Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
If scaremongering were an Olympic sport, Lester Brown would be a multi-gold-medalist. As founder of the Worldwatch Institute, he has released annual State of the World reports since 1983. Translated into dozens of languages, they have been used as textbooks in hundreds of college courses and have influenced generations of eco-activists.
Here, for example, is a snapshot from the index of David Suzuki’s 1990 It’s A Matter of Survival:
In his own 1993 book, Eco-Scam: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse, Ronald Bailey handily demolishes Brown in a manner that is worth quoting at length (from pages 45-49):
The career of Lester Brown closely parallels [Paul] Ehrlich’s. In the 1960s, Brown hit upon an arresting public relations formula when he joined claims of environmental degradation to fears of imminent global famine…He is now the president of the notoriously gloomy Worldwatch Institute…
Predictably the “state of the world” [according to Brown] is always just terrible and rapidly getting much worse.
…Brown’s divinatory powers have proven to be no better than Ehrlich’s, however. In each of the last three decades he proclaimed that world food production had peaked and food per capita would henceforth decline, leading to inevitable widespread famines…His record remains unbroken; he has been wrong every time – world food supplies continue to grow while prices steadily decline.
…Brown jumped on the resource depletion bandwagon in the early 1970s, praising The Limits to Growth as a “remarkable achievement.” In the late 1970s, Brown coauthored a book, Running on Empty, which predicted that oil supplies would soon diminish sharply “with production peaking around 1990.”
…He prominently featured global warming and ozone-layer thinning in State of the World 1989…
Please note: State of the World 1989 would have been written and published in 1988. That’s the same year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was founded – and two decades prior to its less-than-clear-cut declaration in 2007 that human actions are very likely responsible for most of the warming during the past 50 years.
Yet Brown’s Worldwatch Institute saw no need to wait for the IPCC to conduct its assessments. Back in 1988 it was already telling the world that most scientists agreed that global warming was caused by fossil fuels, that policies were required to stabilize the climate, and that carbon taxes were the answer.
Here are some quotes from State of the World 1989 (the entire report is available as a 271-page PDF here; bolding added by me):
The warming of the earth’s climate is an environmental catastrophe on a new scale… (p. 23)
Most scientists agree that a global warming is under way, caused by the accumulation of “greenhouse gases” due primarily to fossil fuel use in industrial countries. The uncertainties lie in just how much higher the earth’s average temperature will go, and how quickly the increase will take place. [bold added, p. 86]
Industrial nations, heavily reliant on the burning of fossil fuels over the past century, must assume the primary responsibility for global warming and its consequences. (p. 90)
Avoiding destructive climate change will require a fundamental reordering of national energy priorities within the next decade. (p. 190)
If policymakers do not grasp the link between energy efficiency, renewable energy, and global warming, climate stabilization will not be possible. (p. 193)
The United States, for example, could raise $100 billion annually by hiking its gasoline taxes by $1 per gallon to the European average tax of about $1.50 per gallon. In addition, governments could levy a “carbon tax” on fossil fuels, with the tax corresponding to the amount of carbon in each fuel. This would hit coal appropriately hard… (p. 193)
To slow global warming significantly, hundreds of billions of dollars of investments in improved energy efficiency will ultimately be required. (p. 194)
If the climate is to be stabilized, [global warming] must become the cornerstone of national energy policies. (p. 195)
Bailey points out that, in November 1989 (20+ years ago), Lester Brown told Rolling Stone that the environmental situation was desperate:
We don’t have time for the traditional approach to education – training new generations of teachers to train new generations of students – because we don’t have generations, we have years. [bold added, page 169]
(The full citation for the Rolling Stone article may be found at the bottom of page 93 of this 108-page PDF.)
If the IPCC’s first assessment report, which appeared in 1990 – or even its second, which appeared in 1995 – had definitively declared that humans are responsible for global warming that would be one thing.
But it’s surely a bit awkward for the chairman of what is supposed to be the final scientific word on global warming to be fraternizing with an institute that, back in 1988, regarded the IPCC process as superfluous. The fact that Worldwatch uttered stronger statements about global warming in the 1980s than those the IPCC itself issued in 2007 surely indicates that Worldwatch bases its reports on something other than sound science.
Yet IPCC Rajendra Pachauri is concerned about none of this. Indeed, he authored the foreword to State of the World 2009, identifying himself as IPCC chair in the process. He begins his remarks this way:
The Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World reports have evolved into a remarkable source of intellectual wealth…
Referring to the 2009 report by name no less than seven times, Pachauri is fulsome in his praise:
State of the World 2009 has been structured logically into chapters that clearly explain the sequence that must guide our understanding of the problem and help set directions for taking action. Particularly relevant is the explanation of what would constitute a safe level of concentration of [greenhouse gases].
What Pachauri neglects to mention is that this particularly relevant explanation was written by Bill Hare, a Greenpeace “legend” and IPCC insider (see this press release and this one where he is identified as W.L. Hare). Moreover, apparently unaware that Worldwatch has been singing this tune for more than two decades, Pachauri says:
The strongest message from State of the World 2009 is this: if the world does not take action early and in adequate measure, the impacts of climate change could prove extremely harmful and overwhelm our capacity to adapt.
If Pachauri’s sense of propriety saw nothing wrong with authoring this foreword, perhaps it isn’t surprising that he went further still by delivering the keynote address at a symposium celebrating the release of State of the World 2009.
Among those who also participated in that event were Bill Hare and a Worldwatch staffer named Janet Sawin. If you click on this link and go to the final box on the final page, you’ll discover that Sawin served as a coordinating lead author (the most senior rank of IPCC author) for a 2009 IPCC special report on renewable energy (see here, as well).
Evidently this is a cozy little world, where there are few standards of decorum, no conflict-of-interest protocols, and absolutely no consequences when poor judgment is exhibited. Thus Pachauri – who heads an organization that claims to be “policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive” – used the opportunity of his speech to advocate a particular policy response on the part of US president Barack Obama.
This is how the press release issued by Worldwatch began:
The head of the world’s preeminent organization of climate scientists said yesterday that incoming U.S. President Barack Obama’s stated emissions targets need to be strengthened to deal with the climate threat.
Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said, “President-elect Obama’s goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 falls short of the response needed by world leaders to meet the challenge of reducing emissions to levels that will actually spare us the worst effects of climate change.”
Where, oh where, has the world’s media been on this file? I mean, this is high school grade behaviour. The head of an influential scientific body has been conducting himself in a manner that is so far from being circumspect, professional, and confidence-inspiring it takes my breath away.