The IPCC Circus Continues

February 8, 2010

The moronic smearing of the IPCC continues apace with this weekend’s unveiling of the imaginatively named “Africagate scandal” by the Times’ intrepid (and journalistically bankrupt) Jonathan Leake, who masquerades as the chip-liner’s “environment editor.”

According to Leake, he has discovered another criminal error in the UN’s work on Climate Change – namely “a claim that global warming could cut rain-fed north African crop production by up to 50%” which appeared in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment of the potential impacts that climate change could have on the world’s societies and ecosystems.

Leake takes to task a passage in the African Impacts section, which describes how Climate Change could cause “deficiencies in yields from rain-fed agriculture of up to 50% during the 2000-20 period, and reductions in crop growth period” noting that the source, (Abouma 2003) comes from “a 2003 policy paper written for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a Canadian think tank” which “was not peer-reviewed.”

The claim was echoed by the IPCC’s synthesis report, which was presented to policy makers across the world – who may or may not have read it. It may also be wrong, and coming from an unreviewed paper based on the submissions of civil servants in autocratic regimes like Morocco and Tunisia this may be the case. But the point that this one piece of information somehow invalidates the African Impacts section simply does not stand up.

The section on agriculture is littered with longer term projections from peer reviewed papers, and while not projecting imminent drought and disaster for African farmers (though things are bad enough in East Africa already and have been for years) they do make terrifying reading.

On the other hand, the agricultural impacts section is remarkably even handed (a point utterly ignored by Leake who seeks to portray it as merely corrupt and scientifically inept). At one stage it notes that the growing season in Ethiopia’s highlands may be lengthened while dryland and irrigated farms could benefit, and small goat farmers could find a comparative advantage compared to their larger rivals.

The section’s claims are hedged sensibly. Note the language in the section uncovered by Leake, which speaks about “additional risks that could be exacerbated by climate change.” There is no bombast here, just a warning.

For truly misleading and pompous writing you have to head for the anti-IPCC commentariat. Please do check out the odious James Delingpole’s emanations for a fine example, if you can stomach the smugness at work. As he gushed on Sunday, “This was the day when so many wheels came off Al Gore’s AGW gravy train and flew off in so many different directions, it was all but impossible to keep track of them.”

And Richard North, writing on his own blog, crowed that, by now,”Even the mildest critics of the IPCC and Dr Pachauri might now be moved to observe that they have eschewed uncertainty, to project the most pessimistic scenario imaginable – with no scientific support and a great deal of embellishment.”

This is utter nonsense. As I noted above, uncertainty is very clearly present in the IPCC impacts section. North should retract that comment and apologize to those who compiled it. His criticisms of Rajendra Pachauri, the excessively applauded head of the IPCC process may be more reasonable. After all, according to North, Pachauri did publicly revise the “could” to a “would” with regard to large African crop declines by 2020. And Pachauri wields the same sort of smugness that Delingpole and North possess, wandering the globe promoting himself rather more than the fight against climate change, around which he has made a prosperous career.

But Pachauri is not the IPCC. Read the African impacts section and then ask yourself whether it really exaggerates the threat of climate change, and whether the “Africagate” factoid is critical to its argument, which tends to support the view that by 2100, African agriculture will be adversely affected by climate change, leaving millions more people struggling to eat. Opportunities for mitigation and adaptation are suggested – as if Leake, North or Delingpole would care. They only have time for African agriculture when it fits in with their personal crusade – to head off attempts to shift human societies in sustainable directions.

But there is more to such people than meets the eye. While they weigh in against partisan think tanks and campaigning organizations like the WWF, they are more often than not neck deep in such manipulative institutions, which seek to mould public opinion in pursuit of personal profit.

North, for example, makes his fortune out of rubbishing any stories which might alarm members of society as the author of “Scared to Death” subtitled “From BSE to Global Warming – Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth.” North’s work is essentially just a screed directed at scientists, the media and politicians who all make capital of some form out of propagating and exaggerating panics.

North is [edit: was] also the chief researcher for the UK Independence Party, [edit: for the UKIP affiliated EDD grouping in the European Parliament] which has a solid record of making political capital out of climate change denial, and will no doubt be doing so come the UK elections this year.

