenhouse gases rests firmly on reports written by the IPCC. Onerous, expensive regulation is necessary, argues the EPA, because the IPCC has spoken.

So isn't it delicious that, on the EPA's own website, when one is about to click on a hyperlink that leads to the IPCC's website, an "exit disclaimer" appears (see three on this page) and more fine print ensues:

This little graphic means that you will be leaving the EPA.gov domain and entering an external link. The link provides additional information that may be useful or interesting and is being provided consistent with the intended purpose of the EPA Web site. However, EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of information provided by this link

When it suits their purpose, the EPA portrays the IPCC as the authoritative last word on climate change. On other occasions, the EPA's legal department carefully advises us that the IPCC's accuracy can't be guaranteed.

Hey, what's a few mixed messages between friends?


>> We trusted too completely
>> More IPCC mischief
>> The big picture: the Y2k lesson
>> Ten-year snow prediction fails miserably

Jun 26, 2010

The Story That Should Be on the Front Page

Lawrence Solomon has an eye-opening column over at the National Post today. It describes how a ridiculous Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule prevented a speedier, more aggressive cleanup of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

It seems the Dutch government owns its own oil-spill cleanup brigade and has developed impressive expertise and technology to deal with such matters. While the US lacks equivalent resources, it nevertheless spurned an offer of help from The Netherlands because the EPA appears to live in a fantasy world rather than the real one.

This bizarre situation has been made even worse by US authorities who are now apparently more concerned with labour union rules than with implementing as quickly as possible measures to protect the coastline.

As I've argued elsewhere, we've all been conditioned, by decades of green talk, to believe that nature is fragile and that the BP oil spill is therefore a calamity. Evidence that suggests Mother Nature will rebound within a few short years is simply ignored.

But if you sincerely believe, as the Obama administration appears to, that the Gulf oil spill is an eco-castrophe why would you behave so foolishly?


>> The media, Mother Nature & oil spills
>> Scientists & science journalists - please grow up
>> BP, Greenpeace & the big oil jackpot
>> Earth Day & the media

Jun 24, 2010

Who is William R.L. Anderegg?

The lead author of a research paper causing an uproar in the climate science world appears to be a student. Six months ago, a person with this same name (and an identical e-mail address) uploaded a blog post during the December 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.

Describing himself as "a student at Stanford University" William R. L. Anderegg was witness to an event that will long be remembered for the number of limousines imported into Denmark so that the earth-friendly delegates might spurn free public transit.

Certain that the occasion was historic, this naively young mind writes:
To say there is diversity here would be a bland verbal tribute to the stunning myriad of life. To say this is a conference of complex and difficult issues would be capturing only a molecule of water in a turbulent river. To say that this entire thing is overwhelmingly chaotic would pay tribute merely to a single snowflake in a whiteout blizzard...

As a student studying climate change, I knew that this was an astounding opportunity to attend this conference. As a young person, I knew this was an opportunity to shape the world that our generation will inherit.

Could you run that by me, again? The lead author of a paper which purports to assess the achievements and credibility of hundreds of collective years of scientific expertise, that lead author is a climate change student at Standford University?

The same Stanford University at which paper co-author Stephen Schneider happens to teach?


>> The media, Mother Nature & oil spills
>> Shielding climate orthodoxy from free speech

>> The activists, the poll & the data
>> Climate bible gets 21 'F's on report card

Jun 23, 2010

Climate Bible's New Authors Announced

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just announced the names of 831 people who will write the next edition of the United Nations' climate bible (Assessment Report 5 or AR5). Three lists – representing each of the IPCC working groups - may be downloaded here.

(I've combined the three documents into a single 27-page PDF and uploaded it to this location: www.NoConsensus.org/AR5_authors.pdf)

The first thing to notice is that these documents reveal a great deal about what the UN considers most important. And that is definitely not the scientific credentials of the folks involved. Rather, it's what country they happen to reside in. According to the Associated Press we're also supposed to be impressed by the fact that:
…the new list of authors is more diverse compared with the last report, with almost a third coming from developing countries and a quarter being women. Over 60 percent of the scientists are working with the IPCC for the first time…
Now this is exactly the problem with United Nations' efforts. On the one hand, the public is told IPCC reports are the considered opinion of "the world's top climate experts." On the other hand, those orchestrating its next edition have spent a great deal of time worrying about nationalities and gender when selecting who gets a voice. Those two concepts are in direct conflict.

