This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
A Washington, DC organization called the Government Accountability Project is smearing me on its website.
Last week, I challenged the first half of what is published there. Overall, it’s a feeble attempt to rebut a 2013 Wall Street Journal opinion piece written by me that urged people to be skeptical of a UN entity known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
An activist PR firm called Climate Nexus produced this text, the first half of which contains seven factual errors. It insists I said things I did not. It accuses me of failing to say things I actually did.
Moreover, it gratuitously insults me. I’m apparently contemptible because I keep trying to let the world know about IPCC shortcomings. In the parlance of the Climate Nexus rebuttal, I’m recycling old attacks and should therefore just sit down and shut up.
There are two problems with this argument. First, since the purpose of the Government Accountability Project is to subject governments to scrutiny, it’s hypocritical in the extreme for it to adopt the position that scrutiny of the IPCC (a collection of governments) is unwarranted.
Second, my concerns are far from shopworn. The IPCC was founded in 1988. For 20 years most journalists gave it a free pass, essentially cutting-and-pasting from its press releases, rarely delving beneath the surface. My fact-checking, and the discoveries that followed, only began during the IPCC’s third decade. Historically speaking, they’re breaking news.
Below I turn my attention to the second half of this rebuttal. Please note that the same people who criticize me for repeating myself merrily do so themselves. Toward the end of the first half, we read:
the IPCC also seeks to incorporate the greatest possible diversity of voices, including fossil-fuel industry groups, geographically diverse groups, and scientists from many different backgrounds including industry.
The second half begins by restating these ideas, beginning with a sentence in bold:
The IPCC seeks input from as broad a range of scientists as possible, including those with industry ties. Notable climate skeptics like Roger Pielke Jr. and Richard Lindzen have contributed to past reports, and Richard Tol and Hans von Storch, two prominent skeptics, participated in the current review.
When an organization has been around for decades, the fact that four specific individuals have at some time participated in some part of its process isn’t overly significant. The presence of these people in no way demonstrates that skeptics have meaningful influence at the IPCC.
However, individual experiences can be illuminating. So let me tell you about a few:
In the mid 1990s, infectious disease expert Paul Reiter resigned from the IPCC and demanded that his name be removed from its report. In his view, its conclusions about malaria and other diseases were amateurish.
In 2005, hurricane expert Chris Landsea resigned from the IPCC. In his experience, it was “scientifically unsound” and “motivated by pre-conceived agendas.”
In 2013, a few days after my article and the Climate Nexus rebuttal were published, Judith Curry, a climatologist with firsthand IPCC experience publicly declared it to be suffering from a fatal disease – ‘motivated reasoning’ aka systemic bias.
“We need to put down the IPCC as soon as possible,” she said, “for the sake of the rest of us whom it is trying to infect.”
Speaking of economist Richard Tol (mentioned by Climate Nexus above), six months after my article was published, he demanded that his name be removed from an IPCC summary. Originally, this document had concluded the effects of climate change were manageable if certain policies were pursued. In Tol’s words: “This has completely disappeared from the draft now, which is all about…the four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
The rebuttal carries on:
In addition, the IPCC has included experts from some of the largest companies in the fossil fuel industry, like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP.
The word industry appears not once, not twice, but six times in this rebuttal. Climate Nexus is working hard to leave the impression that green activists at the IPCC aren’t a problem because fossil fuel interests are also represented. In my estimation, the ratio of those two populations is 50 to 1 in favour of green activists. If anyone thinks that isn’t the case, I’d love to see their data.
Weirdly, climate activists and fossil fuel companies can often be found in bed together. The World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) first corporate sponsor was Royal Dutch Shell (aka Shell Oil), which bankrolled it for 40 years. The Sierra Club has taken more than $25 million from natural gas interests. The Nature Conservancy has accepted nearly $10 million from entities such as BP. And the Rockefeller fortune (which funds all sorts of climate activism, including Climate Nexus) came from Standard Oil.
As I said in Part 1, green activists have an agenda. Fossil fuel companies have an agenda. The fact that representatives of both are involved in the IPCC demonstrates that this is not a scientific body comprised of the world’s top experts.
Among those scientists that have worked with environmental NGOs, the connections are tenuous.