He has also been exposed as trying desperately to whitewash the reputation of fellow climate sceptic Christopher Booker, whose Wikipedia page he “sanitised” last year, removing a list of inaccuracies in his friend’s work from the online encyclopedia. [it seems that he did do this]

He has also engaged in a baffling e-mail exchange with one of his own critics. After writing a letter to the Evening Standard criticising North, Andy Rowell of Spinwatch was contacted by the “contrarian” writer. North then claimed not to be a climate change denier adding that “nor have I ever disputed the value of much of the work corralled by IPCC.” Well, he has now, and he had then. As Rowell blogged:

The slight problem with this one is that North’s website does attack the IPCC, which he says “has produced what looks like a consensus that global warming is real, big, bad, mankind’s fault and merits concerted action. But the “consensus” is not as strong as you might suppose ….There is also a good deal of argument about whether the IPCC process is as open-minded as it ought to be. In particular, there is a widespread belief that the summaries of the IPCC process don’t capture the uncertainties of the bulk of the work.”

[edit: this refers to Richard D. North, not Richard North. Hope that is cleared up]

How can you believe a man with so many vested interests and such a tenuous grasp on his own publicly stated positions? Isn’t it a tiny bit hypocritical of him to be attacking the WWF for its own partisan campaigning? [sic]


6 Responses to “The IPCC Circus Continues”

  1. For one who is so critical of others, it might be a good idea to look in the mirror. Firstly, what evidence have you that I have made a “fortune” out of “Scared to Death”. Have you seen my royalty statements? (It would be interesting to know also whether you have read the book – your description is not one I recognise).

    Two, I am not “chief researcher for the UK Independence Party” – and never have been. I was research director for the EDD group in the European Parliament, a post I vacated in 2003. Nor am I a member of UKIP and have not been since 2002. Do try to keep up.

    Third – I have not written to the Evening Standard or communicated in any way with Andy Rowell. I can only assume you are referring to Richard D North, who is a different person altogether.

    Thus, you say “How can you believe a man with so many vested interests and such a tenuous grasp on his own publicly stated positions?”

    Might I ask how you can believe a writer who makes such unsubstantiated statements and gets so many facts wrong in such a short piece?

    • Szamko Says:

      I see. Thanks for the reply.

      “It would be interesting to know also whether you have read the book – your description is not one I recognise”

      Ask your publishers. It was on the Amazon website and no, I haven’t read the book.

      I do seem to have confused yourself with Richard D. North, for which I apologise. Likewise for the mistake about the EDD and UKIP.

      But biographical matters aside, this may provide a means of initiating discussion.

      You are still dead wrong about the IPCC. Your sniping at its mistakes (which are very few relative to the size of its output) and unwillingness to give an accurate picture of its subtleties and strengths is either fundamentally misleading and dangerous.

      By all means dig for dirt within its sections and beat up on Pachauri – I don’t care much for him or about him – but do the researchers who put it together a service and recognise that they are not part of a grand deception.

  2. watsonlow Says:

    People like North and Booker pick away at the edges of opponents’ arguments until they find something they can manipulate into a case against the main thread. I don’t know or care whether they make a fortune doing it or whether they are in the pockets of the oil companies or whoever. The sad thing is that they appear to be able to get a disproportionate amount of air time for their misrepresentations of the important work of the IPCC.

  3. I think you miss the point … AR4 is presented as the “gold standard” of climate science – “the collective effort of almost four thousand of the world’s best specialists working tirelessly over five years” says Pachauri, more so the “synthesis report” which is supposed to be the pinnacle of achievement, checked, double-checked and verified.

    Yet, in the synthesis report, we have the unqualified assertion about African agriculture: “in some countries of Africa yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent” referenced to a report by an advocacy group which, in turn is referenced to other citations.

    This is an error which would be rejected in a PhD thesis (as I know from personal experience – where’s your PhD by the way?) yet here we have a basic mistake in supposedly “gold standard” report (for which the British taxpayer alone, incidentally, paid nearly £3 million).

    Drilling down into the references cited to support the IPCC assertion, we see three national reports (see my blog for links – only one of three supports the assertion, and then only in relation to Morocco. The other two country reports contradicted the claim – particularly Tunisia, which argues that production from rain-fed agriculture could increase. The specific claim, therefore, is not only unsupported by, as stated, wrong.


