An IPCC History Lesson

February 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm

The late Bert Bolin, a Swedish meteorologist, was the first chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). His tenure began in 1988 and ended in 1997 – well after the IPCC’s second assessment report had been completed. (There have been four so far, published in 1990, 1995, 2001, and 2007.)

Cynical individuals are quick to declare that the fix was in from the beginning. According to these people, there’s no way the IPCC could have declared that humans aren’t responsible for an alarming degree of climate change. It’s easy to make these sorts of declarations, of course. Finding compelling, reliable evidence to support them is a different matter.

I’m currently examining Bolin’s memoir, titled: A History of the Science and Politics of Climate Change. Although it was published back in 2007, I’m not certain many people have actually read it. On page 33 these lines appear:

I was asked by the Swedish government in 1975 to summarise available knowledge, and later that same year it was concluded in a government bill concerning future Swedish energy policy that ‘…It is likely that climatic concerns will limit the burning of fossil fuels rather than the size of the natural resources.’

As an adviser to the Swedish Prime Minister, therefore, Bolin was asked for his professional opinion. He doesn’t tell us what that opinion was. (In a footnote, though, he refers us to a document that is by no means easy to track down: Swedish Government proposition 1975/76: No. 30 to the Swedish Parliament.)

Back in the 1970s lots of people felt the depletion of the Earth’s natural resources was imminent, especially since the world’s population was increasing. But Sweden, after consulting Bolin, officially expressed a different view. If it had misunderstood Bolin’s position – or had egregiously exaggerated its import – one would think he’d have said so in his book.

Instead, we’re left with the uneasy feeling that a full 13 years before the IPCC was even born its first chairman had already decided that fossil fuels didn’t merely affect the climate, but that the affect was so adverse their use would need to be curtailed.

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Entry filed under: climate bible, historical perspective, IPCC. Tags: , , , .

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