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Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Futile Quest For Climate Control - Part 2


By Robert Carter

It is part of the traffic of discussion about global warming that some of the participants are corrupt. Routinely, climate scientists employed at even the most prestigious institutions are accused of having their alarmist views bought by a need to maintain research funding. Equally, self-righteous critics make desperate attempts to link climate sceptics with what are claimed to be the vested interests of the coal and oil and gas industries. It is also obvious that commercial interests – including alternative energy providers such as wind turbine manufacturers, big utility companies such as Enron, financiers such as Lehmann Bros., and emerging emissions and carbon indulgences traders – have strong potential to become involved in corrupt dealings in the traditional meaning of the term. To varying degrees all of these accusations are true, but probably the strongest alarmist influence of all on the climate policy debate is the rather more subtle phenomenon of noble cause corruption.

In his book Science and Public Policy, Professor Aynsley Kellow explores the problem of noble cause corruption in public life in some depth. Such corruption arises from the belief of a vested interest, or powerful person or group, in the moral righteousness of their cause. For example, a police officer may apprehend a person committing a crime and, stuck with a lack of incriminating evidence, proceed to manufacture it. For many social mores, of which “stopping global warming” and “saving the Great Barrier Reef” are two iconic Australian examples, it has become a common practice for evidence to be manipulated in dishonest ways, under the justification of helping to achieve a worthy end. After all, who wouldn’t want to help to “save the Great Barrier Reef”?

Improper science

Regrettably, not all scientists within the climate community have maintained the dispassionate, disinterested approach that is necessary for scientific research. The most widely known piece of defective climate science is the famous 1998 hockey-stick paper in Nature by Mann, Bradley and Hughes, which was used extensively in the IPCC 3rd Assessment Report but discarded from the 4th. An earlier problem of the same type surfaced during the preparation of the 2nd Assessment Report, when a reviewer of part of the draft requested that he be supplied with some of the raw data on which the work was based. The author, Dr Tom Wigley, declined to supply the data, making the following astonishing statement (as quoted in The Heat is On by Ross Gelbspan):

“First, it is entirely unnecessary to have original “raw” data in order to review a scientific document. I know of no case at all in which such data were required by or provided to a referee ….. Second, while the data in question (model output from the U.K. Hadley Centre’s climate model) were generated using taxpayer money, this was U.K. taxpayer money. U.S. scientists therefore have no a priori right to such data. Furthermore, these data belong to individual scientists who produced them, not to the IPCC, and it is up to those scientists to decide who they give their data to.”

This reply denies the supply of data to another scientist who wishes to check that the work can be replicated; denies data to a scientist on the grounds that he is from another country; and arrogates to the author the right to decide who, if anyone, would be supplied with data which was collected with public funds and which underpins an important international publication. Each one of these actions constitutes a fundamental breach of science etiquette, and were such attitudes to be promulgated widely, science as a value-free, objective, internationally agreed enterprise would collapse. Yet such attitudes are widespread within the alarmist climate science community.

Government agencies and reports

Equally regrettably, it is not just individual scientists who are involved in trying to control the climate change debate by the use of selective science. Scientists who work for major governmental science agencies in western countries are almost all under strict employer instruction as to public comments that they may make about climate change, always remembering that a substantial slice of their budget is provided for global warming research. For example, Australian science journalist Peter Pockley reported in 2004 that “CSIRO’s marine scientists have been “constrained” on the scientific advice and interpretation they can provide to the government’s conservation plans for Australia’s oceans. Likewise, climate scientists have been told not to engage in (public) debate on climate change and never to mention the Kyoto Accord on greenhouse gas emissions”. In this way, science policy advice is routinely corrupted by being tailored to suit the views of the government of the day. In turn, the government's views are often strongly influenced by noble cause corruption, whereby "saving the planet" is seen cynically as an effective way in which to garner votes quite irrespective of the lack of demonstrated, as opposed to advertised, risk. The inaccurate and alarmist advertisements that the federal government is currently running about climate change are a case in point.

