Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
UN climate panel leaders don’t behave in a “policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive” manner.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) website claims that it is a “policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive” organization. But that is not how its senior personnel behave. Not even close.
One possible response to climate change is to do nothing in the short term. After all, scientific authority is looking rather bedraggled at the moment. It seems that whenever basic due diligence is applied to scientific research, the results aren’t merely disappointing, they’re alarming.
Let us consider a recent Los Angeles Times headline: Science has lost its way, at a big cost to humanity. The article begins like this:
In today’s world, brimful as it is with opinion and falsehoods masquerading as facts, you’d think the one place you can depend on for verifiable facts is science.
You’d be wrong. Many billions of dollars’ worth of wrong.
A few years ago, scientists at the Thousand Oaks biotech firm Amgen set out to double-check the results of 53 landmark papers in their fields of cancer research and blood biology.
The idea was to make sure that research on which Amgen was spending millions of development dollars still held up. They figured that a few of the studies would fail the test – that the original results couldn’t be reproduced because the findings were especially novel or described fresh therapeutic approaches.
But what they found was startling: Of the 53 landmark papers, only six could be proved valid.
Journalist Michael Hiltzik further reports that a research team in Germany “similarly found that only 25% of published papers on which it was basing R&D projects could be validated.” The implication is that entire “fields of research…are based on science that hasn’t been, and possibly can’t be, validated.” OMG.
If 75% of medical research cannot be validated, how do we know this isn’t true of climate research, as well? And please let us not repeat the myth that the IPCC is in the quality assurance business. When the InterAcademy Council asked IPCC insiders about that very issue via a questionnaire, the responses it received left no room for confusion:
As far as I can tell, there is no data quality assurance associated with what the IPCC is doing…
This is probably the weakest part of IPCC‘s process. Since the IPCC is a review body, it does not do data assurance or quality control in a systematic fashion.
…it was of course impossible to check in detail the reliability of all the information in the vast amount of underlying sources.
Quality assurance and error identification is not existent…
Data quality assurance, per se, is beyond the scope of the work of the IPCC…
…I don’t think IPCC can be held responsible for data quality etc in the published papers it quotes – that is an issue for the journals concerned.
(All bolding, above, was added by me. For page references and additional info, see the headings Problem #5 and Problem #6 in a blog post I authored in early 2011.)
Until we have solid reasons for thinking otherwise, it seems reasonable to infer that 75% of climate research may be dead wrong. This means we currently have no sound basis for spending billions on climate change measures. Indeed, politicians in favour of doing so would appear to be behaving recklessly.
But the option of doing nothing is not one the IPCC’s leadership is prepared to entertain. Climate modeler Thomas Stocker heads Working Group 1, which has recently delivered the “hard science” section of the IPCC’s latest report. Think about that for a moment. The person in charge of the hard science section at the IPCC doesn’t work in the hard sciences. His expertise is in the virtual reality world of computer modeling.
One view of the IPCC these days is that it faces a philosophical crisis. Does it give precedence to empirical, observed, measured data – which suggest there’s little reason for immediate concern? Or does it rely on the dramatically different perspective provided by climate model projections? With the integrity of the IPCC hanging in the balance, might it not be a problem that the person in charge of making that call is himself a climate modeler?
In any case, in a 2009 interview with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, Stocker all but declared that the citizens of individual nations have no right to make their own climate change decisions. According to him, emissions reduction must be undertaken by “every country” and “all societies.” In his words, “We need to devise a plan where all sectors of society contribute to the grand goal of de-carbonizing society” (italics here and below added).
In another interview, published on a Swiss government website, Stocker declares that “measures must be taken if we want to keep climate change under control.” In his opinion:
Innovative technologies must be used in [developing] countries to prevent them going down the path of inefficient products, as we have done. If the majority of the population insist on driving a car, countries like India and China should start from the outset with a two-litre car.
If the IPCC was truly a policy-neutral organization, those in leadership positions would not be making these sorts of public pronouncements. They would not be using words such as must, need, and should.
Similarly, Belgian physicist Jean-Pascal van Ypersele is an IPCC vice chairman – one step down from Rajendra Pachauri on the IPCC org chart. In March 2009, he delivered a talk at the European Parliament with a decidedly non-neutral title: Climate Change: We Cannot Afford Business as Usual.
Several months later, he gave a speech in Ireland titled A few things a climate scientist would like to tell policymakers ahead of Copenhagen – a reference to the then upcoming treaty negotiations at COP15. Since the first slide of his presentation informs us of his IPCC position, van Ypersele isn’t speaking as a private citizen. Slide number three declares that “Deep emissions reductions are needed” and that “A deal in Copenhagen is essential.”
An official with a policy-neutral organization should not be ruling out one particular policy option (business as usual). Nor should he be giving presentations that discuss what is needed and what is essential.
In this context, it’s worth noting that van Ypersele’s academic bio tells us he “was made Honorary Member of the Club of Rome EU Chapter in 2010.” The Club of Rome is a collection of self-appointed busybodies who’ve been insisting since the 1960s that everything’s headed to Hades in a handbasket. Back then they established the Project on the Predicament of Mankind, which led to the 1972 publication of The Limits to Growth (see the discussion in the early pages of that book here). An event held yesterday in Vienna celebrated the release of the 33rd Report to the Club of Rome. It’s titled Plundering the Planet.
Yes, ladies and gentleman, the IPCC’s judgment really is this impaired. Apparently it has never occurred to anyone that having a vice chair who hangs out with the Club of Rome might cast doubt on the IPCC’s neutrality and intellectual rigour.
For his part, the man who has served as the IPCC’s chairman since 2002 really is the worst sort of policy neutral role model. According to Rajendra Pachauri, nothing less than a “new ethos and a new set of values” is required on the part of the public. He thinks we should “feel some degree of discomfort” in our homes with respect to our level of heating and air conditioning, that we “need to use public transport much more,” that air travel should be taxed heavily enough to discourage us from flying, and that hotels should bill us separately for our energy use.
Traditionally, only medical personnel and religious leaders have presumed to tell people what they should eat, but Pachauri is not known for his discretion:
I’m not asking people to become vegetarian. I’m telling them to eat less meat. There are huge benefits in eating less meat, and I tell everyone that you will be healthier, and so will be the planet. There are some societies in this world that are consuming excessive quantities of meat. That’s not desirable.
In late 2009, Pachauri issued a joint statement with musician Paul McCartney and an official of the European Parliament. Municipalities were urged to “adopt the principle of a meat-free day [per week] for their employees,” while members of the public were implored “to change their diet to one meat-free day as the most effective way to combat global warming.” At the top of the statement, Pachauri was identified as the chairman of the IPCC.
Also in 2009, Pachauri declared that the emissions targets of incoming President Barack Obama “need to be strengthened,” while a news article was accorded the headline: Obama ‘ought to do a lot more’ on climate: Pachauri.
When someone decries the public’s values, rebukes democratically elected leaders, and advocates a long list of measures that would add expense, inconvenience, and discomfort to ordinary people’s lives, they are not being policy neutral. Rather, they are exhibiting an enthusiasm for remaking the world from top to bottom.
IPCC leaders have demonstrated no ability to conduct themselves in a “policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive” manner.
Can we really continue to believe that when these same people interpret climate research they are utterly circumspect?