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27 November 2014 12:19 (South Africa)
Opinionista Ivo Vegter

The climate dominoes fall

  • Ivo Vegter
It started with what is now known as ClimateGate, but the news keeps getting better.

Are you a taxpayer tired of coughing up for top salaries and expensive field trips to exotic locations? Are you sick of busybodies who dictate every trivium of daily life, and frown disapprovingly at your choice of car, light bulbs or toilet paper as if it's any of their business?

Are you concerned for the poor, and wish them the same freedom to develop that the first world enjoyed? Are you worried about the environment or about human health and well-being, but fear that angry activists, populist politicians and bed-feathering bureaucrats are distracting the public from the real problems that lie ready to be solved?

If so, the news keeps getting better.

Late last year, internal e-mails leaked from a university in England confirmed long-standing allegations against the high priests of climate science, on whose pronouncements the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) relies. It showed them in action: suppressing dissent, hiding documents, massaging results, privately gainsaying the public "consensus", and forging ahead despite the fact that their source data is a glorious mess.

Last month, a fairly minor story emerged about what initially appeared to be a fairly minor error about Himalayan glaciers. The IPCC had declared in its official report that they might well disappear by 2035, unless urgent action is taken to stop global warming.

Turns out this isn't so. This data did not come from the thousands of scientific papers the IPCC claims to rely on. It was a colourful claim concocted for a newspaper article, and has been roundly refuted by glaciologists, who say big glaciers take far longer to melt even in the most adverse circumstances.

Rajenda Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, at first pooh-poohed the problem, but soon was forced to admit and correct the error.

He told a British newspaper that "it cost us dear". "Everybody thought that what the IPCC brought out was the gold standard and nothing could go wrong," he added.

He said this with a straight face, despite being quite willing to lie to protect its reputation.

Exhibit one: He founded an outfit called The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI), which advises the government and sets national standards in India, and is itself involved in glacier research, and consults to companies who seek to comply with emission regulations or take advantage of carbon trading. It used the glaciers-will-vanish myth, complete with resultant "widespread water shortages", in a funding proposal, claiming it was sourced from "an authoritative study". The proposal netted Pachauri's organisation ?310,000 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Exhibit two: He responded to a question whether he knew about this error before the UN's glitzy Copenhagen climate shindig in January, by saying: "That's ridiculous. It never came to my attention before the Copenhagen summit. It wasn't in the public sphere." Funny, then, that a journalist for the journal Science asked him about the glacier claims in November last year, and he said he had "nothing to add about glaciers".

While calls for Pachauri's head grow louder, even among those who never were sceptical of global warming orthodoxy, this case isn't the only fuel on the fire.

He has been inconsistent on whether or not he thinks there might be other errors in the report, at times flatly denying it, at other times conceding the possibility, but saying the chance is minimal.

However, another prediction, which Pachauri has personally often used in speeches and interviews, is that global warming could reduce crop yields in some African countries by 50% by 2020. The source of this alarming claim was traced to a report written for a Canadian advocacy group by climate consultants who profit from global warming fears. It, in turn, drew on reports from several north-African governments, including Morocco and Algeria.

Here's the thing. In the real world, those governments expect the exact opposite.

Algeria, for example, expects agricultural production to double by 2020. Only in serious drought years, said one report, might cereal yields drop to 50% of the norm. Thus, a worst-case prediction for worst-case conditions was given the IPCC imprimatur as the way the world would look by 2020.

Back in Britain, a review panel is girding up to investigate the scandal at East Anglia University's Climatic Research Unit (CRU). Chaired by the Glaswegian civil servant and university administrator, Sir Muir Russell, it promised that its members would have no "predetermined view on climate change and climate science".

Not surprisingly, James Delingpole, writing in the UK's Telegraph, finds it odd that the editor of Nature, Dr Philip Campbell, would be invited to sit on the panel.

In an editorial, Campbell wrote a staunch defence of the very same CRU. He called sceptics "the climate-change-denialist fringe". He dismissed their claim that the emails constitute a smoking gun as a "laughable" and "paranoid interpretation". He described politicians who don't go along with global warmism "obstructionist". Ultimately, he declared that: "Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real – or that human activities are almost certainly the cause."

He has no predetermined view? I'd love to see what this lot would consider bias.

In Campbell's defence, he had the good grace to resign. However, that leaves grave doubts about the competence and impartiality of the panel's chairman, Sir Muir.

Meanwhile, Phil Jones, the suspended head of the CRU, gave an interview to the BBC's Roger Harrabin, in which he makes some startling admissions.

He concedes that today's rate of warming is not "unprecedented", contrary to a graph Pachauri showed in Copenhagen, in which data intervals were carefully picked to create trend-lines that suggest such an increase. (This is far from the only example of statistical sleight-of-hand by Pachauri and his IPCC cohorts. He does the same to raise a false alarm over tropical cyclones, for example.)

Today's warming is statistically indistinguishable, Jones admits, to the rate of warming between 1860 and 1880, and again between 1910 and 1940. Moreover, there has been no statistically significant warming for 15 years.

In 1995, the IPCC published chart of the millennial temperature record, which showed a clear Medieval Warm Period and a Little Ice Age, suggestion both that temperatures were higher in the (fairly) recent past, and that instrument measurements began at a particularly cold point in time. In 2001, they replaced it with the now in-famous and discredited "hockey stick" graph. It made those features vanish. This, the CRU emails clearly show, was a common goal among climate researchers.

Now, however, Jones says: "There is much debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period was global in extent or not."

The reason for all this "debate" is that they simply don't know much about it. "There are very few palaeoclimatic records for these latter two regions [the tropics and southern hemisphere]."

So, if we assume that the MWP not only existed, but was global in extent – an assumption just as valid in the absence of evidence as its opposite – today's temperatures would not be "unprecedented".

He says anyone can now recreate their own temperature record from weather station data, much of which was only released as a result of the CRU leak. This is (finally) true. But this doesn't solve another little problem, namely that many of those stations – whose locations were removed from public web servers by one of the CRU's two equivalents across the pond, NASA's GISS – are in hot parking lots or by aircon exhaust vents.

One recently-discovered station, at Rome airport, is right in the jet wash of passenger aeroplanes. No wonder the weather is a tad uncomfortable there. One might even suspect that the cause is that people are burning large amounts of fossil fuel nearby.

Ultimately, here is what matters: Jones's answer to Al Gore and all the other alarmists who yell that the debate is over and the science is settled.

"It would be supposition on my behalf to know whether all scientists who say the debate is over are saying that for the same reason. I don't believe the vast majority of climate scientists think this. This is not my view."

Now you tell us "the vast majority of scientists" think there is "no consensus", Dr Jones?

  • Ivo Vegter
IvoVegterBW

Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He approaches issues from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. He grew up in the deep south of Johannesburg, and learnt his politics reading the Weekly Mail and Vrye Weekblad at Wits University during the early years of the country's transition to democracy. He recently left the city for the lower cost of living of Knysna, where he continues to write about everything under the sun. He is always right.

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