Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

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

The IPCC Report as Ink Blot Test

What do Greenpeace and the Natural History Museum have in common? They both employ people with impaired reading comprehension skills.

Ben Pile has written an insightful post about the recent release of installment #1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. In the real world, he says, this report is little more than a truncheon that’s used to beat other people into submission.

Within hours, it was being cited by all sorts of individuals to justify all sorts of things. Whatever someone’s agenda happened to be, they pointed to the climate report (two thirds of which won’t even been be released until next year) as proof that their own views are valid, compelling, and worthy of attention. In Pile’s words:

The content of the IPCC’s reports is barely discussed. Instead, the IPCC’s [Working Group 1 Summary for Policymakers] is used to make arguments about who should and shouldn’t be allowed to appear on the TV and Radio. It is used to diminish dissenters, and to belittle ordinary people. It is used to justify the accretion of power. And it is used to transform the priorities of politics and all kinds of public organisations.

Much like the Bible, an IPCC report is long enough that isolated parts of it can be cited to support a wide range of views. But something else is also going on. People appear shockingly eager to make stuff up – as Greenpeace did when one of its spokesperson transformed the IPCC’s 95% certainty into 100% certainty. Again, here’s Pile:

But facts, such as they are when produced by the IPCC, do not matter. What matters is the narrative of a worsening and deepening crisis. [Christiana] Figueres’s words fly in the face of the IPCC, to reinvent its position, to manufacture legitimacy for the [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, of which Figueres is the Executive Secretary]…Yet she claims to speak with its authority.

In other words, the IPCC report is actually an ink blot test. How someone responds to it tells us a great deal about their values and preoccupations.

London’s Natural History Museum is a case in point. The headline on a news item posted on its website last week proclaims: ‘Unequivocal’ evidence that global warming is man-made. But this is untrue. It appears that that institution employs people who have impaired reading comprehension skills.

The Summary for Policymakers released by the IPCC at its September 27th news conference is 36 pages long. The word “unequivocal” is used only once – in a box that appears near the top of page 3. It says, in part:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. [bold added]

It is the warming that is unequivocal. Nowhere in those 36 pages does the IPCC say that the evidence that humans are the cause is unequivocal. The strongest statement the IPCC makes in that regard is this:

it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. [bold added, see the coloured box on p. 12 of the IPCC summary]

In the IPCC universe, extremely likely means 95% certain. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, there’s no hard math behind that 95%. The IPCC hasn’t provided any calculations that can be examined and double-checked by outside observors. This 95% is nothing more than an opinion – an educated guess on the part of a particular group of IPCC authors who wrote one section of its report.

So a select group of IPCC authors believe that humans have been the dominant cause of warming since about 1950. The fudge fairly oozes here.

Are humans responsible for 51% or 99% of this warming? Surely that matters. Surely, if the IPCC knew the answer, it would say so. And why has the IPCC chosen 1950? Would its conclusion have differed had it instead chosen 1920 or 1970?

One would expect the personnel of a Natural History Museum to understand the importance of these sorts of questions. Instead, the museum feeds us pablum. Here are the first three paragraphs of its news item:

Disturbing IPCC climate change report reinforces the value of data held by the Museum.

A report from a panel of global scientists has offered the strongest evidence yet that climate change is a direct result of human behaviour.

More than 600 scientists worldwide contributed to the Fifth Assessment Report published last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which comes under the auspices of the United Nations.  [bold in original, backed up here]

In paragraph #1, we see that the museum regards the release of the IPCC report as an opportunity, first and foremost, to declare that its own work is important.

In paragraph #2, we’re invited to believe that because the IPCC is “a panel of global scientists” it must be right. But this is illogical. No rule of nature decrees that scientific conclusions are more accurate when arrived at by people from 20 countries rather than just two. Paragraph #3 is more of the same. Whether six scientists or 600 were involved doesn’t make the IPCC’s conclusions valid.

So why does the museum pay so much attention to these utterly irrelevant data points? Why is an institution devoted to science encouraging us to believe that might equals right?

Ben Pile is absolutely correct. What the IPCC report actually says is a side issue. Greenpeace doesn’t feel the need to treat its conclusions with respect. Nor does the Natural History Museum.

Instead, both of these organizations used the release of the IPCC report to advance their own agendas and to enhance their own reputations. In the process, they ignored the IPCC’s actual findings and simply made stuff up.

Something is terribly amiss here.

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The confusion over whether it’s the warming itself – or evidence of human culpability – that’s “unequivocal” has a history. It can be observed in a still uncorrected, erroneous press release issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) six years ago – when the previous IPCC report was made public. See the discussion here.

See also this article in the Guardian, which carries the utterly bogus headline IPCC climate report: human impact is ‘unequivocal’.

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Australian journalist Tony Thomas has also written about museums and climate change

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