A Discernible Political Influence...
John L. Daly
(23 April 2000)
The latest draft of the IPCC's `Third Assessment Report' (TAR-2000), circulated on 16th April 2000, is a massive technical document, the final version not expected to be published until January 2001.
Most of the findings in this draft are underpinned by one critical assumption - namely that the `surface record' of global temperature as published by CRU (UK) and GISS (USA) is an accurate representation of the actual temperature history of the earth since 1860. This assumption has been challenged on numerous occasions by various scientists on a variety of grounds, the most compelling of which is the failure of the surface record to match the mutually consistent records from satellites and sonde balloons. In addition, even an examination of individual station records on this website shows that the global and hemispheric statistical aggreggates produced by CRU and GISS bear little relation to individual records from those weather stations which are known to be free of local measurement errors such as urban heating, other environmental distortions, and equipment/procedural faults.
This article is not a critique of the main body of the report. In the world of environmental politics, few will even get to read that document. Rather, the `policymakers' (politicians, ministers, public servants etc.) will be guided by the `Summary for Policymakers' (SPM), which is the only part of the report they will take any serious note of. It is this summary which forms the basis of this critique as it here where the politically biased aspects of the report are at their most evident.
Cherchez la `Small Print' !
To begin, here is a strange footnote on page 1 of the SPM, in small print -
The IPCC have taken 10 years to get the public and policymakers used to the idea that the phrase `climate change' refers only to possible human-induced changes. Indeed this very definition is incorporated into the `Framework Convention on Climate Change', the international treaty which governs inter-governmental activity on climate research and negotiations.
Here, the IPCC are unilaterally changing that definition to include all changes, including purely natural ones, but doing so only with a small-print footnote, so that the report is then free to use the term `climate change' indiscriminately in such a way that the public and policymakers may unwittingly attribute all climate changes reported in the document to human influence. Redefinition of terms to cloud an issue is a common political practice, but not so common in science.
Re-Inventing the Past
The IPCC have made a major revision to history, in that they have abolished the `Medieval Warm Epoch' (MWE) a very warm period around 1100-1200 AD (during the Viking era), certainly warmer than today, by as much as +2°C. In addition, they have rendered the `Little Ice Age' of the 17th century hardly distinguishable from other centuries, a period when global temperatures were about -1°C cooler than today. There is only tenuous evidence at best for this revision of history, mostly from tree rings, but it is consistent with an effort to characterise the late 20th century as being somehow unique and unprecedented.
To demonstrate these claims visually, they present the following graph of temperatures over the last 1,000 years. The significance is plain - according to the SPM, the Medieval Warm Epoch never happened and the Little Ice Age is hardly detectable. The scale of the revisionism is so breathtaking as to be positively Orwellian.
The evidence to support these revisions are almost entirely from tree rings, not the most reliable form of proxy evidence upon which to overturn well-established facts of climate history. Tree rings only record the climate of the growing season, not the whole year. Tree rings are also influenced by rainfall, access to light, and other environmental variables, and are thus not an exclusive indicator of annual temperature as the tree ring researchers would have us believe.
The imprint of the MWE is clearly suggested in this tree ring record (below) from Tasmanian Huon Pines, at the opposite end of the world to the North Atlantic region (the only region the IPCC concedes to have been warm during the medieval period). Of course, being tree rings, it could just be warm summers, or even wet summers. The Little Ice Age is not evident here, but then again, these are just seasonal tree rings, not indicators of annual temperature. The `jump' in tree ring width at the end of the graph is consistent with the impact of CO2 fertilisation, a positive outcome from CO2 enhancement..
It has even been shown that tree species in Siberia often fail to show known past warmings if the snow volume is greater, as would be expected from increased precipitation following from a warmer climate [Hughes, Nature, July 8 1999]. It seems the settled unmelted snow prevents the roots from warming up, thus restricting the growth of trees during the early spring and giving a false impression to tree-ring observers of no warming. Just such absurd outcomes are all it takes to mask the Medieval Warm Epoch in some tree ring studies. In using tenuous and disputed evidence to suggest the MWE did not exist, we have the first `discernible political influence' on this report.
