The IPCC and the Melting Glaciers Story

Posted by admin on January 19, 2010
Jan 192010

This is a big post in two parts. The first is our take on the current story about the Himalayan glaciers. The second is a similar case of non-scientific research being passed off as ‘science’.

A story in the Sunday Times demonstrates the murky nature of the process by which ‘scientific facts’ become established in the climate debate.

Two years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. A central claim was the world’s glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.

In the past few days the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC’s 2007 report.

The No Scientist has, in recent years, become something of an organ of the environmental movement, abandoning cool, rational, empirical scientific detachment for high moral tones, shrill alarmist stories, and a rather one-sided treatment of both the politics and science of the climate debate. No surprises here – we’ve covered the NS’s appalling commentary in many previous posts. What is interesting is how the partiality of science journalists exists as part of its own positive-feedback mechanism, such that oversight turns into ‘scientific fact’. So how does a journalist’s credulousness actually produce ‘consensus science’?

The original article by the celebrated New Scientist environmental correspondent, Fred Pearce was published in 1999. It reported that,

“All the glaciers in the middle Himalayas are retreating,” says Syed Hasnain of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, the chief author of the ICSI report. A typical example is the Gangorti glacier at the head of the River Ganges, which is retreating at a rate of 30 metres per year. Hasnain’s four-year study indicates that all the glaciers in the central and eastern Himalayas could disappear by 2035 at their present rate of decline.”

In 2005, the WWF, published its report, An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat, and Subsequent Impacts in Nepal, India and China. It cited Pearce’s article.

The New Scientist magazine carried the article “Flooded Out – Retreating glaciers spell disaster for valley communities” in their 5 June 1999 issue. It quoted Professor Syed Hasnain, then Chairman of the International Commission for Snow and Ice’s (ICSI) Working Group on Himalayan Glaciology, who said most of the glaciers in the Himalayan region “will vanish within 40 years as a result of global warming”. The article also predicted that freshwater flow in rivers across South Asia will “eventually diminish, resulting in widespread water shortages”.

In 2007, the IPCC cites the WWF

Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world (see Table 10.9) and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km2 by the year 2035 (WWF, 2005).

This process is what we have called, ‘Chinese Whispers’, after the party game of the same name. Ambiguity, caveats, and uncertainty get removed from scientific research through citation, especially across discipline areas, and when passed between the social and material sciences. Certainty is amplified; the context of scientific research is lost, rendering it meaningless. Why is the IPCC citing the WWF as a source of scientific data, when first, the WWF is neither a scientific, nor a research organisation, but has a specific agenda, and second, when it has the work of an entire working group (WGI) dedicated to providing the ‘scientific basis’, to call upon?

The Times quotes Pearce,

The IPCC’s reliance on Hasnain’s 1999 interview has been highlighted by Fred Pearce, the journalist who carried out the original interview for the New Scientist. Pearce said he rang Hasnain in India in 1999 after spotting his claims in an Indian magazine. Pearce said: “Hasnain told me then that he was bringing a report containing those numbers to Britain. The report had not been peer reviewed or formally published in a scientific journal and it had no formal status so I reported his work on that basis.”

So Pearce apparently found the claims sufficiently interesting, even though they appeared to have no basis in science. Pearce continues:

“Since then I have obtained a copy and it does not say what Hasnain said. In other words it does not mention 2035 as a date by which any Himalayan glaciers will melt. However, he did make clear that his comments related only to part of the Himalayan glaciers. not the whole massif.”

It is not clear when, since 1999, Pearce found a copy of Hasnain’s report. We haven’t found any attempt to address his mistake. Reflecting on the error in a recent edition of the New Scientist, Pearce says,

Despite the 10-year-old New Scientist report being the only source, the claim found its way into the IPCC fourth assessment report published in 2007. Moreover the claim was extrapolated to include all glaciers in the Himalayas.

Writing on the BBC’s website, Indian Journalist, Pallava Bagla, points out that the IPCC reproduced the error,

The IPCC relied on three documents to arrive at 2035 as the “outer year” for shrinkage of glaciers.

They are: a 2005 World Wide Fund for Nature report on glaciers; a 1996 Unesco document on hydrology; and a 1999 news report in New Scientist.

Incidentally, none of these documents have been reviewed by peer professionals, which is what the IPCC is mandated to be doing.

Since Pearce’s mistake in 1999, he has written many books on the climate issue.

