Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday, Wednesday & Friday.

The Activist Economist & the IPCC (Part 1)

Mark Jaccard; click for photo source

Earlier this month 13 anti-coal activists were arrested here in Canada after blockading a railroad track. In this free and democratic country, the combined intellect of this group of people could devise no better way of getting their message across than breaking the law.

The activist whose arrest received the most media attention was an economist named Mark Jaccard. A professor at Simon Fraser University who specializes in sustainable energy modelling, Jaccard is also an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) author.

This is a problem. For several reasons.

First, the IPCC is supposed to be a collection of dispassionate experts. Its website says that it assesses the available scientific evidence in an “objective” manner – and that its work is “rigorous and balanced.”

How can such claims be taken seriously when it turns out that one of its authors not only has an activist agenda, but is so committed to that agenda he’s prepared to be hauled away in handcuffs?

Jaccard isn’t shy about advertising his IPCC connection. Two days before his arrest he released a statement that included a short bio (backup link). Here’s how that bio began:

Dr Jaccard is a professor of sustainable energy in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University. He has won the Nobel Peace Prize as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change… [bold added]

But if you type Jaccard’s name into the search box over at the website you won’t find him mentioned anywhere. That’s because a large number of individuals have, during the IPCC’s 23-year history, helped prepare its various reports. The 2007 document alone ran to 3,000 pages and involved 450 lead authors, 800 contributing authors, and 2,500 scientific expert reviewers.

Together, over the years, thousands of people have participated in the IPCC – which was awarded half of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. (The other half went to Al Gore.)

Nevertheless, when Jaccard issued his here’s-why-I’m-getting-arrested public statement, he made a point of amplifying his infinitesimal sliver of Nobel glory. And the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation fell for it, presenting him as a full-fledged “Nobel Peace Prize winner” in its news story.

I wonder how Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Peace Prize for what the Nobel committee describes as a long “struggle for fundamental human rights in China,” feels when people such as Jaccard have the impudence to equate their IPCC contribution to his own experiences – which include being sentenced to a labour camp.

Nor is this the only occasion in which Jaccard has drawn attention to his IPCC affiliation while behaving like an activist. In December 2009 he signed an open letter that was released during the Copenhagen climate summit. It urged Canada’s Prime Minister to “do everything possible to raise the negotiations to the level of importance and urgency demanded by the climate threat.”

Rather than mentioning only his day job, Jaccard made a point of highlighting his IPCC role. This is how he was identified at the bottom of that 2009 letter:

Dr. Mark Jaccard, Environmental economist & IPCC author

It’s therefore interesting that I can’t find any trace of his involvement in the IPCC’s 2007 report – or its 2001 report. It seems one needs to go all the way back to 1993-1996 to locate Jaccard’s contribution.

At that time he served as a lead author for an IPCC chapter titled Estimating the costs of mitigating greenhouse gases. Twenty-two others also participated. Additionally, he was a principal lead author for the chapter titled A review of mitigation cost studies. (You can find the names of the other 23 contributors on page 2 here.)

Jaccard’s IPCC involvement appears to have gone dormant until after the Peace Prize was awarded. Then, following the April 2008 decision to prepare a mini IPCC report on renewable energy, it would seem he re-engaged.

His name appears in the 2011 Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation as a lead author for a chapter titled Policy, Financing and Implementation. Nearly 60 others also contributed to that chapter.

Unfortunately for Jaccard, the release of the 2011 report was marred by controversy after people noticed that another of its lead authors, Sven Teske, is a longtime Greenpeace employee (see here, here, here, here, and here). Along with 12 others, Teske wrote the chapter titled Mitigation Potential and Costs.

When the IPCC told the world about this report, the first sentence of the press release highlighted info from a Greenpeace study that Teske himself had helped produce. The degree to which Greenpeace literature was cited is indicated by the fact that an electronic search turns up 75 instances of Teske’s name within that report’s pages.

If you’re thinking that this all sounds tawdry, you aren’t alone. What it boils down to is that Jaccard seems to believe that:

  • a 1/23rd contribution to one IPCC chapter (1993-1996)
  • a 1/24th contribution to a second IPCC chapter (1993-1996)
  • and a 1/57th contribution to a third IPCC chapter (2008-2011)

is somehow equivalent to having won a Nobel Peace Prize as a result of his own brilliance, courage, and tenacity.

This suggests a propensity to exaggerate. It is an approach that is starkly at odds with the painstaking commitment to accuracy the public deserves when a matter as serious as climate change is being discussed.

Neither the IPCC nor Jaccard looks good here.

to be continued…   read Part 2


h/t Roger Pielke Jr.

the CBC news story discussed throughout is backed up here



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