Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

The Legal Disclaimers Behind the Climate Science

In December 2009 Swiss Re, one of the world’s largest insurance companies, published a 32-page paper (PDF here) which attempts to rebut climate skeptic arguments. This is a perfectly legitimate exercise and the tone of the paper (which describes itself as a “fact sheet”) is professional.

Whether such rebuttals are persuasive is another matter. On page 27, for example, the paper tries to explain away global cooling between 1940 and 1970 (a period during which CO2 emissions were increasing) by declaring that “aerosol emissions…counterbalanced the increasing greenhouse effect.”

In truth, this explanation is highly controversial. It is a hypothesis, not a proven fact. Nevertheless, Swiss Re dismisses 30 years of inconvenient cooling by citing a single scientific document – the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In other words: The IPCC says it, so it must true. Next topic.

What’s most interesting to me, though, is the very fine print at the very bottom of the very last page of that Swiss Re paper. We readers are supposed to have been persuaded by the time we get there that climate change is a serious concern, that it is humanity’s fault, and that the entire world needs to take dramatic steps in response.

But this paper’s fine print reveals that Swiss Re is not prepared to stand behind any of these claims. In fact, it accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of the paper’s statements – and won’t for one moment risk being held accountable for the information it is distributing. Thus reads the fine print:

The material and conclusions contained in this publication are for information purposes only and the authors offer no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of its contents. All liability for the accuracy and completeness or for any damages resulting from the use of information herein is expressly excluded. Under no circumstances shall Swiss Re Group or any of its entities be liable for any financial or consequential loss relating to this publication. [bold added]

Isn’t that fascinating? This company isn’t prepared to even defend a lawsuit based on the foregoing information, but it thinks the rest of us should consent to a redesign of the entire fossil-fuel-based-economy.

Nor is that the only disclaimer out there. As Tom Fuller has pointed out, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases rests firmly on reports written by the IPCC. Onerous, expensive regulation is necessary, argues the EPA, because the IPCC has spoken.

So isn’t it delicious that, on the EPA’s own website, when one is about to click on a hyperlink that leads to the IPCC’s website, an “exit disclaimer” appears (see three on this page) and more fine print ensues:

This little graphic means that you will be leaving the domain and entering an external link. The link provides additional information that may be useful or interesting and is being provided consistent with the intended purpose of the EPA Web site. However, EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of information provided by this link

When it suits their purpose, the EPA portrays the IPCC as the authoritative last word on climate change. On other occasions, the EPA’s legal department carefully advises us that the IPCC’s accuracy can’t be guaranteed.

Hey, what’s a few mixed messages between friends?

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This entry was posted on June 28, 2010 by in ethical & philosophical, IPCC and tagged , , , .