  • Last Generation – How Nature Will Take Her Revenge for Climate Change
  • When the Rivers Run Dry: What Happens When Our Water Runs Out?
  • Confessions of an Eco Sinner: Travels to Find Where My Stuff Comes from
  • The Coming Population Crash: And Our Planet’s Surprising Future
  • With Speed and Violence : Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change
  • The Big Green Book
  • Earth Then and Now: Potent Visual Evidence of Our Changing World
  • Fragile Earth: Views of a Changing World
  • Deep Jungle: Journey to the Heart of the Rainforest
  • Keepers of the Spring: Reclaiming Our Water in an Age of Globalization
  • Regis: Regional Climate Change Impact and Response Studies in East Anglia and North West England
  • Turning Up the Heat

Before his 1999 article, he penned,

  • Ian and Fred’s Big Green Book
  • Green Warriors: The People and the Politics behind the Environmental Revolution.
  • ADVENTURES AT THE ZOO
  • Turning Up The Heat – Our Perilous Future In The Global Greenhouse
  • Dammed, the:Rivers, Dams and the Coming World Water Crisis
  • Acid Rain (Penguin Special)
  • Turning Up the Heat: Our Perilous Future in the Global Greenhouse
  • Global Warming
  • Watershed: Collapse of Britain’s Water Supply
  • Greenprint for Action
  • Climate and Man: From the Ice Ages to the Global Greenhouse
  • Climate change impacts in the UK

It is inconceivable that as prolific a writer on the climate as Pearce can be unaware of the influence of his error. It is more than obvious that Pearce has a political agenda that exists prior to ‘the science’ he reports. This prior-ness is something we have emphasised here on Climate Resistance as fundamental to understanding the phenomenon of environmentalism: the disaster scenario is the premise of environmental politics, not the conclusion of environmental science. Once this premise is accepted, so to speak, a priori, the conclusion becomes a given; the ‘science’ is almost immaterial, it merely gives numbers to what is already given.

It does not stretch the imagination, then, to suggest that Pearce was happy to overlook the lack of scientific foundations in Hasnain’s 1999 report, and happy for the error to be amplified, and reproduced firstly by the WWF, and then by the IPCC.

Happy that is, until now. The 11 January New Scientist article, which carries his name, speaks about himself as “a journalist”, as though he had nothing to do with it.

However, the lead author of the IPCC chapter, Indian glaciologist Murari Lal, told New Scientist he “outright rejected” the notion that the IPCC was off the mark on Himalayan glaciers. “The IPCC authors did exactly what was expected from them,” he says.“We relied rather heavily on grey [not peer-reviewed] literature, including the WWF report,” Lal says. “The error, if any, lies with Dr Hasnain’s assertion and not with the IPCC authors.”

But Hasnain rejects that. He blames the IPCC for misusing a remark he made to a journalist. “The magic number of 2035 has not [been] mentioned in any research papers written by me, as no peer-reviewed journal will accept speculative figures,” he told New Scientist.

It might have been more appropriate for Pearce to use the word “me”, and accept his role in this brouhaha.

But for the moment, at least he seems to be thinking about the process he is a small part of. His latest article demonstrates the rifts that are emerging in the wake of the affair.

Glaciologists are this week arguing over how a highly contentious claim about the speed at which glaciers are melting came to be included in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Glaciologists, it seems, are now at odds with IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri.

The IPCC’s chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, has hit back, denouncing the Indian government report as “voodoo science” lacking peer review.

Yet, clearly, following the words of Lal, about using non-peer-reviewed literature, Pachauri, on behalf of the IPCC has some serious questions to answer that are not answered by hand waving with statements about ‘voodoo science’.

One of the most frequent criticisms of climate sceptics is that their arguments lack foundation in peer-reviewed scientific literature. Yet here we see that in fact, one of the central claims made in the case for political action to mitigate climate change, had only a speculative basis in science.

Part 2

This all reminds us of a story we were working on a while ago. In Septmber 2008, Oxfam published a report called “Climate Wrongs and Human Rights: Putting people at the heart of climate-change policy”. We were unconvinced already. Humans are by definition not at the heart of any eco-centric view of the world. Moreover, the climate issue has been adopted by one-time development agencies to instead emphasise not developing as the most ‘progressive’ course of action for the world’s poorest people.

In failing to tackle global warming with urgency, rich countries are effectively violating the human rights of millions of the world’s poorest people. Continued excessive greenhouse-gas emissions primarily from industrialised nations are – with scientific certainty – creating floods, droughts, hurricanes, sea-level rise, and seasonal unpredictability. The result is failed harvests, disappearing islands, destroyed homes, water scarcity, and deepening health crises, which are undermining millions of peoples’ rights to life, security, food, water, health, shelter, and culture. Such rights violations could never truly be remedied in courts of law. Human-rights principles must be put at the heart of international climate change policy making now, in order to stop this irreversible damage to humanity’s future.

