Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.

The New Graduate Who Served as IPCC Lead Author

I’ve been blogging about the climate bible’s health chapter. It’s worth remembering that this chapter, like the rest of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, is supposed to be a balanced, disinterested account of what the scientific literature says.

I’ve pointed out that Anthony McMichael, the person in charge when the IPCC first examined the human health implications of climate change, had made his activist leanings abundantly clear prior to landing the job. I’ve observed that Alistair Woodward, the senior person for the currently-in-progress health chapter update, is also an undisguised environmental activist.

So who else was a lead author when the IPCC initially looked at these important issues? [29-page chapter PDF]

Step forward Jonathan Patz. He qualified as a medical doctor in 1987 – his areas of study being family medicine and occupational/environmental medicine. In 1992, he graduated with a Masters degree in Public Health – the same area branch of medicine from which McMichael and Woodward hail. What appears to be Patz’s first paper – on surgery risks that extend beyond the operating room – was published in 1995.

Work on the climate bible’s health chapter appears to have begun in 1994. Which means that, a mere two years after Patz achieved his Masters, with no relevant publications whatsoever, he was one of nine people chosen to be a lead author of the IPCC’s health chapter. Remember, this is a report that is supposed to have been written by the world’s top experts.

It isn’t clear how this happened, but a recent incident provides a hint. In 2008, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (where Patz now teaches) added a book to its library on his behalf. The university explains that, when “faculty members are initially contacted, they are encouraged to select a book title representing something meaningful to them either professionally or personally” [p. 3 of this PDF].

Patz chose McMichael’s Planetary Overload (the book from which entire passages were then passed off as the original work of the health chapter writing team). In Patz’s words:

This was one of the first great books on global environmental health written by probably my most valued and respected mentor, Professor McMichael [bold added, p. 17 of this PDF].

Does Patz, like his mentor, seem closer to an environmental activist than a dispassionate scholar? Is the Pope Catholic? Patz believes we have an “urgent need to end our addiction to fossil fuels” and that we are “using up natural resources at an unsustainable rate.” Moreover, he seems to think that famine and disease aren’t conditions that have bedeviled humanity since the beginning of time. Rather, they’re the fault of the big bad Western world’s energy policies. In his words:

Considering that most developing nations are burdened by major infectious diseases and famine, which are highly dependent on climate, these countries are most vulnerable to the global warming that we in the industrialized world are causing. It’s a huge ethical problem. One could make the argument that our energy policy is indirectly exporting diseases to other parts of the world. [italics added]

If an examination of the health implications of climate change is going to be relied on by health professionals, governments, scholars, and journalists should it not be produced by cool, dispassionate individuals?

Can anyone take seriously a report authored by people whose analysis is indistinguishable from that of Greenpeace?

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