Of the more than 3,000 people who were nominated, only 831 have ended up on the final list (I haven't counted yet, but that's the total being reported). Which means the IPCC has been through a process in which credentials were examined. Which means they have CVs on file for every one of these 831 people.

If the names on this list truly represent the crème de la crème, why is the CV of every one of these people not available online and linked to from within these lists of names – so that members of the public can examine these credentials for themselves?

The Associated Press blithely labels these 831 people "scientists" but the IPCC provides no info to support such a claim. Moreover, it takes no work at all to pierce this smokescreen. I have a great deal of respect for Richard Tol, who has been named a Coordinating Lead Author (see page 4 of the Working Group 2 list), but he is an economist – not a scientist in the normal sense of the word. The Associated Press has, therefore, already begun misinforming the public about who will be writing the IPCC's next report.

It's also worth noting that there's no common template here. Each working group has done its own thing in terms of assembling its list of names. Working Group 2 provides bonus material, relatively speaking, in that it indicates the institution with which the person is associated. Why haven't the other two working groups done this, also?

The time is long past when we, the public, are prepared to take the IPCC's word for anything. Well before the AR5 report is finalized we have a right to know a great deal more about the credentials of these authors.

The IPCC can provide this information by making authors' CVs publicly available, or the online community can begin assembling such information ourselves.


h/t Tom Nelson


>> Cross-examining the IPCC
>> Climate bible gets 21 'F's on report card
>> The great peer-review fairy tale
>> Sudan fights climate change for the IPCC

Jun 22, 2010

Climate Skeptics Photo Essay - Part 2

What do climate skeptics look like? Do they sport horns and sharp teeth?

Judging by the silly commentary in some parts of the blogosphere it appears some folks think so. So here are some shots taken at the climate skeptics' conference in Chicago last month.

Decide for yourself. Do these people bear the telltale signs of derangement and sub-optimal intelligence? Is it possible they're smart, well-intentioned men and women who simply see the world differently?

See Part 1 of this photo essay here.

Photos of UK climate skeptic James Delingpole appear here.

Photos from a 2009 skeptics' conference in Washington, D.C. are here.


>> Shielding climate orthodoxy from free speech
>> Bullies need not apply
>> If we don't agree, you're crazy
>> Climate skepticism is free speech

Jun 18, 2010

Scientists & Science Journalists - Please Grow Up

The "screaming death spiral" scientist now admits he might have overstated the matter.

I'm fascinated by the way people talk about climate change - what words they choose, what they don't say, and whether their arguments are intellectually rigorous or emotionally manipulative. In this regard, the manner in which Arctic ice melt is presented by activist scientists and activist journalists would make a great case study. Below are a few quick observations.

In December 2007, Mark Serreze, described as a "senior scientist at the U.S. government's National Snow and Ice Data Center," gave the Associated Press an emotionally-charged quote:
The Arctic is screaming.
Yep, that's what this man who has been trained in the cautious, tentative, rigorous approach known as the scientific method told the media. The quote appeared in an article that began with this paragraph:
An already relentless melting of the Arctic greatly accelerated this summer, a warning sign that some scientists worry could mean global warming has passed an ominous tipping point. One even speculated that summer sea ice would be gone in five years. [bold added]
The journalist, science writer Seth Borenstein, deliberately chose to use the words "relentless" and "ominous" in his first sentence. He chose to say that melting had not merely accelerated but had done so "greatly" - and to add in the "tipping point" jargon for good measure. He then made another deliberate choice when he devoted the very next sentence to rank speculation.

A few paragraphs down we're introduced to activist scientist Jay Zwally. In point of fact, he says he thinks the Arctic Ocean "could be nearly ice-free" in five years. But not to worry, he has another zinger of a quote at the ready:
The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming. Now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines. [bold added]
The Associated Press article is a long one - more than 1,200 words - and readers must wade through all sorts of emotionally-laden verbiage before they arrive at the final paragraph and the observation of a more cautious scientist, Cecilia Bitz, who thinks that although ice melt is trending in one direction, what's occurring at that moment should probably be characterized as a blip.

A version of the above news story - always including the screaming but sometimes with the even-tempered remarks at the end chopped off - was reproduced in all sorts of venues around the world. Among these were the Kuwait Times, New York Sun, Boston Globe, Tehran Times, the UK Daily Mail, a Canadian television news website, CBS News, MSNBC and FOXnews.

On the National Geographic website, the story appeared under the let's-not-be-accused-of-understatement headline "Arctic Sea Ice Gone in Summer Within Five Years?" Similarly, the Scotland Herald inaccurately pushed the envelope still further with the headline "Summer ice in Arctic 'will be gone in under five years'" [italics added].