In our view, Oxfam had given up on the very concept of industrial and economic development as fundamental conditions of political development. Thus poorly conceived ideas about “human rights” had been married with climate change alarmism, to produce a chimera that expressed even greater intellectual poverty than its parents. We began looking at the claims made in the report, and tried to establish where they had come from. For a part-time, unfunded project such as Climate Resistance, this proved to be simply far too time-consuming, and other things were happening, such as the UK’s Climate Change Bill was being put (shoved) through Parliament.

We began compiling a list of the claims made by Oxfam, with the intention of asking them to show what their basis for them was. For instance, in the quote above, Oxfam say that scientific certainty exists about the relationship between the carbon emissions of industrialised countries and floods, droughts, hurricanes, sea-level rise, and seasonal unpredictability that they have, allegedly, produced. We didn’t think that this was an appropriate emphasis of “scientific certainty”. Where had it come from?

What attracted our attention most, however, was this claim

According to the IPCC, climate change could halve yields from rain-fed crops in parts of Africa as early as 2020, and put 50 million more people worldwide at risk of hunger. [Pg. 2]

We looked to see if it was true. All we could find was this.

In other [African] countries, additional risks that could be exacerbated by climate change include greater erosion, deficiencies in yields from rain-fed agriculture of up to 50% during the 2000-2020 period, and reductions in crop growth period (Agoumi, 2003). [IPCC WGII, Page 448. 9.4.4]

Oxfam cite the IPCC, but the citation belongs to Agoumi. The IPCC reference the paper properly:

Agoumi, A., 2003: Vulnerability of North African countries to climatic changes: adaptation and implementation strategies for climatic change. Developing Perspectives on Climate Change: Issues and Analysis from Developing Countries and Countries with Economies in Transition. IISD/Climate Change Knowledge Network, 14 pp. http://www.cckn.net//pdf/north_africa.pdf.

There is only limited discussion of “deficiencies in yields from rain-fed agriculture” in that paper, and its focus is not ‘some’ African countries, but just three: Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. It is not climate research. It is a discussion about the possible effects of climate change. All that it says in relation to the IPCC quote, is that,

Studies on the future of vital agriculture in the region have shown the following risks, which are linked to climate change:

  • greater erosion, leading to widespread soil degradation;
  • deficient yields from rain-based agriculture of up to 50 per cent during the 2000–2020 period;
  • reduced crop growth period;

Most interestingly, the study was not simply produced by some academic working in some academic department. Instead, it was published by The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). According to the report itself,

The International Institute for Sustainable Development contributes to sustainable development by advancing policy recommendations on international trade and investment, economic policy, climate change, measurement and indicators, and natural resource management. By using Internet communications, we report on international negotiations and broker knowledge gained through collaborative projects with global partners, resulting in more rigorous research, capacity building in developing countries and better dialogue between North and South.

Oxfam takes its authority from the IPCC. The IPCC report seemingly takes its authority from a bullet point in a paper published by an organisation with a declared political interest in the sustainability agenda that was the brainchild of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1988. (Take note: Conservatives are often behind the advance of the sustainability agenda, in spite of claims that it’s a left-wing phenomenon).

That the IPCC is citing non-peer-reviewed, non-scientific  research from quasi governmental semi-independent sustainability advocacy organisations must say something about the dearth of scientific or empirical research. The paper in question barely provides any references for its own claims, yet by virtue of merely appearing in the IPCC’s reports, a single study, put together by a single researcher, becomes “consensus science”.

The situation is simply insane. The IPCC are cited as producers of official science, yet they appear often to take as many liberties with the sources they cite, as those who cite the IPCC – such as Oxfam – go on to do. To ask questions about this process is to stand against ‘the consensus’, to be a ‘denier’, and to be willingly jeopardising the future of millions of people, and inviting the end of the world.

The popular view of the climate debate and politics is that the IPCC and scientists produce the science, which politicians and policymakers respond to, encouraged by NGOs, all reported on by journalists. But as the case of the glacier and North African water studies show, this is a misconception. Science, the media, government, and supra-national political organisations do not exist as sharply distinct institutions. They are nebulous and porous. They merge, and each influence the interpretation and substance of the next iteration of their own product. The distinction between science and politics breaks down in the miasma.

If this process could be mapped, it would be no surprise to us if it was discovered that the IPCC was be found citing itself through citing NGOs and Quasi-NGOs, and other non-peer-reviewed, not scientific literature. This is the real climate feedback mechanism. Sadly, we have no time and no resources for such a survey, as much as we’d like to.

