Canadian Enthusiasm: Remembering Toronto ‘88

Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.

Changing Atmosphere Conference Statement, Toronto, 30 June, 1988.

With the Greenhouse scare turning thirty this month, we remember the conference that launched it onto the global stage as the flagship cause of the Sustainable Development movement. 

Before Paris there was Kyoto, but before Kyoto there was Toronto. Most climate activists today would be too young to recall where it all began thirty years ago this month. It was at the Changing Atmosphere conference, Toronto, 27-30 June 1988, that ‘greenhouse’ warming exploded onto the global stage, with demands for an immediate policy response. So successful was this event that the ‘Toronto Target’ remained the benchmark for any government response to the climate emergency until the ‘protocol’ finally agreed in Kyoto, 1997.

The Guardian, 28 June 1988

A report from the opening of the Toronto conference in The Guardian, 28 June 1988

In the old days before the warming scare, convention deemed that local weather observations could not pronounce on local climate until the ledgers ran down a continuous 30 years. And perhaps this could be our measure of global climate scares. Compare the cooling scare: launched in 1972, it was all over by the end of the decade. That was pretty much when the build-up to the warming scare began. But this one stuck around. It grew and prospered while the promised signs of catastrophe remained ever deferred.

If some sceptics are now sounding its death knells, then we do well to remember their premature ringing many times before. This horseman may be riding for an apocalyptic fall, but ride on he does; and with tremendous institutional inertia in the science, the science funding and energy policy. That this scare continues to evolve is all too evident when we consider that there has never been a greater impact on energy policy for major economic players like Germany, Britain and Australia. And this impact is in direct opposition to what would be our agreed economic, political and security interests if there were no scare. Make no mistake, this is a major social phenomenon, the full power of which we are only coming to appreciate as it arises stronger from every successive blow to its credibility. Continue reading

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Remembering Hansen’s Congressional Testimony

 

…there is only a 1 percent chance of an accidental warming of this magnitude….[T]he greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.

James Hansen, 23 June 1988

 

With the Greenhouse scare turning thirty this summer, we remember the Congressional testimony that launched it in the USA.

Thirty years ago, on 23 June 1988, James Hansen testified to a Congressional committee that anthropogenic global warming has been detected—he claimed a 99% statistical certainty that greenhouse warming is happening now. Later, surrounded by reporters, Hansen urged an immediate policy response, thereby launching the greenhouse warming scare in the United States.

Motivation

James Hansen testifying to the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 23, 1988.

James Hansen testifying to the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, 23 June 1988

The committee hearings were called to promote a climate bill introduced by the Democrats and to promote responses to the greenhouse threat in the environmental policy platform of the Dukakis presidential campaign. There had been a number of previous attempts to promote the issue at Congressional hearings—particularly persistent was Al Gore—so it does pay to ask why this one was so spectacularly successful. Continue reading

The 1970s Global Cooling Scare (and how the warming scare could not have happened without it)

The 1970s Global Cooling Scare (and how the warming scare could not have happened without it)

This is the second post drawing on themes raised in Searching for the Catastrophe Signal.

Forty-five years ago today, two geologists penned a letter to the president of the United States warning that the rocky descent into the next ice age might have already begun.

Letter from Kukla and Matthews to the President of the United States, 3 December, 1972

A letter written by two Quaternary geologists George Kukla and Robert Matthews to Richard Nixon raised concerns that recent bad weather might indicated that the present interglacial was ending. This letter helped to set in train a series of events that raised the profile of climate anxieties in the USA and globally. Source: Reeves & Gemmill.

The year 1972 remains infamous in the annals of meteorology for extreme weather events all around the globe. Towards the end of that year, in a letter dated 3 December 1972, two geologists George Kukla and Robert Matthews warned President Nixon that… Continue reading

Why the IPCC never writes its own reports

(And why that matters)

Here begins a number of posts drawing on themes raised in Searching for the Catastrophe Signal.

IPCC_FAR_Cover

The Working Group 1 First Assessment Report was written not by the IPCC delegates but by scientific experts. When first presented for approval to the Panel, it was already a commercially published volume. The Brazil-lead revolt at that meeting soon resulted in a new intergovernmental negotiating committee completely separate from the IPCC and its parent bodies, and this committee then proceeded to replace the IPCC with its own subsidiary advisory body. Other difficulties related to the Houghton transformed of the assessment process only become apparent during the IPCC’s second and later assessments.

Have you ever wondered:

  • Exactly who are the panelists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?
  • Is the IPCC the author of its own reports?
  • Is it made up of scientists?

The answers to the last two questions are: ‘No’ it does not write its own reports, and; ‘No’ there are not many scientists on the panel.

What we call the IPCC is a revolving panel of government delegates, a few of whom have been scientists, others were science administrators, others had some science training. In short, over its 30 year history, few of the Panelists had much experience in the climate sciences. Not that that matters so much, because they do not undertake the IPCC assessments nor do they write the reports. Elected experts do that for them. All they do is ‘accept’ the expert reports and approve a summary.

This is why when the Panel shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, it was so ridiculous that Michael Mann should claim to have shared the Nobel Prize with other scientists who undertook the assessment. Surely he knew that none of them were on the Panel! But his confusion also points to the peculiar design of the entire assessment process, which has contributed over the years to particular difficulties at both the political and scientific interfaces.