Here I’ll quote from my article:
Donald Wuebbles, one of the two leaders of the introductory first chapter of the Working Group 1 report…has been writing awareness-raising climate change reports for the activist Union of Concerned Scientists for a decade. Another chapter of the full IPCC report, “Open Oceans,” is led by Australian marine biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, who has written a string of reports with titles such as “Pacific in Peril” for Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Astrophysicist Michael Oppenheimer, in charge of another chapter of the IPCC report, “Emergent Risks and Key Vulnerabilities,” advises the Environmental Defense Fund (after having spent more than two decades on its payroll).
University of Maryland scientist Richard Moss is a former fulltime WWF vice president, while Jennifer Morgan used to be the WWF’s chief climate change spokesperson. Both are currently IPCC review editors…
There’s nothing tenuous about spending years on the payroll of the WWF or the Environmental Defense Fund. Canadian journalist/satirist Rex Murphy has been accused of a conflict-of-interest because he occasionally gives paid speeches to “oil-friendly” audiences.
Someone whose regular pay cheque comes from a lobbying machine that strives to convince the public there’s a climate crisis has a profound conflict-of-interest. They are not disinterested parties when the IPCC invites them to evaluate research.
Many have contributed in a capacity strictly limited to reviewing science reports on a volunteer basis, a role completely consistent with their status as climate experts. Furthermore, many of these scientists have worked with industry on other occasions.
Please note that I provide verifiable examples. I don’t just make statements and expect people to believe me. Who, exactly, is being discussed here? Where’s the evidence that this is true?
The IPCC is a massive global undertaking, and the AR5 is the biggest, strongest, and most comprehensive IPCC report yet.
Here again, the rebuttal repeats something it has already said. We’re told the upcoming IPCC report is the biggest yet. So what?
We’re told it’s the strongest. But Climate Nexus had no way of knowing this because the full report was months away from being finalized.
It analyzes all of the climate science available in peer-reviewed literature.
I sincerely doubt that. In recent years, the volume of climate-related research has ballooned. It’s overwhelming.
In any event, this is another instance in which Climate Nexus insists something is the case even though it can’t possibly have verified it firsthand.
In just the first portion of the AR5 (WG1), there were 209 lead authors and 50 review editors from 39 countries, and over 600 contributing authors.
Quantity and quality are not the same. A report written by people from 39 countries is not automatically more rigorous or useful than a report written by people from three countries.
They reviewed over 2 million gigabytes of data from climate model simulations…
By all means, let’s talk about climate models. Renowned physicist Freeman Dyson has been observing them for four decades. He says they help researchers understand certain aspects of the climate, but are useless for predicting what’s going to happen beyond five days from now.
…and cited more than 9,200 scientific publications.
This is a good time to recall the famous 2005 paper titled Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.
Eighteen months after my article was written, the editor-in-chief of The Lancet publicly acknowledged that “much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.” If half of all published research is unsound, that’s 4,600 of the papers on which the IPCC has relied.
Out of all those scientists and all of that data, Laframboise called out 5 scientists for their NGO ties – that’s half of one percent of all the scientists involved.
As I mention in Part 1, my article draws attention to six people with activist ties, four of whom were in IPCC leadership positions. In a 900-word piece covering extensive ground, there wasn’t space for more.
But that’s the tip of the iceberg. A blog post I wrote about such matters is titled 78 Names. I can show you an instance in which eight people who worked on an IPCC chapter had documented links to the WWF. I can show you another in which three of its authors were associated with the WWF, Greenpeace, and the Environmental Defense Fund respectively.
Critics with an axe to grind or a book to sell…
Here we come to insult #4. I’m not a journalist doing my job – ensuring the public isn’t misled by government. I’m merely a critic with an axe to grind.
Alternatively, I’m someone with a book to sell. Because, you know, it’s morally suspect to want to get paid after conducting thousands of hours of research connected to a topic as important as climate change. Employees of Climate Nexus want to be paid, but investigative journalists apparently get their heating, electricity, and Internet for free.
Please note that, at the beginning of this rebuttal, I’m dismissed as an “IPCC critic and Canadian photographer.” By the time we get to the final paragraph, there’s a faint whisper about a book. Would that be my 2011 IPCC exposé, The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Scientist?