Evidence of the global nature of the Medieval Warm Epoch and the Little Ice Age is contained in lake bed deposits in Kenya and in the Sargasso Sea (chart). In overturning a mountain of past evidence of these two events by a few recent tree ring studies - and treating it as undisputed fact - demonstrates the IPCC tendency to select those fragments of evidence which accords with their warming agenda. Since this requires that the late 20th century be seen as unprecedentedly warm, with 1998 being the `warmest year of the Millenium', denial of the existence of the Medieval Warm Epoch is essential to that agenda.
Even the cliche `Warmest Year of the Millenium' for 1998, amounts to little more than a publicity exercise to engage public attention during a period of `millenium fever'. There is no means by which anyone can know the climate of any single year (prior to about 1800) in the last 1,000 years, so the claims in that regard were entirely frivolous and designed only for grabbing headlines. That such nonsense should appear in a purportedly scientific inter-governmental report is all the more reason to attribute it to yet more `discernible political influence'.
How Consistent is `consistent with...'?
The satellite record has been subject to intensive reviews, mostly hostile, in an attempt to find errors, any errors which would force it to exhibit an upward trend more consistent with that shown by the surface record. By 2000, the accumulated 21-year trends since 1979 were nearly +0.4°C for the surface record and +0.1°C for the satellite record, a widening gap of around around 0.3°C between them.
The obvious `Ockam's Razor' response when confronted with such a discrepancy is to check to see if one of the data sets might be wrong. That may be the obvious common-sense response, but that is not the response of the IPCC, or of the NRC which investigated this problem in January. Instead, both have fudged the issue, downplaying the importance of the problem. There have been rigorous and independent reviews of the satellite data, resulting in very minor upward corrections of only a few hundredths of a degree, hardly sufficient to justify the claim that the two "are now more consistent". That was an absurd and misleading conclusion given the miniscule corrections involved.
The second paragraph even refers to `corrections' to several data sets `especially' satellite-derived data, implying that the satellites were the ones in dire need of correction (which given the tiny corrections involved, they clearly were not). And yet this statement conceals the only sensible inference to be drawn, which is that the surface record is the one urgently needing independent review and correction. The satellites are validated not only by the rigorous reviews they successfully passed, but also by the network of sonde balloons which has returned data wholly consistent with the satellite record.
The third paragraph in the IPCC quote above contains false data. They claim a difference of `about 0.05°C to 0.1°C per decade' between the surface and satellites. Yet the January 2000 NRC report into this very problem states it quite clearly as being between +0.25°C and +0.35°C over two decades, a quite serious difference needing urgent examination.
The last sentence in this quote leaves open the suggestion that the decline in Arctic sea ice may even be worse in other parts of the Arctic. It's effect is that of innuendo, leaving the the reader to speculate about the details.
See my article on this Arctic sea ice issue where the time scale is shown to be the crucial factor. The period cited, 1958-1976 is right in the depths of the post-war cooling (as per this Jan Mayen Island record above), where Arctic ice expanded from the record Arctic warmth of the late 1930s. The Arctic today is not as warm as in the 1930s as station records from there readily attest. Since the cited IPCC start years were anomalously cold, of course there has been a decline in Arctic sea ice since that time. But it was natural variability, not man-made. Many IPCC claims depend on similar `end-date distortions' as a means to suggest trends which may not really exist once those distortions are evened out by longer-term data series.
Interestingly, the SPM makes no mention of Antarctic sea ice. Recent papers suggest that even though Arctic sea ice has decreased over the period specified above, Antarctic sea ice has actually increased in extent. The SPM chooses to highlight Arctic sea ice, but omits to mention Antarctic sea ice.