The transformation of the IPCC from its mandated design

In fact, the IPCC was originally supposed to write its own reports. Continue reading

Remembering Madrid ’95: A Meeting that Changed the World

Commemorating the WMO-UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group I (Science), Fifth Session, Madrid 27-29, November 1995

In Madrid in 1995, the IPCC scientific assessment process, based on the findings of the latest research, was sorely tested. Had the science not come through unscathed, the integrity of the panel would have been seriously questioned, and governments would have faltered on taking urgent action on climate change, such as the signing in 1997 of the Kyoto Protocol (John Houghton, 2008)

Twenty years ago this month in Madrid, the success of an initiative to make a late change to the report of the Scientific Working Group of the IPCC turned around the fortunes of this United Nations WMO-UNEP panel after it had been pushed out of the climate treaty process.

The late change gave the treaty process legitimation that it desperately required, namely, authoritative scientific validation of all the public speculation about a catastrophe in the distant future. The new claim was that the balance of evidence points towards a discernible human influence on global climate. In other words, this esteemed panel of the world’s top climate scientists had decided that the evidence is now suggesting that the catastrophic change predicted by the theoretical models has already begun.

Houghton's Account of IPCC Working Group 1 meeting in Madrid 1995 in Nature 9 Oct 2008

Sir John Houghton’s account of the IPCC Working Group I meeting in Madrid appeared in Nature, 9 Oct 2008

The immense importance of this success for both the fortunes of the treaty process and for the fortunes of the IPCC was not lost to the meeting chairman who steered through the late change. Sir John Houghton later claimed that, without it, agreement on the Kyoto protocol two years later would have ‘faltered’. He also claimed that, without it, the ‘integrity of the panel would have been seriously questioned’. And yet today it seems that others who should know better (eg the academic historian Oreskes) do not understand how important it was that it was only in 1995 that an official panel had finally come up with a (however so weak) detection claim.

There is currently an idea circulating that in the 1970s a large oil producing company knew that their product was endangering humanity, but yet they hid this knowledge. If this company’s scientists did come up with any science to support such a view, then it must have been extraordinary because it was way beyond anything circulating outside in the scientific community at large. Indeed, it was only in the late 1970s that a concerted effort was begun to investigate the empirical evidence behind what can only be described as hypothetical speculation. Under funding from the US Department of Energy (DoE), scientists developing a program to investigate the ‘CO2 question’ recognized that the evidence required to turn the speculation into science would be the ‘first detection’ of the human influence on global climate. In the early 1980s ‘first detection’ studies took off. Continue reading

Tom Wigley: The skepticism and loyalty of CRU’s second director

Following my GWPF report on Hubert Lamb, there was some criticism (in comments and by email) that I was too soft on Lamb’s successor at CRU, Tom Wigley. These critiques fit the common portrayal of Wigley as an eminence gris, a shadowy figure scheming in the background, putting forward the more reckless younger scientists, while carefully maintaining plausible deniability.

Perhaps. And I can certainly see how this view has developed during the second wave of scepticism that arose with the Hockey Stick Controversy. However, this view tends to distort, if not Wigley’s personal intent, then his rôle in the whole saga.

Wigley is surely one of the most important and curious characters in our whole story. Therefore we should be especially careful not to let accusations of malevolence distract from the problem of his enigmatic rôle.  Some may well wish to lay accusations as though of a crime, where intent is crucial to conviction and sentencing. However, this is not our problem. Our problem is the historical problem: the hows and whys of this monumental corruption of our scientific institutions. In this, Wigley’s rôle, rather than his intent, is of primary importance.

For a social phenomenon, a social explanation is the most satisfying. The transformation of the science is easily explained sociologically, where psychology need only come in with its gross emergent social expression—we may call this human nature. If Wigley did not exist, then social forces would have invented him, maybe not at CRU, but somewhere.

Wigley in the economics history of CRU

Tom Wigley

Tom Wigley (Source NCAR)

There are a set of social factors that go a long way towards explaining the successful transformation effected by Wigley at CRU. Indeed, these are of sufficient force that the attribution of a sinister motive or stratagem is hardly required. Consider firstly that many competent and distinguished scientists, however so much they strive, never achieve even one first-author publication in Nature. Such publications are benchmarks of scientific advancement. As far as we know, no historical climatology paper from CRU ever made the grade. Indeed, Astrid Ogilvie (an historical climatologist at CRU from the 1970s) explained by email that it was hard to get their research published in any peer review journals until the specialist journal Climatic Change arrived in 1977. Yet, in 1981, on the CO2 question, Wigley had his name up on top, in Nature, three times in just two months!
Continue reading

Lamb wrap-up: Richard Scorer

My report for the GWPF, Hubert Lamb and the transformation of climate science, has generated some public comment serving to enrich the historical discussion. See at Jo Nova, Bishop Hill, WattsUpWithThat, Breitbart and Quadrant. Others have corresponded privately by email. In the following few posts I pull out for comment a few topics that caught my eye. This one is thanks to David Unwin.


In my survey of early skeptics (GWPF report p33-5), rather than mention them all (there are just too many!), I restricted myself to a very special class. These are those like Lamb, who were leaders of key research groups in the field during the 1970s. This restriction meant that I left out of consideration many leading researchers. To give just two examples, there were Reginald Newell and Richard Lindzen, both at MIT in the 1980s when the scare hit, and both openly skeptical from the beginning. (For more about a few of the other leading skeptics, see in this book.) However, in the context of Lamb’s skepticism, there is one contemporary who might qualify, but, if not, then he is certainly worth remembering.

Richard Scorer portrait, Source: WeatherVolume 66, Issue 11, page 311, November 2011

Richard Scorer (Source)

Richard Scorer (1919-2011) led a small atmospheric research group in the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College during the 1970s. In 1986 he became president of the Royal Meteorological Society and was active in that rôle through to 1998. Scorer is a nice balance to Lamb. Lamb’s interest in historical evidence of past climates too easily associates him with the past—with the old descriptive way of climatology. Whereas Scorer was very much a part of the movement towards climatology as a physical science. Continue reading