But would it be necessary to ‘debunk’ the IPCC in this way? Maybe not. We can deal with the arguments on their own terms, after all. We have argued here on Climate Resistance that whatever the evidence or strength of the science with respect to the claim that “climate change is happening”, the political argument about how to respond to climate change depends too heavily on the notion that “failure to act” is equivalent to producing a disaster.

To re-iterate our fundamental point, the problem with much of the argument emerging from the sustainability camp – as the report cited by the IPCC who are cited by Oxfam surely is – is that its premise is political, not scientific. That is to say again than the ‘politics is prior’ to the science. It may well be the case that the region that the study focussed on faces increased droughts, and that, historically, agricultural output in those regions vary as rainfall varies, and that rainfall is declining. But this is not the whole story.

If indeed, they are at all true, the claims made in the report, the IPCC and Oxfam, are only significant if we assume that mankind is impotent to address the water problems they describe. But the North African region covered by the study has a coast, lots of sunshine, and a lot of land. Indeed, the area is being considered for a huge solar-energy project that could power much of Europe and the region, and so its water problems could be answered by the development of large-scale desalination infrastructure. The only problem is capital. So it is somewhat ironic that the lack of capital available to provide such a project with momentum is not the subject of Oxfam’s report.

Ho Ho Ho Green Giantz

Posted by admin on July 8, 2009
Jul 082009

Thanks to George Carty for pointing us to the Energy From Thorium Discussion Forum, where someone named Klaus Allmendinger has spotted something strange in the small print of a new report from WWF and Allianz insurance that claims to rank G8 countries in terms of their progress towards CO2 emissions targets:

… When noticing France AND Germany in similar places on the list, I looked a little further. France, according to this report, has still fairly high emissions from electricity production. A small footnote under one of the graphs though explains why:

1 WWF does not consider nuclear power to be a viable policy option. The indicators “emissions per capita”, “emissions per GDP” and “CO2 per kWh electricity” for all countries have therefore been adjusted as if the generation of electricity from nuclear power had produced 350 gCO2/kWh (emission factor for natural gas). Without the adjustment, the original indicators for France would have been much lower, e.g. 86 gCO2/kWh.”

So basically, France’s CO2 emissions from electricity production are produced by ideological bias, not by fossil fuel combustion. It looks like the German emissions are lower than actual tons of CO2 also because of emission trading schemes. Allianz is of course also a trader in CO2 certificates.

It seems like the new battle-cry is: Enrons of the world, unite !!!

Not only does the report clearly not do what it claims to do, and not only is this another instance of Big Insurance joining forces with Big Environment to whip up alarm (not to mention premiums) about environmental risks (Allianz join Munich Re, RMS and Catlin), but, by ranking countries in terms of energy – rather than CO2 – production, it also supports our suggestion that Environmentalism has less to do with saving the planet than it does with reining in human aspirations.

No Fire Without a Smokescreen

Posted by admin on April 1, 2009
Apr 012009

In far flung corners of the globe, where tedious matters of grim reality tend to be of greater concern than the theoretical possibility of the ravages of global warming, there seems to be a growing realisation that, to generate interest from the western media in stuff that is actually happening, it’s necessary to frame stories in terms of climatastrophe. The BBC, for example, did not report on the recent wildfires in Nepal while they were actually burning. But given the excuse to rummage through the embers for signs that climate change is real and is happening, they’re right onto it:

Climate change ‘fans Nepal fires’

The forest fires that flared unusually viciously in many of Nepal’s national parks and conserved areas this dry season have left conservationists worrying if climate change played a role.

At least four protected areas were on fire for an unusually long time until just a few days ago.

The BBC’s entire case hangs on comments from two interviewees. First, there’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology chief Nirmal Rajbhandari, who lists a string of undesirable weather events in the region before lumping the wildfires into the mix and blaming it all on global warming:

“Seeing all these changes happening in recent years, we can contend that this dryness that led to so much fire is one of the effects of climate change,” said Mr Rajbhandari.

You can hardly blame Nepalese officials for jumping on the climate change wagon if it’s all that will make the western media prick up their ears. But it’s hard to forgive professional catastrophists WWF, who provide the BBC with its second line of evidence:

Anil Manandhar, head of WWF Nepal, had this to ask: Are we waiting for a bigger disaster to admit that it is climate change?

“The weather pattern has changed, and we know that there are certain impacts of climate change.”

