This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
Described as a “professor of climate science,” Chris Rapley has no teaching duties. Described as a “climate scientist,” he has spent decades in administrative roles.
The UK’s Guardian newspaper ran a lengthy essay (3,800 words) this past weekend co-authored by a professor and a professional dramatist. It purports to explain why the UN climate negotiations scheduled for 2015 “cannot be allowed to fail.”
At the end of the essay, we’re advised that Chris Rapley is a “professor of climate science” at University College London and that his co-author, Duncan Macmillan, writes and directs plays.
But according to the University College website, Rapley’s academic position is actually a “Non-Teaching Appointment.” Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that he served as executive director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (1994-1998), director of the British Antarctic Survey (1998-2007), and director of the Science Museum (2007-2010). Since 2013, he has been chair of the London Climate Change Partnership – a group that believes climate change awareness still needs to be raised.
The above isn’t the CV of a working scientist, toiling in a lab in the sub-basement. It’s the CV of a bureaucrat – of someone who spends their days in meetings. Over at the London Speaker Bureau, Rapley’s profile tells us he considers himself a
Throughout his career Chris has been active in the international leadership of science, for example as President of the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research, and as Chair of the planning group for the International Polar Year 2007-2008. [bold added]
And then there’s this tidbit:
His current interests are in the communication of climate science, and the psychology of climate dismissal. [bold added]
Who knew this was the path to glory? Spend decades as an administrator managing budgets and recruiting personnel, work hard at being politically-connected, dabble in psychology – and voilà! Before you know it, a university will dress you up as a Professor of Climate Science.
Waving said designation in the air, you will then write long-winded newspaper articles about international climate treaties. You will solemnly discuss “equity,” (the purview of sociology and politics, surely) and “legally binding commitments” (the dominion of lawyers).
You will employ what I’ve described as lazy, insipid, shabby rhetoric by dragging your grandchildren into the discussion. You will make sweeping statements about economics. You will pretend, in other words, to have penetrating insight into a wide range of topics.
And both you and the newspaper will expect the public to be persuaded. By personal opinions masquerading as scientific truth.
Incredibly, the first paragraph of Rapley’s article misquotes the UN treaty about which he writes. Here’s his version, complete with quotation marks:
“stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system”.
Here’s the actual wording:
stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. [see Article 2 here]
Rapley’s words are a fair paraphrase. But they are not an accurate quote.
Rapley and MacMillan recently collaborated on a play commissioned by the Royal Court Theatre. According to the theatre’s website, Rapley is a “climate scientist.”
Two years ago, that theatre produced a similar play, Ten Billion. In the words of the Guardian, it took “the form of a lecture on the realities of climate change delivered by Cambridge scientist Stephen Emmott.” Geoff Chambers and Alex Cull said intelligent things about Ten Billion here. My own commentary on Emmott appears here and here.
UPDATE, 26 November 2014: by e-mail, Paul Matthews writes:
In June [Rapley] published a report “Time for Change” which was ridiculed by both sceptics and climate scientists, see https://ipccreport.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/another-report-on-climate-communication/
A nice irony is that Rapley’s report talked about setting up a forum for public discussion and dialog. Now he’s on stage issuing a dull monologue!