My researches on the 1841 benchmark on the `Isle of the Dead' in Port Arthur, Tasmania (which is tectonically stable), shows just how misleading such claims of `sea level rise' are. At the `Isle of the Dead', there has been no rise in sea level at all since the benchmark struck there by Antarctic explorer Captain Sir James Clark Ross in 1841, was examined in 1890, 1985, and 2000. When the full evidence is considered, there are strong indications that there was a sea level fall during the 19th century. The IPCC have no reliable data to pre-date that benchmark and so it stands in stark testament to the fact that sea levels have not changed significantly in the 20th century.
Most tide gauges, especially ones with long records, are located in regions which suffer tectonic activity and/or land uplift/subsidence from post-glacial rebound (mostly in the northern hemisphere), or changes in sea bed topography (eg. movements of sand shoals) affecting tidal patterns in places like the British Isles and northern Europe. Such records cannot be reliable and are largely uncorrectable, particularly when we are looking for such small changes on the scale of milllimetres and centimetres.
More El Nino?
Why cite the mid 1970s? The dates appear to have more to do with perceptions than with their scientific significance. Here is the El Nino/La Nina cycle since 1970. If we ignore that extra 5 years at the start of the series we would get the impression of dominance by El Nino. But adding that 5 years puts it into better perspective. If we simply start our series at 1996, that would show La Nina as dominant, a very different interpretation to the one being promoted.
The idea that El NIno is linked to `global warming' was first postulated by Kevin Trenberth, partly because El Nino events always create a brief period of warming, while La Nina creates similar periods of cooling. Thus the idea that warm El NInos would begin to prevail over cool La Ninas has an obvious appeal within the warming scenario. The recent resurgence of La Nina has made Trenberth's claim somewhat redundant and it is therefore misleading for the IPCC to still promote this linkage.
Increases in Greenhouse Gases
Carbon dioxide has increased in the atmosphere, but not at the exponential rate predicted earlier by the IPCC. Instead, the increase has been generally linear averaging about 1.6 ppm per year over the last two decades. (The rate of increase is higher during El Nino events and lower during La Nina events). This is an important difference because an exponential increase would have resulted in CO2 doubling in a much shorter time than would be the case with a linear increase. At the present rate, CO2 doubling from its assumed pre-industrial level of 280 ppm would be expected to occur in about 120 years from now.
This doubling scenario is the benchmark around which the model predictions are based and assume, without justification, that fossil fuels will be used at increasing rates during all that period, irrespecitive of technology changes, and pays no regard to the expected exhaustion of the world's oil and gas reserves.
As for methane (CH4) , the IPCC here is being quite disingenuous. They characterise the rate of increase as having `become slower' in the past two decades, but the reality is that the increase has actually stopped since about 1992. Their use of the term `past two decades' incorporates the pre-1992 methane increases and thus conveys the false impression that methane is still increasing in the atmosphere. We can therefore infer a`discernible political influence' behind this misleading characterisation of methane.
`A Discernible Human Influence'
Does the IPCC seriously think that the `discernible human influence' phrase will work a second time round? It caught media attention in 1995, but the statement itself is quite fatuous since it does not define exactly which human influences they believe are `discernible'. It is patently self-evident that there has been human influence on the climate since Man first walked on the planet. Land clearing, deliberate burning of forests, bush and grassland (including by aboriginal peoples), de-forestation etc., all have an impact, however small, on climate.
There is plenty of evidence to show that deforestation on a large scale raises suface temperature in the region affected by up to 2°C, an effect which has nothing at all to do with greenhouse gases. Then there are the urban areas with their own warming micro-climates, again unrelated to greenhouse gases. There are the human impacts on vast areas of agricultural land which again may change temperatures into something different than they would have been in their wilderness state, but without greenhouse gases. Every large-scale land use change involves a change in albedo (surface reflectivity) and thus a change, however slight, in the radiative balance.