He might have intended his question to be rhetorical, but if sanity is to be maintained, it demands an answer: No. How can the size of a disaster possibly indicative of the strength of its connection to climate change? What we are waiting for is evidence that climate change is causing more frequent and/or more serious disasters. While opportunist NGOs and business interests are happy to push their climate disaster-porn at any opportunity, they do so without a scientific basis. And that is true globally, let alone on the local scales being discussed in the BBC story, as the one scientific expert quoted is only too aware:

However, climate change expert Arun Bhakta Shrestha of the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) was cautious about drawing conclusions.

“The prolonged dryness this year, like other extreme events in recent years, could be related to climate change but there is no proper basis to confirm that.

“The reason (why there is no confirmation) is lack of studies, observation and data that could have helped to reach into some conclusion regarding the changes.”

But two against one is plenty for a climate-change scare story.

If the rest of the report is to be believed, forest fires are not uncommon in Nepal at this time of year. But this year, they have been more serious than usual:

Most of the fires come about as a consequence of the “slash and burn” practice that farmers employ for better vegetation and agricultural yields.

But this time the fires remained out of control even in the national parks in the Himalayan region where the slash and burn practice is uncommon.

In some of the protected areas, the fires flared up even after locals and officials tried to put them out for several days.

And Nepal has experienced an unusually dry winter:

For nearly six months, no precipitation has fallen across most of the country – the longest dry spell in recent history, according to meteorologists.

“This winter was exceptionally dry,” says Department of Hydrology and Meteorology chief Nirmal Rajbhandari.

“We have seen winter becoming drier and drier in the last three or four years, but this year has set the record.”

Rivers are running at their lowest, and because most of Nepal’s electricity comes from hydropower, the country has been suffering power cuts up to 20 hours a day.

It can’t come as much of a surprise, even to the BBC, that drier conditions make a landscape more fire-prone. And nowhere a mention of the role of natural variation. But then natural variation comes in two varieties. There is the type that is ignored by ‘deniers’ asking awkward questions about recent temperature plateaus. And there’s the type that is to be disregarded for the sake of alarmist stories about single, aberrant weather events.

Had it not been for recent drizzles, conservationists say some of the national parks would still be on fire.

Drizzles caused by climate change, perhaps?

Leader of the UK’s Conservatives, David Cameron, is at it again… Here he is, unveiling the latest installment of the ‘resurrection’ of the Tory Party, by announcing his continued commitment to Environmentalism, in spite of the prospect of an economic downturn, and rising fuel costs, by mixing the Green Party Manifesto, and a nod at the market, and some straightforward opportunism.

The Labour Party are on their knees. The Lib-Dems are barely registering. Cameron could say whatever he liked, or nothing at all. Yet here he is, wrapping himself in green cloth, telling the UK that there is no alternative, ‘cos the ‘era of cheap oil is over’, so we have to go Green. Well, we do now. Thanks to Dave.

The new ‘Blue Green Charter’ aims to ‘reconfigure our whole economy’ with horse feathers, and ‘overturn our hydrocarbon dependency’ by powering the country with rocking-horse shit.

This biodegradable policy commits the country to taxes, and the construction ‘positive social norms’ (no, we’re not kidding) to ‘induce behavioural change’. With Labour’s position becoming increasingly limp, Cameron now seems to be recycling ideas from the Green Party, wrapped up in the ‘greatest challenge facing our generation’ rhetoric which screams far louder about Cameron’s inability to speak to the current generation than it defines any realities that it faces.

The Green NGOs seem to be loving it.

Keith Allott, WWF-UK’s climate change spokesman said it would “avoid the risk of locking the UK into a high-carbon future” and could boost investment in carbon capture technology.

John Sauven, of Greenpeace, said: “The Tories’ proposals should have been more ambitious given what today’s technologies can deliver but, by ruling out the proposed old-style coal plant at Kingsnorth in Kent, today’s announcement puts Cameron way ahead of Brown when it comes to cleaning up our energy system.”

There you have it… David Cameron, doing as unelected, undemocratic, self-appointed NGO puritans tell him, whilst making a promise to commit you to reducing your energy bills or face punishment, embarrassment and high prices, rather than him taking responsibility for the construction of a functioning energy infrastructure.

May 222008

We reported earlier in the year how claims that a ‘denial lobby’ had influenced public opinion on climate change were totally at odds with reality.

The UK’s Royal Society, for example wrote an open letter to Exxon in 2006, accusing it of funding these sceptics. The image of oil barons distorting the truth for pure profit was appealing to an environmental movement desperate to account for its own lack of popular appeal. Through their site ‘Exxon Secrets’, Greenpeace ‘exposed’ the millions of dollars that had allegedly been given to think tanks and other deniers to brainwash an unthinking, gullible public.

