Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

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

Was the Fix In Before the IPCC Existed?

click to enlarge - see end of this post for a link to the original

Steven Goddard over at his RealScience blog recently dug up a news clipping from 1983. That’s 27 years ago – and a full five years prior to the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

These days we’re advised that the reason we should believe climate change is a serious problem is because IPCC reports say so. We’re told that, after careful examination of the evidence, in 2007 thousands of the world’s smartest scientists concluded that recent warming (during the last third of the past 150 years) is very likely the result of human activities.

However this article – distributed by the reputable New York Times news service – demonstrates that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had already made up its mind a quarter-century before that. Back in 1983 newspaper readers were advised that global warming wasn’t a trivial matter, that “major changes” were inevitable, and that some of these changes would be evident as early as 1990.

This jibes with a remark meteorologist Richard Somerville made to a committee of the US Congress last week [41-page PDF here]. Even though the IPCC – which Somerville has participated in – only announced its finding in 2007, Somerville declared on page 25 of his written testimony: “We scientists have been aware of [the urgent, human-caused global warming problem] for more than 30 years.” As proof, he cites a research paper from 1978.

Back in 1983, the journalist who wrote the article for the New York Times observed:

…private scientists have made similar predictions for years…

But 30 years prior to the IPCC’s 2007 findings, the evidence that global warming was the fault of humans was surely rather scant. I mean, the IPCC took two decades and conducted four full assessments before arriving at its current milquetoast conclusion. Nevertheless, scientists in the 1970s and 1980s were prepared to frighten the public with dramatic statements. How do we know the scientists of our era are any different?

Then there’s this sentence from the 1983 news story, which makes me feel like I’m reading a contemporary news article:

…the report was reviewed by about 100 scientists before publication and most of the criticism was that the projections of the amount of warming were “too conservative.”

As the head of the United Nations Environmental Programme observed last year, IPCC reports have frequently been criticized (by activists and activist scientists) as being too conservative. Here’s an example from December 2008 that says the IPCC’s sea level rise numbers are too conservative. Here’s another from December 2009.

The title of this blog post asks Was the fix in before the IPCC existed? In order to make that determination, I think we need to consider the following:

  • some scientists, including some connected to influential government bodies such as the EPA, have long believed that human-produced carbon dioxide emissions will lead to dangerous global warming
  • these beliefs extend back to at least the 1970s (see here as well)
  • how can we be sure that that such matters were examined in a genuinely objective manner by the IPCC?
  • how do we know the IPCC wasn’t dominated, from the very start, by people already committed to this point-of-view?
  • what concrete steps did the IPCC take to acknowledge – and guard against – this pre-existing point-of-view?
  • does anyone really believe that a scientist employed by the EPA would reach a conclusion that conflicts with what seems to have been the EPA’s global warming position since 1983?


see the 1983 news clipping here

another version appears here


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