In this document, the `human influence' is clearly intended to be applied only to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but the statement is phrased in such a way that it can also be defended on the grounds of including all human influences, not just greenhouse gases.
The claim (below) that the surface record is "more closely scrutinised" is a nonsense given the obvious avoidance of independent scrutiny of that record. The surface record shows a warming, so there is no motive to subject it to the same kind of rigorous review that the maverick satellite record was exposed to. Such a reluctance to engage in this very necessary review is not the kind of response which science would or should demand, but is certainly the kind of inaction one would normally associate with politics.
Note also from this quote the repeat of the earlier claim that the warming of the last 100 years was exceptional compared with any other time in the last 1,000 years, again denying the existence of the Medieval Warm Epoch.
The `instrumental record' is the one which is at variance with the satellite record. Until such time as the surface record is subject to the same independent and stringent review process (with corrections if needed), then such claims cannot be credible. The satellite record is the only one to have passed independent review, leaving the surface record unreviewed, uncorrected, and simply not credible.
No report claiming the status of `science' would be complete without a few token `uncertainties', a few harmless expressions of scientific caution to maintain an image of conservative scientific rectitude. The `uncertainties' here are in stark contrast to the hard statements of undisputed `fact' earlier in the summary. They are essentially token expressions and do nothing to modify or moderate the more alarming statements elsewhere in the policymakers summary.
Inherent in all these above statements is the assumption that the surface record is established and scientifically undisputed. They do not even hint at the conflict between surface and satellites/sondes as a key `uncertainty' in their above list. Nor do they acknowledge the lack of warming in the polar regions (which, according to the models, should show the largest warmings of all), another major `uncertainty'. To admit to these latter uncertainties might endanger the warming agenda in a serious way, and are thus not mentioned.
Back to the Future
The IPCC have returned to their original numbers first popularised at the Toronto Conference of 1988, namely a predicted warming upon doubling of CO2 of +1.5°C to +4.5°C, probably to counter the observation by some critics that the IPCC predictions were being progressively wound back. Here, they have hosed down any expectations that the predictions might be moderated even further in this report.
They have even gone back to their old `thermal inertia' theory to explain away the lack of sufficient warming to date. It had been less used of late, being replaced by the `sulfates cooling' theory to explain the lack of warming. Since the sulfates theory is failing to demonstrate its existence in the very places it should be most evident (eg. the northern hemisphere), it is interesting that the IPCC are now restoring the ocean thermal inertia theory.
A Recently Cracked Record
The fatal flaws in the surface record have already been comprehensively discussed on this website both here and also here. But in spite of this, the IPCC adheres to the surface record as its primary means to justify to policymakers that warming really is ongoing. Without it, the IPCC would be left with obscure proxy indicators and computer models, the latter having proved to be poor predictors of anything.
There has been a significant decline during the 1990s in the number of weather stations worldwide, especially the crucial non-urban ones. The result has been an increasing bias toward urban records in the surface record and a degraded geographical spread. But this has not deterred the IPCC from presenting the `global mean temperature' estimates as undisputed fact, with no reservations about the effect this station decline must be having and has had on the accuracy of the 1990s temperature estimates.
Note also the claim that "it may be difficult or impossible to detect climate change" if the observational networks continue to decline. Really? Are the climate changes they predict so slight as to be undetectable except by fine instruments and statistical processing? If so, why should the public even be concerned about it? Without the surface network to provide the raw material there could be no `surface record' as it is presently promoted. We would have to rely instead on the satellites and that would remove a vital pillar from the warming theory.
What Might Have Been ...
Presented here in the SPM are two graphs, one to compare `observations' ( ie. the surface record) with model simulations using natural climate forcings only, and the other to compare the same surface record with model simulations using man-made greenhouse gas forcings.
The contrast is both startling and clumsy at the same time. On the one hand they feed public anxiety with the results of `model simulations', while on the other hand they present a scenario which says we would have cooled even further than in the cold period of the 1960s, but for rising greenhouse gases.