But as we pointed out, the $22 million that Exxon allegedly gave away between 1998 and 2008 is peanuts compared to Greenpeace’s $2.2 billion income over a similar period.

Following our post yesterday about the WWF’s use of a rather dodgy scientific measure to secure headlines and public attention, we thought we’d have a quick scan of their accounts, too.

Year
Income ($US)
URL
2003 370,245,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwffinancialrpt2004.pdf
2004 468,889,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwfintar005.pdf
2005 499,629,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwfannualreport.pdf
2006 549,827,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_ar06_final_28feb.pdf
2007 663,193,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_annual_review_07.pdf
TOTAL
2,551,783,000

The accounts prior to 2003 aren’t available online. (If you have access to them, we would be grateful if you would let us have a look). But the point stands. The WWF has an enormous amount of money behind it – far more than any dirty ‘denialist’ organisation has been able to get its hands on.

Even more surprising is the source of their funding. One thing that might be said in Greenpeace’s defence is that it apparently doesn’t accept money from Governments. But a closer look at WWF’s regional sites shows that a significant amount of funding does come from the state. For example, WWF USA:

And in the UK:

It is curious that the WWF, who are so sharply critical of the US, UK and EU Government, should take such a large amount of money from them.

For example, a headline from the site on the 15th May tells us that “US government: climate change threatens polar bears” And today, the site urges that “The government must act to ensure that no new coal-fired power stations are built in the UK until carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology has been proven to work on a large scale and can be installed from the outset”.

This is especially curious, because the environmental movement has been telling us for somewhile that, apart from ‘manipulating’ public opinion with distorted science, the establishment is reluctant to act on climate change. Yet here we can see that the government is handing over cash to that same movement.

And it’s not just the WWF, which is just one of nine environmental NGOs that constitute a “Green Ten” that are beneficiaries of EU funding.

We work with the EU law-making institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers – to ensure that the environment is placed at the heart of policymaking. This includes working with our member organisations in the Member States to facilitate their input into the EU decision-making process.

Membership contributions are an important part of the finances of Green 10 organisations. We also receive core funding from the European Commission, except for Greenpeace. Furthermore, some member organisations of the Green 10 receive funding on a case-by-case basis for specific projects from governments and foundations. Some organisations also receive specific donations from industry. Greenpeace does not request or accept financial support from governments, the EU or industry. All Green 10 organisations are externally audited every year.

The members are:

What is stranger than Green lobby groups being happy to take significant wads of dosh from the very governments that they accuse of being climate criminals is that those governments should want to fund the enemy within to the tune of tens/hundreds/thousands of millions of dollars annually.

Could you imagine the fuss, if the sceptics had had nearly 5 billion dollars, to do ‘scientific research’, and were contracted by the government to ‘inform the public’?

Time and again, year after year, and in spite of the billions of dollars available to the environmental movement, polls show that US and UK publics are not interested in being eco-hectored. (And here’s another example courtesy of Philip Stott).

Governments, on the other hand, seem to enjoy being told what to do. Or, more accurately, to enjoy paying people to tell them what to tell other people to do – it saves them the trouble of having to work out for themselves what to tell people to do. Environmentalists might like to think they are part of some sort of grass-roots, popular, and radical movement. But what kind of grass roots movement needs such huge handouts to spend on PR? Environmentalism is rife at all levels of society except one – the electorate. It is anything but a popular, mass movement. The Environmentalist’s superficial radicalism, and the bogus urgency of calls to ‘save the planet’ have been attractive to politicians only because their endless and desperate search for popular policy ideas has consistently failed to engage the voters. But they are mistaken. Environmentalism is very much part of the establishment.

May 192008

Last year we mentioned Ian Roberts’ theory, as reported in New Scientist, that fat people are responsible for more than their fair share of global warming, and, in order to get a snappy headline out of it, we tied it into another New Scientist article, which was critical of research by Willie Soon, who had suggested that polar bears aren’t as vulnerable as is widely claimed. Both NS articles were, in our view, rather shoddy, reflecting the magazine’s partiality in the climate debate. Who could not form the impression that fat people were more responsible than the rest of us for the demise of the polar bear, if they took the magazine at face value? Excuses for snappy headlines aside, our post – ‘Fat People Are Killing the Polar Bears - was intended to demonstrate the confusion between the science and morality of climate change.

True to the eco-warrior’s demands that we ‘Reduce! Re-use! Recycle!’, Roberts’ argument – which deserves to go to landfill – has been recycled, in an article entitled Fat is an environmental issue in, yes, New Scientist magazine, who, on the same day, also reports uncritically more recycled ‘news’ from uber-eco-warriors, the WWF, that human activities are devastating the world’s wildlife. What have these fatsos got against polar bears, for goodness sake?