Google Books and another source (see p. 63 of this 171-page PDF) both report that the screaming Arctic and dead canary parts of the article were later cited by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Thomas Friedman in his 2009 bestseller Hot, Flat and Crowded.

In August of 2008 Serreze, who provided the screaming quote, told Reuters that:
Arctic ice is in its death spiral
Fast forward a couple of years and the screaming death spiral scientist now admits he might have overstated the matter. In a piece published this week on Wired.com, Serreze acknowledges that Mother Nature is a complicated gal. "The sea ice system surprises us," he says. Here are a few paragraphs from the story:

In 2007, the extent of sea ice in the Arctic declined rapidly. The drop from the previous year was so precipitous that it garnered worldwide attention and media coverage. In the last couple of years, the extent of sea ice in the Arctic...has recovered. This series of events, which underscored the year-to-year variability of the measurement, has made researchers cautious about describing events in the Arctic. [bold added]

“In hindsight, probably too much was read into 2007, and I would take some blame for that,” Serreze said. “There were so many of us that were astounded by what happened, and maybe we read too much into it.” [bold added]

Maybe we read too much into it. The more I research the predictions that have been made by environmentalists and activist scientists in recent decades, the more these words seem to apply. Never mind that the Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years and that we've been recording temperatures, taking CO2 readings, and measuring ice thickness for a measly few hundred. If something happens that hasn't yet been recorded by humanity it's "record-breaking" and
"unprecedented" and therefore automatically ominous.

Never mind that geologists tell us polar ice has been present for less than 20 percent of Earth's history and that we live on a dynamic, ever-changing planet. Ice sheets and glaciers expand and contract. They've been behaving this way for millions of years. One could say it's what they do.

So why do so many scientists and science journalists - the very people who should know better - reject the dispassionate, sober perspective? Why do they remind us of emotionally volatile teenagers?


h/t Tom Nelson and Bishop Hill


>> The big picture: the Y2K lesson
>> A bogus 21-year-old climate prediction
>> 10-year snow prediction fails miserably
>> Global disaster is so 1976

Jun 15, 2010

The Activists, the Poll & the Data

"Global warming concerns rising in US" declared a headline on the website of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) last Thursday. If true, this in an important development. But the first clue that something may be amiss is provided by the fact that the news story lacks a byline (it isn't attributed to a particular journalist). This suggests it was written up quickly by a junior employee or by an editor-in-a-rush and was based on nothing more than a press release.

For a disturbing explanation of why journalism of this sort has become commonplace see the 2009 book Flat Earth News. The first few chapters describe how news stories having virtually no basis in reality get promulgated far and wide by the media and how this is a predictable result of recent developments in the modern newsroom. Given that the average "churnalist" is expected to produce increasing amounts of copy, a reporter is virtually guaranteed to take a press release at face value, regurgitate it in different words, and then move on to the next story.

The CBC article mentioned above has attracted 350 reader comments. Assuming that one reader in a thousand leaves a comment, potentially hundreds of thousands of people now think the (internationally distributed) downturn in concern about global warming has halted in America. But has it?

It's worth noting that the public opinion poll being cited was written, paid for, and analyzed not by a disinterested polling firm that routinely monitors public attitudes on a variety of topics. Rather, the four principle investigators are associated with the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University.

Quick translation: these folks have agendas the size of the Sahara. The Yale outfit tells us its "mission" isn't to study climate change attitudes in a dispassionate manner but to:
Catalyze action by the general public and leaders of government, business, academia, and the media... [bold added]
Furthermore, we're told the Yale project was established after a 2005 conference that "came together to develop an action plan to engage American society on climate change."

All of this makes it clear their purpose is not primarily scholarly. Instead, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication is an activist organization.

The same is true for George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication. It says its mission is to "conduct unbiased public engagement research" - which sounds great until one reads the end of that sentence:

..so that collectively, we can stabilize our planet's life sustaining climate.
Check out the academic bio of one of the George Mason researchers involved in this particular poll:
Connie Roser-Renouf has a long-standing interest in the use of mass media to facilitate social change...She now directs her attention entirely to climate change, believing it to be the largest challenge humans have ever faced. [bold added]
And here's the academic bio of another researcher, Edward Maibach (who happens to be the founder and director of the George Mason center):

In 2006, while on a walk in the mountains...Ed had an epiphany that forever changed his life. He realized that climate change is the ultimate threat to the public’s health and wellbeing...Ed’s research interest is focused on the question: How can we use communication and marketing to influence the behavior of populations for the benefit of society? [bold added]

Some days I feel utterly naive. My mental image of American universities as places in which students become equipped to sort credible arguments from nonsense is hopelessly out-dated. Instead, it seems universities now employ self-important activists who get paid handsomely to discover which marketing techniques will advance their personal politics.

