Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Politicize and Emotionalize: Al Gore Style Enviromentalism

It seems that the almost automatic response to anyone who questions Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is a loud and sustained charge of "Big Oil" payola towards those questioning the current "consensus". A big reason for this has been the lopsided alarmist trill coming from most of the world's media outlets. It is very rare to come across a piece covering AGW that isn't about the impending global catastrophe that awaits our planet. It is even rarer when a balanced piece manages to make its way out of Europe, whose media (if its possible) are even more over the top on this subject than the US media.

One such piece has managed to find its way onto the pages of Der Spiegel. While I did, at times, get the sense that the author is an advocate of the AGW theory, he was at least honest enough to bring up some very important points concerning the current movement. While describing the process for the creation of the summary of the IPCC report, he points out a major flaw in the way it is handled (though he never called it a flaw):

The document, known as the SPM, or Summary for Policymakers, contains the essence of the actual climate report, which is a scientific compendium divided into three volumes, each containing at least 1,000 pages. Negotiations were underway in Brussels over the summary of the second volume and, as always, it was a laborious process. The two groups debating the issue had little in common except a mutual interest in reaching a consensus.

On the one side were the authors of the report, all scientists, who have done little else in the last three years than work on this report. For many of them, it was already asking too much to compress the contents of more than 1,000 pages into a 23-page summary.

On the other side were the politicians, members of delegations from almost every country on earth. Sitting in alphabetical order in the chamber, their main concern was to adjust the report to suit their individual economic, environmental and foreign policies.

This is a major problem with the way the IPCC is run and its reports are produced. Science is supposed to be about knowledge, not political policy. Most people in the world, including the most of the politicians involved, do not posses the technical knowledge necessary to understand the either the theories and implications of those theories put forth in 1000+ page scientific studies. Therefore, people will naturally look to the SPM for guidance, but the SPM is not a scientific document, it is a political one. Its authors have political agendas and have no compunction at all about using it to accomplish those agendas.

Another flaw of the IPCC brought to attention by the article, though again perhaps not intentionally, is the funding of the IPCC:

It operates on a minimal annual budget of only €5 million ($6.8 million). To be able to fulfill its mandate, the IPCC is dependent on assistance from UN members. They finance the conferences and provide the scientists who, as authors, are responsible for the contents of individual chapters.


And the politicians were intent on preventing the scientists from gaining sole responsibility for the content of the reports.

As I mentioned above, if you are even remotely resistant to the idea of AGW, then you are immediately considered to be in the pocket of "Big Oil", but what is virtually never questioned is the funding and the motives of the scientists of the IPCC. Their money is dependent on governments and the politicians and bureaucrats that run those governments. Such funding is just as likely, if not more, to influence the views of those receiving it, as is any funding from energy companies.

One case where the authors views come through is in his description of Prof. Richard Lindzen's arguments against the current status quo of environmental belief:

Lindzen's arguments sound convincing, but they are still nothing but claims, popular theories as opposed to a transparent global process, a global plebiscite among climate researchers.

So here we get to it, the oft heard argument of a "consensus". But science is not about consensus. The mere fact that most people, even scientists, believe something has absolutely no bearing as to whether or not that something is actually true. History is rife with examples where the scientific consensus of the day was flat out wrong. Science is about falsifiable results capable of being consistently reproduced. The models currently being used just don't rise to that level. If fact, scientists don't aren't even sure yet at to what all variables belong in the models in the first place. It might be OK to use these models as a basis for further study of some particular theory, but it is entirely unacceptable to treat them, as they currently are, as some sort of proof of AGW is really beyond the pale, and not very scientific.

Naturally the only place such politicization can lead is to the over emotionalizing of the topic:

When it comes to his one remaining argument, however, Lindzen is dead-on. The tone of the debate, he says, is hysterical.

There is hardly a newspaper article and hardly a TV or radio program that doesn't conjure up images of "climate catastrophe," prophesy floods of gigantic proportions, droughts and hunger. Indeed, the media have developed something akin to a complete apocalyptic program.

It's the fault of the media, of course, but not exclusively. It's also the fault of a new hero, an environmental activist who likes to introduce himself by saying: "Hello, I was once the next President of the United States of America."

That's correct. Al Gore has seen his popularity skyrocket to rock star levels the world over by preaching global disaster. He has been so successful at this, in fact, that even twits like John Kerry are getting in on the act. Such emotionalism is even coming from those entrusted to make rational decisions about the available science:

But it is odd to hear IPCC Chairman Pachauri, when asked what he thinks about Gore's film, responding: "I liked it. It does emotionalize the debate, but it seems that it has to do that." And when Pachauri comments on the publication of the first SPM by saying, "I hope that this will shock the governments so much that they take action," this doesn't exactly allay doubts as to his objectivity. When Renate Christ, the secretary of the IPCC, is asked about her opinion of reporting on climate change, she refers to articles that mention "climate catastrophe" and calls them "rather refreshing."

Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of the physics of oceans at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the world's bona fide experts on the subject and the lead author of the current report, praised Gore's film unconditionally, even for its inclusion of the sequence depicting New York sinking into the ocean. And Rahmstorf's boss, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who serves as the institute's director and as an advisor to the German government, sounded a lot like Al Gore recently when he said in an interview: "We could see a one-meter rise in sea levels by 2100. The expected, climate-related shift in the ocean current could cause the water to rise by an additional meter in the Helgoland Bight." It sounds as if it could happen tomorrow. But it can't, and Schnellnhuber's colleague Rahmstorf, who has an inclination toward extreme scenarios, estimates that there is only a 10-percent probability that it will even happen at all.

Is activism trumping science?

No matter where one encounters officials from the IPCC -- at the organization's headquarters in Geneva, in Brussels during the negotiations over the SPM or in Potsdam, where the German authors, together with the Federal Ministry of the Environment, are staging a workshop on the world climate report -- everyone seems to be talking more like environmental activists than scientists these days.

In the face of this, I find it hard to understand how you cannot be skeptical about what is coming out of the IPCC these days.


Citizen Deux said...

Nice analysis. More science and less speculation would be my order for the IPCC. Nothin done by committee has ever been well done.

Liberty Dog said...

Thanks. The entire structure of the IPCC and the way it functions makes me very uneasy.

It has done as much as any modern institution to damage Science, all the while cloaking itself as a scientific body.

Elliott said...

Nice piece (I especially enjoyed the Kerry bandwagon-jumping link - news to me!) Part of the problem is that too many people are willing to trust the word of the scientists - stick a few letters after someone's name and suddenly their words are gospel for millions. Like you I wish people were more sceptical ...