Or would it be the book published the same month my article appeared, Into the Dustin: Rajendra Pachauri, the Climate Report, and the Nobel Peace Prize?
In a fair-minded universe, this rebuttal would begin by acknowledging that I’m the only person to have written two books about the IPCC. Therefore I might know a thing or two.
But apparently I’m nothing special. The rebuttal airily declares that others
…have attempted to dig up dirt on IPCC contributors before…
I’d love to meet those people. We could dig up dirt together.
…but the group [IPCC] remains internationally respected.
Evidence would be helpful. Otherwise, this is just an opinion. An anonymous opinion.
Following the 2007 report, the IPCC requested and underwent a formal review to improve its process further…
Please note the words I’ve bolded. This is some first-class spin. In late 2007, the IPCC was awarded half the Nobel Peace Prize. For some time afterward, it was the belle of the ball, a jewel in the UN’s crown. I assure you, its officials didn’t wake up one morning and spontaneously decide to submit to an outside investigation.
Rather, controversy began to build in November 2009 after an anonymous person leaked 1,073 e-mails from a UK climate research facility. These e-mails revealed that prominent scientists affiliated with the IPCC had engaged in a range of dodgy behaviour, including defying Freedom of Information laws. Known as the Climategate scandal, entire books have been written about those matters (see here, here, and here).
That same month, the Times of India invited Rajendra Pachauri, the longtime chairman of the IPCC, to respond to new research published by India’s environment ministry that said there was no proof Himalayan glaciers were melting due to climate change.
This sharply contradicted the IPCC, which had insisted there was a “very high” chance of these glaciers “disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner.”
Dismissing the new research, Pachauri described it as “magical science,” and “something indefensible.” When asked if it would be taken into account by the IPCC in the future, he contemptuously replied:
IPCC studies only peer-review science. Let someone publish the data in a decent credible publication. I am sure IPCC would then accept it, otherwise we can just throw it into the dustbin.
But the single piece of evidence on which the IPCC had relied wasn’t, in fact, peer-reviewed science. It was a publication produced by a green lobby group – the WWF.
The glacier controversy flared up again in January 2010, after the Sunday London Times ran a story headlined: World misled over Himalayan glacier meltdown. The newspaper noted that while Pachauri “has previously dismissed criticism of the Himalayas claim as ‘voodoo science,'” world renowned glaciologists reject the 2035 prediction as “inherently ludicrous.”
When The Economist magazine interviewed Pachauri on the first of February, his self-satisfaction remained undimmed. “Isn’t it rather remarkable,” he was asked, “that you should have this organisation that does not have any procedure for dealing with conflict of interest?”
Pachauri shrugged: “Why would I raise something, unless there is a reason for me to raise it?…I’ve never felt the need for it.”
Deciding that public confidence was at risk, in early March the UN asked the InterAcademy Council to evaluate the IPCC’s processes and procedures. But this was to be no unhurried investigation. A written report was demanded by the end of August.
So let us now return to how Climate Nexus has portrayed events:
Following the 2007 report, the IPCC requested and underwent a formal review to improve its process further and reforms to governance, process and communications have been implemented in response.
Climate Nexus includes a hyperlink not to a third party confirming that real change actually happened, but to the IPCC website declaring this to be the case. That’s analogous to taking the fox’s word for it that the hen house is no longer in danger.
Which brings us to the last sentence of this rebuttal:
Repeated and unfounded attempts to taint its credibility…
Repetition is not a crime, and should not be condemned by people who make use of it themselves.
My concerns about the IPCC are meticulously documented. Reasonable people may differ about what they mean, but there’s nothing unfounded about them.
I have no need to attempt to taint the credibility of this organization. Its credibility is undermined by its own officials on a routine basis.
…should be seen as what they are: a distraction from the real issue – the science.
IPCC reports are not science. They synthesize and summarize. They are the result of thousands of judgment calls, made by human beings who are fallible, susceptible to group think, and often systematically misinformed about big picture, global trends.
The real issue is that grownups tell themselves fairy tales about UN organizations – and disparage journalists who shine a light on what’s actually going on.
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