But putting that aside, let's look at the numbers. It so happens I know more than the average person about public opinion surveys because my husband, prior to leaving the industry, worked in market research/polling for two decades.

The timing of a poll can be important. The most recent climate change numbers were gathered during the final two weeks of May 2010. But those numbers are being compared to ones gathered between December 24th 2009 and January 3rd 2010.

Yep, the previous data was collected smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. Fortune 100 companies - who need reliable data because multi-million dollar decisions hinge on it - would never permit a survey to be conducted at that time of year. The risk of data wobble connected solely to people's seasonal frame of mind is considered too high.

Moreover, industry best practice is to conduct ongoing surveys at the same time each year. Thus, if the researchers in this case want to feel certain their data isn't being contaminated by seasonal variability, they should schedule the next wave for the last two weeks of May of 2011.

Instead, we have two waves of data collected five-and-a-half months apart. In both cases the margin of error is plus or minus three percent.

So when a press release says that the view that global warming "is caused mostly by human activities rose three points" and that the "number of Americans who worry about global warming rose three points" these results are meaningless. Because this falls within the margin of error we can't be sure anything has really changed.

The press release also tells us that "public belief that global warming is happening rose four points" and that "the number of Americans who said that the issue is personally important to them rose five points."

Once we subtract the margin of error, we have movement of one percent and two percent on these two questions. This is thin ice indeed on which to base a news story that begins with the line: "Global warming is once again becoming a hot topic for Americans."

According to this survey data, there has been no change in public opinion worth talking about. The numbers may well shift decisively in one direction or another at some point in the future, but it is speculating wildly to say that this has already occurred. The insitutions of higher learning that sent this rubbish to the media should be ashamed of themselves.

That being said, had the CBC journalist taken the time to examine the data directly, it seems to me he would have discovered some newsworthy tidbits. For example:

  • Even though the BP oil rig explosion killed 11 people on April 20th and oil had been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly a month prior to the start of the survey (May 14 to June 1), 62 percent of Americans nevertheless still supported the expansion of offshore drilling (pp. 5 and 7 of this PDF).

  • 65 percent of respondents said the evironment should be protected even if it reduces economic growth and 77 percent said they supported regulating carbon dioxide. While at first blush this sounds like a mandate for vigorous government action, it must also be noted that 65 percent of respondents were opposed to a mere 25-cent-per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax even if this money were returned to them via a reduction in federal income tax. Moreover, 45 percent were opposed to paying an extra $2.50 a month for electricity. (pp. 5-8 of this PDF).
Although many of the survey respondents seem unclear about the connection between the two, there is no way to dramatically reduce/regulate emissions without increasing the cost of gas and electricity. When the price of energy goes up, the price of everything that is grown, manufactured, or shipped increases and those near the bottom of the income ladder experience genuine hardship.

The public is profoundly schizophrenic about these matters. We like to declare that the environment is important to us, but we aren't prepared to spend much of our own money on it. This is why support for environmental policies is often described as being a mile wide and an inch deep.

Since it's obvious that the numbers which made it into the press release were cherry-picked, let's indulge in some cherry-picking of our own. Keeping in mind the three percent margin of error here are some other revelations:

  • the percentage of respondents who were "exremely sure" that global warming is happening fell from 24 to 20 (p. 2 of this PDF)

  • the percentage who are "somewhat sure" that global warming is not happening rose from 34 to 44 (p. 2)

  • those who think there's "a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening" increased from 40 to 45 percent (p. 3)

  • the percentage who think global warming will cause them "only a little" personal harm rose from 22 to 27 percent (p. 4)

  • those who think global warming will harm US citizens "a great deal" dropped from 22 to 16 percent (p. 4)

  • those who think "global warming will harm plant and animal species" a "great deal" fell from 43 to 40 percent (p. 5)

Then there are my two favourite cherries. Last December, just prior to some of this data being collected, the two-week Copenhagen climate extravaganza took place. In the months leading up to that summit celebrities and green groups uged us to be alarmed and the mass media got hysterical. On the day the summit began 56 newspapers worldwide ran an editorial (many on the front page) in which the event was characterized as "Fourteen days to seal history's judgment on this generation." Television, radio, and news-oriented websites all joined the chorus.