According to Roberts and his London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine colleague Phil Edwards, the fatties have to take the blame for not only climate change but also for panic-du jour, the global food crisis. Writing in the Lancet they argue that:

Petrol tanks and stomachs were competing well before biofuels were proposed to tackle climate change. Motorised transport is more than 95% oil-dependent and accounts for almost half of world oil use. Because oil is a key agricultural input, demand for transportation fuel affects food prices. Increased car use also contributes to rising food prices by promoting obesity which, for the reasons outlined below, increases the global demand for food.

Roberts and Edwards want the government to address the obesity ‘epidemic’, climate change and the food crisis in one fell swoop by making it more difficult for people to get around:

Urban transport policies that promote walking and cycling would reduce food prices by reducing the global demand for oil, and promotion of a normal distribution of BMI would reduce the global demand for, and thus the price of, food. Decreased car use would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thus the need for bio-fuels, and increased physical activity levels, would reduce injury risk and air pollution, improving population health.

Of course, the government is already making it more difficult for people to get around. Increasingly, making it more difficult for people to get around is what governments are for, hence our point that local and national governments use ‘saving the planet’ to justify the reduction of public services, in favour of authoritarian, restrictive, and punishing policies, and in doing so, turn the notion of public service on its head.

But why pick on fat people? If calorie intake is the problem, what about those irritating, self-righteous athletic types? Or if resource use is what troubles them, how about, let’s say, academics, whose airmile quotient between conferences and (mis)use of precious paper outstrips by orders of magnitude what your average gluttonous member of the general public gets through? Or what about overweight academics? Or, overweight, denialist academics?

But calorie intake is not the only problem, apparently. Fat people are also lazy people, inclined to use cars more than the rest of us. And using cars makes you fatter. And then there’s all the extra fuel needed to transport all that extra lipid from A to B.

Recycling old research is, of course, necessary to keep the climate issue high up on the news agenda. But it has little to do with science. Nor, for that matter, news. It is political. And Roberts isn’t the only one doing it. Enter the WWF

The latest data on the global biodiversity of vertebrates shows that it has fallen by almost one-third in the last 35 years. But experts say it may still underestimate the effect humans have had on global species counts.

The Living Planet Index (LPI) follows trends in nearly 4,000 populations of 1,477 vertebrate species and is said to reflect the impact humans have on the planet…

New figures show that between 1970 and 2005, the global LPI has fallen by 27%. This suggests that the world will fail to meet the target of reducing the rate of biodiversity loss set by the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity.

Just as Ian Roberts grabs the headlines whenever – like some sort of bulimic ex-deputy prime minister – he regurgitates his antisocial theories, WWF can rely on the world’s media to tell it how the WWF like to think it is every time they publish the latest version of their Living Planet report. And they’ve been publishing it every couple of years or so for ten years now:

Year of Report Living Planet Index Years Covered Species Sampled URL Hysteria
1998 30 1970-1995 70 freshwater, 87 marine, terrestrial based on declines in natural forest cover link  
1999 30 1970-1995 102 freshwater, 102 marine, terrestrial based on declines in natural forest cover link Planet Earth under pressure
2000 33 1970-1999 319 forest, 194 freshwater, 217 marine link  
2002 35 1970-2000 282 terrestrial, 195 freshwater, 217 marine link Living standard seen slumping as resources run out
Earth ‘will expire by 2050′
2004 40 1970-2000 555 terrestrial, 323 freshwater, 267 marine link World Living Beyond Its Environmental Means – WWF
Consumption of Resources Is Outstripping Planet’s Ability to Cope, Says WWF
2006 30 1970-2003 695 terrestrial, 344 freshwater, 274 marine link Global ecosystems ‘face collapse’
Humans using resources of two planets, WWF warns
The state we’re in
Humans Living Far Beyond Planet’s Means – WWF
2006 27 1970-2005 813 terrestrial, 344 freshwater, 320 marine link Wildlife populations ‘plummeting’
Humans blamed for sharp drop in wildlife

World wildlife numbers down 25% in three decades
An epidemic of extinctions: Decimation of life on earth
World wildlife numbers down 25% in three decades
World species dying out like flies says WWF
Wildlife is down by one-third, says WWF
Wildlife numbers plummet globally: WWF

