A Crisis of climate-change confidence  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Age has an article saying "Sceptics are undermining the credibility of fundamental scientific institutions and their research" - Crisis of climate-change confidence.

Amid the thousands of stolen emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, posted on websites late last year, a telling exchange among the scientists has been largely overlooked.

It refers to reports that the US and Saudi Arabian governments had played a key role in picking a new candidate to chair the United Nation's peak scientific body on climate change.

The emails, dating back to April 2002, noted reports of ''intense lobbying'' by the US oil industry, specifically Exxon, to try to persuade officials in President George Bush's White House to block the high-profile British atmospheric chemist, Dr Robert Watson, getting a second term as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Just months before, in September 2001, the IPCC under Watson had delivered its groundbreaking Third Assessment Report, which confirmed that the earth was warming and found there was, ''new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities''.

The finding, supported by the US National Academy of Sciences, provoked a severe backlash from critics of climate change science and figures in the oil and coal industry. Watson, a former science adviser to President Bill Clinton, was viewed by science sceptics and some in industry with deep suspicion.

A memo obtained under freedom of information by a US environment group revealed that Exxon's lobbyist, Randy Randol, wrote to a key Bush official within weeks of the president's inauguration in 2001 asking, ''Can Watson be replaced now at the request of the US?'' By early 2002 the Bush administration was backing a new candidate for the IPCC chair, an Indian engineer, Dr Rajendra Pauchari.

''You may not have seen this latest piece of politicisation from the Bushies,'' the former head of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, Tom Wigley, wrote in a email to his old colleagues Phil Jones and Mike Hulme in April that year.

That year Jones would come under scrutiny by climate sceptics in the US over data he had used for some critical research to support his finding on rising temperatures in cities.

Jones noted the concerns over the IPPC chairman. But his colleague, Hulme, in a prescient response, argued, ''Why should not an Indian scientist chair IPCC? One could argue the [climate change] issue is more important for the south than the north …

''If the issue is that Exxon have lobbied and pressured Bush, then OK, this is regrettable but to be honest is anyone really surprised? All these decision about IPCC chairs and co-chairs are deeply political … ''

Pauchari was elected chairman by a majority of countries and Watson was defeated. In 2007, under Pauchari, the IPPC handed down its next series of reports, not only confirming the 2001 findings on global warming but strengthening them.

''Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level,'' the first of the 2007 reports stated bluntly.

More significantly, the new report found that most of the increase in warming since the mid 20th century is, ''very likely'' due to a human-caused increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. After Pauchari accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of the IPPC, the Indian engineer once favoured by the Bush White House became the object of attack by global warming sceptics.

IN recent weeks, with climate science and scientists again under siege in the media, on sceptic blogs and from critics within their own ranks, the hacked East Anglia emails are a timely reminder that the so-called science ''war'' over global warming is nothing new.

The credibility of the IPPC and some of the high-profile individuals who contribute to it have come under attack after every report. The attacks often escalate just before the crucial UN meetings of government ministers, which follow the reports that are supposed to debate how to cut global greenhouse gases. From Kyoto in 1997 to Copenhagen in 2009, climate sceptics and industry critics have targeted the science's credibility and challenged the need to cut greenhouse gases.

The hacked East Anglia emails were posted on sceptic websites just weeks before December's Copenhagen climate conference. The arguments against the climate science, even though supercharged by the emails, had little immediate effect on the UN conference. But the emails' content is affecting public opinion in Britain and most likely the US and Australia. ...

But despite the crisis engulfing climate science in recent weeks, no serious scientific academy, university or government research agency around the world is disputing the IPPC's core findings: that global average temperatures have been increasing and that human activity is very likely responsible because of the burning fossil fuels and deforestation, which is increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

''The hacking of the emails will have zero impact on the scientific case for climate change,'' says Will Steffen, the head of the Australian National University's Climate Change Institute.

While he acknowledges that some of Jones's temperature data was questioned in the hacked emails, Steffen points to thousands of studies across all the scientific disciplines over recent years that have supported the IPPC's findings on global warming.

''There is an enormous amount of evidence from the recent warming of the planet beyond the instrumental atmospheric temperature record,'' says Steffen, who authored a report on the issue last year for the Department of Climate Change.

''This evidence includes rising ocean temperatures, reductions in Arctic sea-ice thickness and extent, the melting of permafrost, the satellite measurements of rising atmospheric temperature, the loss of ice mass in Greenland, and more recently Antarctica, and thousands of ecological case studies on land and in the ocean showing changing times for ecological events like the flowering of plants and mating of organisms, the migration of fish, plants, birds and many others in response to the warming environment.''


Great site, good article. I'm adding your page to our blog roll at http://WestCoastClimateEquity.org and hope you can reciprocate.

Did you hear Professor Andrew Weaver interviewed on CBC's The Current this week? You will like this:

Many thanks for keeping us all informed.

Anonymous   says 6:02 AM

This is a textbook smear campaign, the sort you see whenever the powerful are accused by those who are not.

"Attack the credibility of the witness" is their best strategy, because it diverts the attention away from themselves and has the potential to cast the evidence into doubt.

Never mind that everyone involved knows the truth - the point is to generate enough public confusion about the matter that it becomes politically costly to stand up for the truth.

It works in rape cases, and it's working here.

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