Yet when respndents were asked mere days later, over the holiday season: "How much had you thought about global warming before today?" only 15 percent said "a lot." Combined, more than half (54 percent) said they'd thought about global warming only "a little" or "not at all" (p. 6).

Even more interesting, when they were asked: "How important is the issue of global warming to you personally?" only five percent said it was "extremely important" (p. 6).

No wonder the researchers who wrote this survey think they need to employ marketing techniques to communicate their personal sense of urgency. The fact of the matter is that global warming is not a pressing issue for the vast majority of Americans.

Anyone who takes the time to look closely at this survey may find further reason for concern. The researchers claim the "results come from nationally representative surveys of American adults, aged 18 and older." But when those folks were asked in May 2010 for their political party affiliation 42 percent said they were Democrat, 25 percent said they were Republican, and 24 percent said they were Independents. (p. 9 of this PDF)

Gallup asks Americans this exact question each month. Data stretching back to January 2004 appears here. During the same time period (May 24-25) that the academic researchers were quizzing respondents about their political affiliation Gallup compiled somewhat different numbers:

  • Democrats 30% (vs 42% by the academics)

  • Republicans 28% (vs 25%)

  • Independent 40% (vs 24%)
According to Gallup, over the past year between 29 and 37 percent of the population described themselves as Democrats (in Apr. 2010 and July 2009 respectively). Yet 42 percent of those polled in the academics' survey were Democrats.

Similarly, over the past year Gallup says Independents comprised between 33 and 42 percent of voters. According to Gallup's data, at no time during the period January 2004 to the present have independents been less than 27 percent of the population. Yet only 24 percent of the respondents in the academic survey were Independents.

It therefore appears that Democracts were over-represented and that Independents were under-represented in the sample from which the academics derived their numbers. On a topic as polarized as climate change, this could significantly bias the results.

There's also a problem with lack of disclosure. I sent e-mail to all four of the academic researchers last Friday morning asking to see the entire questionnaire since certain survey questions are missing from the information released by the academics. This is important because it's well known that the answers people provide during a survey can be influenced by the ones they were asked immediately beforehand.

One of the researchers, Anthony Leiserowitz, responded promptly and politely. Since he cc'd the others in his response and none of them has been in touch, it appears they are all comfortable with the fact that he declined to provide the missing questions. His e-mail reads in part:

We cannot release this entire questionnaire yet, as we are in the process of preparing several additional public reports, as well as papers for publication in scientific journals. [bold added]

Where have we heard that before? Here are academics eager to influence the public debate about climate change. They issue a press release about non-peer-reviewed research findings hoping to attract media attention (see here for another reporter's coverage). But when an informed observor requests a full list of the questions so she can satisfy herself that the survey was conducted in a fair manner, the academics feel no obligation to provide such information. In other words, like other climate researchers, they expect the rest of us to blindly trust them.

Doesn't it make you feel warm and fuzzy all over to hear that this research is destined to appear in scientific journals? Despite its shortcomings perhaps it'll get cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


>> The media, Mother Nature & oil spills
>> BP, Greenpeace & the big oil jackpot
>> Shielding climate orthodoxy from free speech
>> Sudan fights climate change for the IPCC

Jun 13, 2010

Cross Examining the IPCC

James Johnston has been a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania since 1995. For most of that time, he has also been the director of an environmental law program. Dozens of his articles have appeared in academic journals, and he has received an award for teaching excellence.

A few weeks ago, Johnston uploaded an 82-page working paper titled "Global Warming Advocacy Science: a Cross Examination" to a scholarly depository [abstract & download page here]. Within its pages he performs a task lawyers undertake as a matter of course: he cross-examines an expert witness.

The expert witness is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - or IPCC (which Johnston describes as representing the views of the climate change "establishment"). He points out that while trial lawyers often lack scientific training, this doesn't stop them from educating themselves about relevant technical issues and then asking tough questions.