    Your assertion that I am “still dead wrong about the IPCC” therefore, is just that – an assertion. Unfunded, we are drilling down into AR4 finding not one but numerous egregious errors which should have been resolved before the document was published, but were not.

    The processes of scrutiny and argument are the essence of science. To that extent, the IPCC process is anti-scientific.

    • szamko Says:

      Well, we are finding out that the IPCC project is large enough to contain errors, and poorly structured (as the example of Paul Reiter in your book neatly shows, by the way). The selection procedures for working groups has been poorly attended to and, if anything, underfunded. After all, those working on the IPCC receive no extra remuneration for doing so (discounting the big whigs like Pachauri) as far as I know, and have to fit in their work around professional schedules. This has created an inbuilt bias against the participation of leading specialists, whose time is constantly in demand.

      Your research has uncovered some of the effects of those institutional failings – and hopefully they will provide a stimulus for reform. Mistakes like the “Africagate” debacle certainly don’t help to reinforce the credibility of the IPCC as a whole, but I feel that they will have a positive impact in the medium term on how it functions. What they don’t do is to challenge the existence of anthropogenic climate change caused by the emission of greenhouse gases. They are all problems with publicizing the potential impacts of climate change, not the processes that are causing it. Moreover, the impacts of climate change will remain severe and very likely within decades if an Africagate emerges every week. Projecting the imminent collapse of rain fed agriculture such as that in north Africa can fall by the wayside yet leave the much more solid projections of glacier retreat and water stress in various regions of the world in place (among many other very likely impacts of climate change).

      Those assertions are a lot harder to chip away than more sensationalist ones such as Himalayan glaciers being gone by 2035 or north African farming in crisis by 2020. Eye grabbing assertions like that should not have been promoted by Pachauri et al – but they were and here we are. I’m guessing that in the future people will be more tolerant of Pachauri for using such examples, albeit erroneously, than they would of him keeping his mouth shut and failing to rouse policy makers to begin to tackle climate change.

      On the final point, I can’t agree that the IPCC is anti-scientific as “processes of scrutiny and argument” are absent from its structures. There is plenty of evidence of contention within working groups – but generally between those who urge caution (the mainstream) and those who see more rapid and far reaching consequences of climate change. It also doesn’t “do” science – acting as a kind of clearing house for climate research and, as such, has surely acquired a tendency to reflect the “conventional wisdom.” The trouble is that there is hardly any (if any) peer reviewed science which contradicts anthropogenic climate change. There is a lively debate outside the scientific community and of scientists outside the scholarly journals, but not within them. So, in a sense, you are asking for the IPCC to include argument which simply doesn’t exist in a form that you would accept as rigorous (peer-reviewed science.)

      We can argue about why that is, but that’s how it is.

  4. There are several reasons for the lack of any significant debate – through the medium of peer-reviewed papers that challenge the status quo. Amongst those, the vast bulk of funding goes to work which supports the status quo.

    Proposals seeking funding to challenge the prevailing hypothesis will simply not attract funding. Then, there is an inbuilt bias in scientific journals against accepting papers which challenge the status quo.

    These are very common dynamics which go back a long way. I encountered the same thing with my PhD, which sought to challenge the status quo on another scare – in the end I had to fund it myself, with government agencies demanding that I was excluded from any government-funded projects at the university.

    Thus, you have a process outside science which excludes challenge, which is then taken as reinforcing the status quo, citing the absence of challenge as evidence of the strength of the hypothesis. However, that does not make it right.

    As to the IPCC, this institution – manifestly – is designed to support the hypothesis, not challenge it. This means it suffers the classic curse of the a priori hypothesis, singlar instead of plural, defying the proper scientific method which requires generating multiple hypotheses, challenging each of them and letting the best explanation survive.

    This, itself, renders any output – in terms of conclusions – of the IPCC valueless. The case for AGW is not proven – and without rigorous challenge – which it lacks, it is not even supportable as a working hypothesis.

    As a trained scientist, entirely independent, self-supporting and self-employed, I have no paymaster to satisfy and therefore can afford the luxury of refusing to accept the output of such a body, primarily, but not by any means exclusively, because the theory of AGW has not been tested. That is how it is.

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