Year after year, the WWF and newspaper headlines tell us that wildlife is disappearing at an unprecedented rate. And yet the latest report, which surveys a larger number of species than previous ones and incorporates the expertise of scientists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), finds that the decline is not as bad as previous estimates have suggested. In the ten years that have passed since the first report, the Index has remained fairly constant. In fact, the 2008 Living Planet Index is the lowest since records began, despite the extra decade available for further declines. Carry on at this rate and, at some point, extinct species will start rising from the ashes. Of course, this apparent decline in species declines might be the result of many factors – increased sample sizes, involvement of the ZSL (for the 2006 and 2008 reports only), better controls for biased samples (earlier reports did not even attempt to control for the fact that species for which long-term population data are available tend to be species for which we have good reason to believe might be declining – rare or commercially important species, for example), etc. But the fact remains that species declines have been significantly overestimated in the past – by about a third, according to this latest estimate. It’s just that ‘Wildlife declines not as bad as previously thought’ doesn’t quite pack the same punch headline-wise. And one can only imagine the eco-pocalyptic headlines had previous estimates been found to be too low.

We remain unconvinced that the sample merits extrapolation to vertebrate species as a whole. The research has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal (although, according to co-author Dr Ben Collen of the ZSL, it has been accepted for publication by Conservation Biology), so all we have to go on is the WWF report (which isn’t much help) and an interview with Collen. He told us that, while all species were weighted equally in the index, they did check for bias towards declining species by looking at the rationale behind the collection of population data for each species in the first place. This way they were able to show that species declines did not become a more important factor in choosing which species to monitor over time. This, in turn, relies on the argument that conservation biology is a relatively modern sub-discipline, emerging in the 1980s. Prior to that, he said, the emphasis was on ‘natural resource management’. But, by the same token, natural resource management could be expected to be more concerned with monitoring scarce natural resources than plentiful ones. With regard to commercially important species, which might also be expected to be declining by definition, Collen told us:

That would be true if our index had a lot of commercially exploited species. But it doesn’t. We have 241 fish species in comparison to, say, 800 birds [a taxon that is less important commercially]. In an ideal world, we’d be able to pull out all this meta-data on all these individual species, but that’s not possible.

As we keep stressing, an environmentalist conspiracy this is not. It’s just convenient. It’s convenient for the WWF (obviously); it’s convenient for journalists and newspapers, in that they can keep on publishing big scary numbers devoid of sobering context; it’s convenient for the scientists at the Zoological Society of London who, like all scientists, increasingly have to justify themselves in terms of media coverage and social impact; and it’s convenient for directionless politicians. A sure sign of just how convenient big numbers are for everybody concerned is that, following the 2002 edition of the Living Planet report, Reuters reported erroneously, in a story picked up by many other outlets (including Yahoo, ENN, Planet Ark), that more than a third of all species had gone extinct since 1970:

The study found that human economic activity had reduced the number of surviving animal, bird and fish species by 35 percent over the past 30 years.

Freshwater fish had been especially badly hit, losing over half the species in existence in 1970, while key marine species – most of which provide food for the burgeoning popu
lation of humans – were down by just under 40 percent.

A simple mistake, perhaps. And yet nobody raised a sceptical eyebrow. Except us. As we said at the time:

News of environmental catastrophe tends to be accepted without question. The idea of plummeting biodiversity has become so ingrained in our mindset that the actual number of species reported to be disappearing per unit time doesn’t matter – just as long as it’s a very big number. Society, it seems, is content only when it can be confident that Mother Nature is drawing her final, wheezing breath.

The Living Planet Index comprises but one half of the Living Planet report. The rest consists of the Ecological Footprint – the index of how many planets-worth of resources we are using up with our decadent modern lifestyles. We might revisit this in the near future. Because you can bet your internal organs that the footprint is as silly as the LPI is hyped. Suffice it to say for now that we suspect that humankind has been using the Earth’s resources at a faster rate than they can be replenished throughout the entire course of our history. Because the WWF’s calculations take absolutely no account whatsoever of the possibilities for technological development. How many planets-worth were we using prior to the Green Revolution, for example? How many planets-full of North American buffalo would have been required to make the Native American lifestyle ‘sustainable’? We like to think that someone somewhere has actually done the calculations. But then again, that sort of research isn’t quite so convenient for anyone.

It is also worth noting that the ZSL scientists involved in the Living Planet report are commissioned by WWF. At Climate Resistance, we don’t really give a monkey’s (endangered, fat or otherwise) who funds what research by whom. Many do care, however, including, as we have seen, New Scientist, who chose to make Willie Soon’s alleged links to the oil industry the focal point of its coverage of his polar bear research last year. Strange, then, that the mag doesn’t even mention the ZSL’s financial links to a dodgy pressure group in its coverage.

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