In essence, Johnston performs a simple reality-check. Since many politicians, economists, regulators, and legal scholars swallow IPCC pronouncements whole - and then propose costly measures in response - Johnston makes an obvious point:
[O]ne would suppose that before such policies are undertaken, it would be worthwhile to verify that the climate establishment's view really does reflect an unbiased and objective assessment...such verification means comparing what the IPCC has to say about climate science with what one finds in the peer-reviewed climate science literature, and then questioning apparent inconsistencies..." (p. 8 of the PDF, numbered as p. 5)

Johnston's paper introduces a helpful concept. Are IPCC reports equivalent to legal briefs - or legal memos? A legal brief is a document intended to persuade the reader of a particular point of view. Legal memos, on the other hand, strive to objectively provide all the available facts - both pro and con (see the definition at the bottom of this page).

Johnston says he was surprised to discover that "on virtually every major issue in climate change science" IPCC reports "systematically conceal or minimize what appear to be fundamental scientific uncertainties." In other words, while the IPCC's mandate is to be balanced and objective (like a legal memo), Johnston argues its reports have more in common with legal briefs. (p.9/6)

He acknowledges that the authors in many IPCC chapters (the 2007 report had a total of 44 chapters), did an honest job of disclosing "what is known and what is unknown...in their particular field." But the bigger picture, and the one presented in the IPCC's summaries, amounts to an effort to "marshal evidence in favor of a predetermined" set of beliefs - that human-produced greenhouse gas emissions will cause catastrophic global warming and must therefore be curtailed (p.10/7).

In other words, unlike a good detective who first assembles the evidence and then draws conclusions, the IPCC leadership knew the culprit was carbon dioxide well before it began its investigation. The only evidence it then took seriously was evidence pointing toward this conclusion.

These findings, Johnston says, don't prove that the views of the climate establishment are in error. Who is right and who is wrong about climate change is a separate debate - and will likely only be known decisively once a considerable amount of time has passed.

The problem is that if your mandate is to produce an objective report and you instead ignore, minimize, and conceal evidence that happens to undercut your preconceived opinions, you've betrayed the public's trust.

This is morally wrong and renders you untrustworthy. Duh.


Johnston's 82-page PDF has also been directly posted online (saving you the step of downloading it). I've assigned its web-address an easy-to-remember short URL:



>> Global warming and My Cousin Vinny
>> Cutoff dates, what cutoff dates?
>> IPCC cites an unpublished journal 39 times
>> More IPCC mischief
>> Sudan fights climate change for the IPCC

Jun 11, 2010

How Many IPCC Scientists Say So?

YouTube video available here. Firefox users can apparently see it fine, but Explorer is having problems.

A statement is not true just because thousands of scientists say it is. Nevertheless, media coverage of climate change has frequently implied that:

  1. thousands of scientists collectively produce the Intergovernental Panel on Climate Change's report and
  2. those scientists all agree that humans are responsible for the warming trend recorded in the late 20th century

A good example of this sort of media coverage can be found at 5:35 to 5:45 minutes of the above video.

It has therefore been a difficult task to communicate certain facts to the general public. First, among the thousands of souls involved in the IPCC process, many are not hardcore scientists at all. They are economists, bureaucrats, industry representatives, and professional activists. (See this 8-page PDF of expert reviewers who provided feedback on the section of the report produced by Working Group 3. Notice it is their affiliation the IPCC tells us about - not their scientific credentials.)

Additionally, a large number of those who worked on the IPCC report are academics from other disciplines. Some of these people have built careers by speculating on the effect global warming could have on a variety of matters at some time in the distant future.

(See, for example, Dr. Daniel Scott, a contributing author to chapter 14 of the IPCC's Working Group 2 report and a Canadian geography professor. In recent years he has travelled to Tunisia, Germany, Greece, France, England, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Scotland, Italy, South Africa, Las Vegas, and numerous other destinations to deliver papers on the effect climate change might have on golf, ice-fishing, alpine skiing, cottagers, national parks, and tourism events in Canada's capital city. Nice work if you can get it.)

In other words, it's anybody's guess how many of the people involved in producing the IPCC report - as authors or expert reviewers - are actually equipped to evaluate firsthand the relevant science supporting the hypothesis that humans are to blame for climate change.

I don't mean to disparage anyone here, only to point out that it's an open question whether a given economist or geography prof has truly worked through the science for himself. In many cases, he's surely just accepted the judgment of others.

In any event, the large group of people who contributed to the IPCC report were never asked whether they believe humans are responsible for climate change. Nor were they asked what portion of the overall change should be assigned to human activity and what portion should be assigned to natural causes. It just didn't happen.

Rather, the conclusion that humans cause climate change was decided in one chaper out of a total of 44 in the IPCC report. Only the folks who worked on chapter nine of the Working Group 1 report got a voice.

