Don’t Blame Collapse of Credibility on the IPCC’s Wobbly Chair

by | Feb 4, 2010

Ben has a brief comment on the credibility of the IPCC and the climate change agenda in The Guardian, today, with a slightly longer version on the Guardian’s site. There are also comments there from some familiar names.

However, Ben’s comment was written in about 5 minutes last night, and had a word limit. The points raised there might do with some clarification.

Sceptics, understandably, have been enjoying the last few months which started with Climategate, which was followed by the failure of Copenhagen and the discovery of questionable sources being included in IPCC reports, and lastly the increasingly bizarre behaviour of IPCC Chair, Rajendra Pachauri. This has led to questions about the members of the climate change establishment that full time warmers have had trouble batting away. There is a curious consensus is emerging between some alarmists and some sceptics, that figures such as Phil Jones and Rajendra Pachauri ought to step down.

On the one hand, this should be welcomed as an acknowledgement that there’s something wrong with the process. But it isn’t.

Instead, it merely suggests that the problem with climate change alarmism has just been the failure of just a few individuals, bending a statistic here and there, or massaging data slightly when it’s inconvenient.

This is not the case. If we start from the argument that the IPCC, and many other climate research institutes have been established (or have moved this way) to fulfil political needs, then the problem is the politics that existed well before that scientific process produced any data, corrupted or not. The problem that turned a science reporter’s failure in 1998 into a dramatic call for action over a decade later was not mere oversight.

We have been arguing here that ‘politics is prior to science’. This will be explained a bit more in the next post, but the point is that it takes a presupposition about society to turn relatively small changes in climate into catastrophes. For instance, it is very hard to argue that a change of a few degrees here or a statistically significant change in the amount of rain we receive here in the UK would be a ‘catastrophe’. We know that we have the means to cope with such change, even if it’s beyond our current generation of planners to cope with snow, rain, and snow. So climate activists of all flavours argue that “climate change will be worse for the poor”. The logic of this is that because life in poorer regions is that much closer to ‘nature’, its changes produce a greater human cost than they do here in the more industrialised world. But in that argument is the presupposition that those poorer regions cannot develop.

Accepting this presupposition is equivalent to making it true, because it precludes the alternative. It is on this basis that the “science” proceeds, and goes in search for the parameters of the ‘tipping point’, to establish just how close we are to Armageddon. This is in contrast to the popular misconception of the climate debate that environmental ethical imperatives have emerged from climate science.

Calling for the resignations of senior staff at climate change institutions is to forget that they were merely “doing their job”. Moreover, they likely took seriously the political premises of the alarmist narrative. It’s that that they ought to be held accountable for, but no more so than any other figure with a public profile. Politicians, for instance, such as Ed Miliband, have capitalised on the scare story, and sought to define themselves, their political agenda, and their legitimacy by it. Miliband might argue in reply “I’m just doing what the scientists say needs to be done”. He forgets to examine that they might have been told what to do, although not explicitly. Even if Miliband was also to resign, the premises of environmentalism and climate alarmism would not be challenged. All that it would mean is that the institutions that have been created by environmentalism were staffed by slightly different people, most likely with the same ideas.

Climate alarmism is a hydra. Cut off its head, and another will rear itself into view. And it will be just as ugly.


  1. geoffchambers

    Congratulations on the article in the Guardian. Good work for five minutes. Any idea why they chose to contact you? The Guardian is playing a complex game, but the fact that it is a game, and not a disinterested journalistic search for the truth, is demonstrated by the bizarre mixture of articles on Guardian Environment over the past week.
    Fred Pearce, the New Scientist journalist whose reported telephone conversation with an Indian scientist started the melting glaciers story which has been so damaging to the IPCC, is now writing “scoops” for the Guardian at the rate of one every few hours, making ludicrous claims of exclusivity for stories which have been circulating on the net for years. Any one of a dozen Guardian regular science or environment correspondents could write the same articles, and claim the same scoops, by simply trawling Wattsupwiththat, yet they are silent. Why? Monbiot could do it, and salvage his reputation as a defender of honesty in science. Instead, he is at Pearce’s side, pushing his protégé, (“the brilliant reporter … has spent decades explaining and championing climate science ..”) and claiming that the heads of the IPCC and the CRU are a disgrace to their profession and must go, and yet the science is sound. Why?
    Many welcome the Guardian’s new apparent openness and return to normal journalistic practice. But, as Scientistfortruth noted in a comment at Bishop Hill, a commenter’s query as to why all these articles by Pearce were suddenly appearing was answered by Guardian Environment correspondent James Randersen as follows: “The Guardian’s editorial line is that global warming is happening and caused by human actions…”
    The science is the editorial line, and the editorial line is the science. A perfect example of your central point about the politics being prior to the science.
    Now go to the Guardian’s latest scoop, and note how, for the first time, they have mentioned the names of McIntyre, Watts, and co., not in the context of their revelations, which Pearce is now daily claiming for himself as his personal scoops, but in the context of the investigations into the criminal hacking of CRU emails.
    In the Catholic church, only the Witchfinder General mentions Beelzebub.

  2. gus steen

    As a left-footer myself (you may have guessed) I have to point out that the Catholic Church never had a Witchfinder, either General, Colonel, or even Private. Otherwise, I agree with Geoff.
    What I would like to know is, when they say that the science is still sound, what are they refering to? Of course I’ve been wondering about that ever since the Hockey Stick was debunked. As far as I can tell (and believe me I have looked) there is precious little evidence of unusual warming, none at all that it is human generated, and now even the evidence that there has been warming at all in the last century is looking shaky.
    Where exactly do the Guardianistas place their faith? The evidence of things unseen, indeed…

  3. George Carty

    I’ve sometimes likened the big green NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to the corrupt Catholic priests of medieval times who made big money by selling indulgences. The businesses which stand to profit from cap-and-trade could also be placed in the same category…

  4. Rich

    “So climate activists of all flavours argue that “climate change will be worse for the poor”. The logic of this is that because life in poorer regions is that much closer to ‘nature’, its changes produce a greater human cost than they do here in the more industrialised world.”

    I understood that environmentalists – at least the extreme ones – were clamouring for a return to a life-style “closer to nature”. Doesn’t it follow, then, that that’s a return to times when humanity is more at risk from ‘nature’? Wouldn’t that include humanity’s children that we’re supposed to be doing this all for?

  5. George Carty

    And another point — wouldn’t it be impossible to support our current planetary population without modern technology — specifically chemical fertilizers (which vastly increase the productivity of a given area of land) and motorized farm machinery (which eliminates the need to keep — and feed — working animals)?

    Does this not mean that reactionary environmentalism is an inherently genocidal ideology?

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