In Australia, CSIRO is the government agency that makes most of the public running in the global warming debate, and that almost exclusively on the side of environmental alarmism. CSIRO’s GCM modelling group, which acts as a “science” provider to the IPCC, exploits its resulting near-monopoly situation in Australia by acting also as the provider of climate change consultancy reports to state and federal governments, regional authorities and planning boards and large industrial organizations. These reports are based around regional CGM modelling that produces unvalidated projections of future climate, not predictions or forecasts. The subtlety of such a distinction escapes CSIRO’s clients, who, together with CSIRO itself, make no attempt to correct or check the media’s unvarying presentation of such model results as if they were firm predictions, and their association with rampant climate alarmism.

Most recently, public discussion on climate change in Australia has centred around the release on September 30 of Professor Ross Garnaut’s government-sponsored report on carbon dioxide taxation (aka emissions trading). Garnaut’s task, as formulated in his terms of reference, was to advise the Australian public on the issue of human-caused global climate change. Obviously, a judgement was then required as to whether significant human warming is occurring at all, or likely to occur soon. This being a scientific question, to appoint an economist to adjudicate upon it puts that person in the invidious position of having to base their substantive review upon science authority provided by others.

The convenient authority at hand was, of course, the IPCC, whose politically-tainted "science" advice Garnaut swallowed whole with nary a blink, the science in his report being simply a subset of that in the IPCC 4th Assessment Report. The policy prescriptions outlined by Garnaut are thereby predicated on two assumptions. First, that global temperature is rising (implicitly, at either an unusual rate or to an unusual magnitude); and, second, that adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will result in dangerous warming. Both of these assumptions are self-evidently wrong - notwithstanding that global temperature does from time to time warm (and cool), and that carbon dioxide is a mild, minor greenhouse gas.

Because Garnaut’s economic analysis is erected upon a faulty science edifice, his recommendations – like those of Professor Stern before him in the U.K. – have little relevance to the real world. The problem is exacerbated because Garnaut’s report also ignores the pressing issue of hazardous natural climate change, and the contextual fact that global temperature is now cooling, and predicted by many scientists to continue to cool. Above all else, planning for future climate hazard has to be based on a thorough, realistic risk analysis, and this the Garnaut Report has utterly failed to provide.

Science academies and learned societies

Traditionally, governments wishing for dispassionate advice on a science issue have turned to their nation's science academy. Disturbingly, against this historic context, Nature reported that in appointing one of its former Presidents "a high-profile former government adviser (Lord Robert May), the Royal Society is intensifying its moves into the public and political arena - and is taking a calculated risk. 'If you want to be more effective in engaging issues of public concern, then you really need to understand the rules of engagement", says May". The path being followed duly became evident when in 2001 Lord May helped organize a statement published in Science that there was a scientific consensus on the danger of human-caused global warming. The statement was headed "17 National Academies Endorse Kyoto", and May expressly commented that it had been "partly provoked by (President George) Bush's recent rejection of the Kyoto treaty, along with resistance to the Kyoto terms by countries such as Australia".

Against this unhappy background, it shouldn’t be surprising, but is, to discover that in 2006 the Royal Society’s Policy Communication Officer, Bob Ward, wrote an intimidatory letter to oil company Esso UK in an effort to suppress Esso’s funding for organizations that in the Royal Society’s view “misrepresented the science of climate change, by outright denial of the evidence …., or by overstating the amount and significance of uncertainty in knowledge, or by conveying a misleading impression of the potential impacts of anthropogenic climate change”. Mr. Ward’s attempt to prevent free public discussion of global warming resulted in rapid condemnation, including a comment from the U.S. Marshall Institute that “It is … unfortunate that the Royal Society is advocating censorship on a subject that calls for debate. The censorship of voices that challenge and provoke is antithetical to liberty and contrary to the traditions and values of free societies. That such a call comes from such a venerable scientific society is disturbing and should raise concerns worldwide about the intentions of those seeking to silence honest debate and discussion of our most challenging environmental issue – climate change”.

Notwithstanding widespread condemnation of the Royal Society action, copycat attempts
to intimidate other businesses soon followed. In U.S.A., Senators Rockefeller and Snowe wrote an intimidatory letter to Esso’s partner company Exxon; and in Australia, a Labor shadow minister, Kelvin Thomson, basing his views on a showing of Al Gore’s movie and the Royal Society letter, wrote in similar fashion to a number of leading Australian companies.