According to John McLean, who has crunched the numbers:

Chapter 9...had 53 authors in total but more than 40 were part of a network of people who worked previously together. In direct contradiction to the IPCC's statements that the team of authors should have a wide range of views and experiences, most were climate modellers and there were many instances where several authors were associated with the same establishment...

The second draft of chapter 9...received comments from 55 people and 7 governments. Of these 62 only 5 reviewers explicitly endorsed the overall chapter...

Fifty-three authors and five reviewers are all that can be said to explicitly support the claim of a significant human influence on climate. [bold added] (p. 2)

Persistent souls like McLean have been trying, for years, to get someone to pay attention to this very serious misunderstanding. But they may as well have been banging their heads against a brick wall.

Which is why it's so important, as Bishop Hill points out today, that Mike Hulme (a high profile climate change researcher at the University of East Anglia) is now acknowledging that McLean has a point.

In a forthcoming paper (22-page PDF) Hulme writes:

Claims such as ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’ are disingenuous. That particular consensus judgement...is reached by only a few dozen experts in the specific field of detection and attribution studies; other IPCC authors are experts in other fields. [bold added] (pp. 10-11)

Got that? We the public have been misinformed, repeatedly, about the number of IPCC scientists who've explicitly endorsed the human-climate-change link.

If the planet really is in peril, we need clarity about facts such as these - not spin.


h/t to reader RG


>> We trusted too completely
>> More IPCC mischief
>> The Stern Review scandal - IPCC breaks 3 of its own rules
>> What's left if we disregard non-peer-reviewed claims?

Jun 7, 2010

Climate Skeptics Photo Essay - Part 1

At the recent Heartland climate skeptics' conference in Chicago, I took thousands of photos. This morning I published Part 1 of a photo essay from those three days on my photography website.

An event such as this has a mood, a personality. The challenge is to capture fleeting moments that faithfully represent the larger whole.

At more than 700-strong, the participants at this conference were diverse. They came from a variety of countries, cultural backgrounds, and political persuasions. They were engaging presenters and attentive listeners. They didn't always agree but treated each other with respect nevertheless.

In case you missed them, some photos of UK climate skeptic James Delingpole appear HERE.

You can also see photos from last year's one-day skeptics' conference in Washington, D.C. HERE.


>> We trusted too completely
>> The great peer-review fairy tale
>> Climate skepticism is free speech
>> Bullies need not apply

Jun 4, 2010

BP, Greenpeace & the Big Oil Jackpot

In what passes for debate about climate change one of the most tiresome allegations is that skeptics are lavishly funded by big oil. As a result of this funding, so the argument goes, the public has been confused by those who'll say anything in exchange for a paycheck.

"Follow the money" we're told and you'll discover that climate skeptics are irredeemably tainted. Ergo nothing they say can be trusted. Ergo their concerns, questions, and objections should be dismissed out of hand.

It's therefore amusing that the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is now drawing attention to the close relationship between climate change activists and BPaka British Petroleum, an entity for which the descriptor "big oil" was surely invented.

According to the Washington Post the green group Nature Conservancy – which encourages ordinary citizens to personally pledge to fight climate change - "has accepted nearly $10 million in cash and land contributions from BP and affiliated corporations over the years."

Gee, didn't Greenpeace build an entire ExxonSecrets website to expose the allegedly diabolical fact that, over a 9-year-period (1998-2006) ExxonMobil donated a grand total of $2.2 million to a conservative think tank?

$10 million versus $2 million. Who do we suppose has the cozier relationship with big oil?

But that's just the beginning. The Washington Post also points out that Conservation International, another green group which insists climate change represents a "profound threat," has "accepted $2 million in donations from BP over the years and partnered with the company on a number of projects."

Funny, Greenpeace doesn't talk about that. Nor does it mention:

  • that BP is funding research into "ways of tackling the world's climate problem" at Princeton University to the tune of $2 million per year for 15 years
  • that BP is funding an energy research institute involving two other US universities to the tune of $500 million – the aim of which is "to develop new sources of energy and reduce the impact of energy consumption on the environment"
  • that ExxonMobil itself has donated $100 million to Stanford university so that researchers there can find "ways to meet growing energy needs without worsening global warming"

The only dollar amounts Greenpeace cites in its explanation of why it decided to launch ExxonSecrets is that measly $2.2 million. Versus 10 + 2 + 30 + 500 + 100. Let's see, which all adds up to…wait for it…$642 million.