Global cooling is much less benign to human and ecological welfare than the prospect of warming. Cooling results in droughts, frosts, blizzards, tornadoes, deaths from cold, and famine. Warming results in greater rainfall globally with fewer frosts, less famine, and fewer deaths from cold. Are we being seriously asked to believe that the right hand graph is more scary than the left hand one? It was only 25 years ago when many scientists (including leading warming advocate, Stephen Schneider) were warning of the dangers of an impending ice age. The science which explains the astronomical causes of ice ages has not significantly changed and the above charts suggest, paradoxically, that were it not for rising CO2 in the atmosphere, we could be well on our way by now toward the next ice age.
Neither graph can be assumed to reflect reality, given the flaws in the surface record and the lack of proven predictive capability of the models, but it does demonstrate the degree to which `warming' has been demonised while `cooling' is now deemed to be `good'. In fact, quite the reverse is true, it is cooling which should cause the greatest concern, not warming.
The Final Report, 2001
When the final report is published next year, it is unlikely the IPCC will repeat the fiasco of 1995 over the Chapter 8 affair. However, with this latest draft, they appear not to have learned from the experience of the last 10 years where the use of selective evidence, treating disputed evidence as undisputed fact, making biased assertions, and the disproportionate influence of a small group of high-profile scientists, inspired opposition from both within and outside the scientific community. Their inability and unwillingness to engage public participation either before or after their reports are issued is a key weakness behind the whole IPCC process.
Put simply, the public are unwilling to be `talked down to', and that is what these reports do. Growing public hostility and/or mere indifference to the IPCC and its agenda has become reflected in the attitudes and votes adopted in various parliaments and legislatures of western democracies as shown by the US Senate, Australia, and the recent fall of the Norwegian government (due to its pro-Kyoto policies).
Scientism - the `Dark Side' of Science
Finally, the IPCC is an inter-governmental organisation paid for by the taxes of ordinary people. They do not welcome any input from the public, a public who would be profoundly affected (and also impoverished) by policies arising from this report. The draft TAR-2000 is intended for `experts only' and to reinforce this point, the report only has a restricted circulation, with this notice on each and every page -
Such restrictions are against the public interest and an attempt at preventing public involvement in what is patently a vital public issue. The vain attempt at restricting access to the report, reflects an elitist attitude within some sections of the scientific community, namely `scientism'. We have seen similar attitudes in respect of genetic engineering, cloning of animals, animal experimentation, nuclear technology, social sciences, the monopolistic practices of orthodox medicine, and numerous others where the scientists involved show disdain for public opinion or society's ethics.
Scientism reflects a belief that scientists are the only people fit to express an opinion on matters within the competence of science, that scientific `findings' should take precedence over any other kind of knowledge. Since scientism regards science as universally applicable to any situation, it follows that any knowledge not acquired by science has little or no worth. Within this view of knowledge, art and artists are superfluous, as of course is religion. As for public opinion, only `informed' opinion counts, scientism regarding scientists as both judge and jury as to what does or does not constitute `informed' opinion.
Decision-makers can be intellectually intimidated by institutional `findings', such as those of the IPCC, whenever those findings are characterised as `scientific'. The danger this holds for society is that scientism may gain unelected influence over public policy, at the expense of democracy, and effectively disenfranchising the people from exercising control over their own lives. Since scientism asserts universal application for science, there is scarcely any aspect of public policy which could not in time become the exclusive preserve of scientists.
There is historical precedent for such a development in the power wielded by the medieval priesthoods during earlier centuries. Today, panels of scientists like the IPCC and the NRC, are beginning to usurp a similar political role, using their self-asserted monopoly over `acceptable' knowledge as their justification.
Scientism is science with a taste for political power. It is the `dark side' of science.
The IPCC have consistently shown by its words and deeds that it is very much part of that `dark side'.
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