Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

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

IPCC Bigwigs Spout Political, Childish Nonsense

I’ve written extensively on the harm Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), inflicts on his own organization. On a regular basis this man demonstrates that the promises the IPCC makes to the public aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. He signals that it’s OK to describe yourself in one way and to behave in quite another.

Other IPCC bigwigs are similarly guilty. The IPCC claims to be policy-neutral, but these people rarely miss an opportunity to throw their weight behind specific policies to fight climate change. Emissions reduction is the big one.

As I’ve argued previously, this is undemocratic. It prevents the entire community from taking part in a debate about how best to respond. It falsely implies that it’s the role of scientists to not merely diagnose the problem, but to choose the precise nature of society’s response, as well.

Thomas Stocker is a climate modeler from Switzerland. Following 10 years of IPCC involvement, in 2008 he became the current co-chair of Working Group 1.

Each of the three IPCC working groups has two chairpersons – one from an affluent country and one from a developing nation. Informally, everyone understands that the former is the person in charge (partly because that individual’s government has committed to housing and funding the working group’s administrative activities until that edition of the climate bible is complete).

Because Stocker is head of the ‘science’ section of the climate bible and his co-chair is from China, his influence in the current IPCC configuration is difficult to overstate.

In 2009 Stocker gave a media interview in which he declared that “all societies on this planet” would have to adopt “a clear schedule of emission reductions.” Every sector of the economy, he said, should “contribute to the grand goal of de-carbonizing society” (my italics).

All societies on the planet. Does that include those who are barely feeding themselves? Really? This man expects people concerned about the stunted growth of the children in their arms today to get concerned about carbon emissions that might cause a problem 100 years from now?

How about those in the grip of civil war? Does he really suppose that people will meekly lay down the machetes with which they’ve been butchering each other and start worrying about carbon reduction instead? Could we switch to the grown-up channel, please?

In another interview that same year Stocker sounded for all the world like a politician when he opined that the upcoming UN climate summit:

…must clearly set down the reductions expected from industrialised countries, and at the same time define sanctions if these reduction targets are not met…then we need a clear plan for the way in which emissions allowances are traded.

Let us be clear about what’s going on here. This man has decided that humanity’s primary response to climate change should be emissions cuts. He’s also decided that penalties will be necessary for countries that don’t meet their targets. Moreover, he’s decided there should an emissions trading system.

What I want to know is this: Which part of his physics training equips him to make these policy decisions on behalf of the rest of us?

Jonathan Overpeck is also prominent in the IPCC. He holds a PhD in geological sciences and, during the preparation of the 2007 edition of the climate bible, served in five separate IPCC capacities – including leading an important chapter. (It is, no doubt, a total coincidence that one of the contributing authors for that same chapter is Overpeck’s wife, Julia Cole.)

Does Overpeck stick to the science, allowing the rest of us to come to our own conclusions? Nope. In 2009 he told a committee of the US Congress that two actions were necessary to avert a water crisis in the Lower Colorado River Basin. One was $200 million in new science funding to study the matter. The other was worldwide emissions cuts:

…global emissions of greenhouse gases, and especially carbon dioxide, must be reduced significantly. Reductions of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to levels 80 percent below 1990 levels is a good target.

Reality check time. That combination of dates and numbers has nothing to do with geology. It is a political goal that has been promoted by political activists (see here, here, and here).

Secondly, how can this advice be considered remotely sensible? Does anyone seriously believe that browbeating millions of other human beings in other countries into radically altering the way they heat, cook, and get around is the best way to save a US river basin?

Does anyone seriously believe the rest of the world will – or should – care about that basin? A more extreme example of American self-absorption is surely difficult to imagine.

The extent to which Overpeck and his wife – who are both members of the University of Arizona’s geosciences faculty – now talk politics in their geology courses is suggested by a May 2010 class that examined “climate misunderstandings and communication.”

They invited Max Boykoff, an out-of-town guest speaker, to address the course they were jointly teaching. According to a university-issued press release, Boykoff had told journalism students the previous evening that news outlets should refrain from reporting the views of climate skeptics since this contributes to “illusory, misleading and counterproductive debates” that “poorly serve the collective good” (see more here).

The press release quoted Overpeck in this context, saying that “special interests are working overtime to confuse the public on the science.”

Politicians routinely denigrate their opponents by saying they represent special interests – but is that how scientists should talk? Religious zealots routinely speak of the truth that cannot be questioned – but is it appropriate for geologists to speak about the science in a similar manner?

Back when he was earning his PhD which textbook left Overpeck with the impression that geologists should care how many different perspectives the media presents on an issue? Would it be appropriate for journalists to tell him how to calibrate his microscope?

In the 21st century ordinary people are considered competent enough to choose their own leaders. They’re considered smart enough to determine the guilt or innocence of accused murderers. Yet certain ‘experts’ believe these same people can’t be trusted to sort wheat from chaff where climate change is concerned.

Apparently, the notion that the public should be shielded from particular climate perspectives now gets discussed in geology class.

One would think that if IPCC personnel really believed the planet was at risk of turning into a fireball they’d be more circumspect. One would expect them to stick carefully to their narrow scientific specialty so that no one would have any excuse to doubt their findings.

But these people don’t see themselves as mere scientists. They’re on a quest to save the planet. And the foolish, juvenile, highly political nonsense they spout is yet another reason why we shouldn’t take the IPCC seriously.

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