If the world is divided into two factions – one that believes climate change is a serious problem and another that thinks human influence on the climate is so minimal it's indistinguishable from background noise – one group has pulled off a bank heist while the other has been panhandling in front of the liquor store.

In the same document in which Greenpeace talks about the ExxonMobil money it chillingly asserts that climate "deniers" aren't entitled to free speech. Why? Because "Freedom of speech does not apply to misinformation and propaganda."

Actually, the big thinkers on the subject have consistently taken the opposite view. John Stuart Mill was adamant that no one has the right to decide what is or is not propaganda on everyone else's behalf. He would have looked Greenpeace in the eye and told it to stop imagining that its own judgment is infallible.

More than a hundred years later Noam Chomsky famously declared that if you don't believe in freedom of expression for opinions you despise you don't believe in it at all.

If Greenpeace would like to have a serious conversation about who, exactly, is spreading misinformation I'm up for that - since it's overwhelming obvious that the big oil jackpot was awarded to those on the Greenpeace side of the debate.

The fact that climate change activists have enjoyed such a powerful funding advantage and yet insisted all the while that the exact opposite was the case is troubling. It tells us a good deal about their intellectual rigour. About their character. And about their ability to distinguish fact from fiction.

If there really is a climate crisis, if our grandchildren's future really is imperiled, these aren't the people to lead us out of the wilderness.


UPDATE (June 6): Reader Terry Kesteloot alerted me to the fact that the Greenpeace.org website is apparently infected with a "very low" risk computer virus. The links in this post to Greenpeace's ExxonSecrets FAQ have therefore been replaced with links to a copy of the document that resides at Archive.org (scroll down once the page loads).

If your machine has virus protection, the document may be viewed directly on the Greenpeace website HERE.


>> Slurs, smears & money
>> Independent bloggers vs corporate environmentalists
>> Money to burn
>> Shielding climate orthodoxy from free speech

Jun 1, 2010

The Media, Mother Nature and Oil Spills

Green activists like to declare that we're addicted to oil. I think we're addicted to drama. We feel a powerful urge to call things a "crisis." No matter what the current problem might be, we behave as though it's new under the sun. Although our better judgment knows that a wide range of outcomes is possible, it's always the worst case scenario that grabs hold of our brains.

Regarding the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico here are a few facts:

  1. Thirty-one years ago, in June 1979, an oil well off the coast of Mexico blew. It discharged oil into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly 10 months before it was finally capped. The world did not collapse. The ecosystem was not permanently harmed.

  2. In early 1991, retreating Iraqi troops set fire to more than 600 Kuwaiti oil wells and then buried landmines nearby. While doomsters predicted it would take as long as a decade to extinguish these fires, all were brought under control within eight months. Environmental damage was extensive, but many of the most dramatic predictions – such as the one that postulated the entire planet would suffer effects similar to a nuclear winter - did not come to pass.

  3. In January 1991 Iraqi troops also deliberately emptied oil from tankers and storage facilities directly into the Persian Gulf – causing the largest oil spill in history. Two years later the New York Times reported that researchers (including UNESCO oceanic specialists) had found "little lasting damage." Coral reefs and fish had survived.

  4. In early 1996, an oil tanker ran aground off Britain, polluting 200 km (124 miles) of coastline. Three years later, when the BBC reported on the aftermath, it observed that visitors to the region could "see no evidence today of the dismal predictions some were making at the time of the spill." According to scientists who'd studied the matter extensively: "the general observation is of a quite astonishing recovery given the catastrophic damage caused to the shoreline in the short term."

  5. Half of all the oil entering the world's oceans is totally unconnected to humans. According to research published in a peer-reviewed academic journal in 2003: "Crude oil seeps are natural phenomenon over which humankind has little direct control."
In other words, while oil and water may not mix they're both a product of Mother Nature. She's been dealing with them competently for millions of years.

Journalists do love to go on about how supposedly "fragile" nature is. According to Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper the current oil spill threatens "fragile shorelines." The Associated Press says the environment overall as well as marshes specifically are fragile. Reuters mentions both the "fragile ecosystem" and the "fragile Louisiana marshlands" in the current version of its timeline.

But recent history tells us something rather different. It says that while human lives – and livelihoods – are indeed fragile, Mother Nature is more resilient than we give her credit for.

Let's get that well capped. Let's clean up the mess and do what we can for the affected wildlife. But really, the eco drama queen routine isn't necessary.


>> Global disaster is so 1976
>> The big picture: the Y2K lesson
>> Green time capsule: 1970s eco ideas not pretty
>> We're always out of touch with the future