The Royal Society example of the corruption of scientific advice by politics is not an isolated one. Across the western world many other national science academies and major scientific societies have become similarly politicized over global warming and other contentious environmental issues. Thus governments and societies have now lost what used to be an important conduit of impartial and independent advice on technical matters of the day.

The influence of environmental organizations

Most readers will be aware of the activities of high profile environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace, the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the Australian Conservation Foundation. However, relatively few persons appreciate the size, scope, co-ordination and colossal financial resources that are now involved in environmental lobbying around the world. For example, at the centre of many climate policy debates is to be found the Climate Action Network - a 20-year old umbrella organization with seven regional nodes which coordinates the advocacy of more than 280 separate environmental NGOs.

Driven by their addiction to alarmism, and a false belief that the causes of climate change are understood, environmentalists worldwide urge the adoption of the precautionary principle to solve the “global warming problem”. The reality that you can’t take precautions against a future that is unknown (i.e. may encompass either warming or cooling, or both) is ignored in favour of irrational feel-goodery, the aim being to move the world to a “post-carbon” economy by drastic curtailment of the carbon dioxide emissions that are alleged to be causing warming.

Environmental campaigners for the reduction of human greenhouse emissions remain blind to inconvenient facts such as: that no amount of precaution is going stop natural climate change; that there is a 100% risk of damage from natural climate events, which happen every day; that we cannot measure, much less isolate, any presumed human climate signal globally; that extra atmospheric carbon dioxide causes mild warming at best, and overall is at least as likely to be beneficial as harmful; and that the causes of climate change are many, various and very incompletely understood.

Confusing the debate with rhetoric

When public doubts are raised about the legitimacy of a particular piece of climate alarmism - say that Tuvalu is being swamped by a rising sea-level – ensuing press discussion rarely deals with the science question at issue. Rather, rhetorical devices are used to counter the doubts or to challenge the integrity of the doubter. Irrelevant assertions that are commonly used in the media to negate sensible discussion of global warming, and especially to counter the views of climate rationalists (sceptics), include the following:

“The science is settled”; or, there is a “consensus” on the issue”. In reality, science is about facts, experiments and testing hypotheses, not consensus; and science is never “settled”.
“He is paid by the fossil fuel industry, and is merely repeating their desired story”. An idea is not responsible for those who believe in it, and neither is the validity of a scientific hypothesis determined by the character or beliefs of the person who funded the research. Science discussions are determined on their merits, by using tests against empirical or experimental data. It may be hard to believe in a post-modern world, but who paid for the data to be gathered and assessed is simply irrelevant.

“She works for a left wing/right wing think tank, so her work is tainted”. Think tanks serve an invaluable function in our society. On all sides of politics they are the source of much excellent policy analysis. They provide extended discussion and commentary on matters of public interest, and have made many fine contributions towards balancing the public debate on climate change. That all think tanks receive funding from industry sources is an indication that those that survive are delivering value for money, and does not impugn their integrity.

“He is just a climate sceptic, a contrarian, a denialist”. These terms are used routinely as denigratory badges. The first two are amusingly silly. First, because most people termed climate “sceptics” are in fact climate “agnostics”, and have no particular axe to grind regarding human influence on climate. Second, because all good scientists are sceptics: that is their professional job. To not be a sceptic of the hypothesis that you are testing is the rudest of scientific errors, for it means that you are committed to a particular outcome: that’s faith, not science. Introduction of the term “denialist” into the public climate debate, with its deliberate connotations with holocaust denial, serves only to cheapen those who practice the custom.

“6 Nobel Prize winners, and 7 members of the National Academy say …”. Argument from authority is the antithesis of the scientific method. That the Royal Society of London tried to restrict the public debate on climate change through intimidation of Esso U.K., for example, was a complete betrayal of all that the Society, and the scientific method, stands for.

“The “precautionary principle” says that we should limit human carbon dioxide emissions because of the risk that the emissions will cause dangerous warming”. The precautionary principle is oftentimes a moral precept masquerading under a scientific cloak. Adhering to moral principle through thick and thin is certainly a part of the precautionary principle as practiced by many environmentalists; it is a principle of the wrong type to be used for the formulation of effective public environmental policy, which needs rather to be rooted in evidence-based science. Scientific principles acknowledge the supremacy of experiment and observation, and do not bow to untestable moral propositions.

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