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

The scientists and the apocalypse

The meeting of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Sundsvall, Sweden, August 1990, witnessed a Third World revolt that was premeditated and forewarned. It had already begun in the previous working group meetings set to develop international policy responses to the climate crisis. But only in Sundsvall, under the leadership of Brazil, did it succeed in smashing this carefully conceived science-to-policy process at its very nexus. Within months the revolution was complete.

Cover of the foreign edition of Climate change: the factsAt the United Nations General Assembly that December, the climate treaty process was taken from the IPCC and its UN parent bodies—the Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). Instead, a new negotiating committee would report directly to the General Assembly, where the poor countries commanded an overwhelming majority. The IPCC, dominated by scientists from rich countries, was directed to serve this new committee in the interim, until a subsidiary body for technical advice could be established. As for the two peak science-policy organisations who first conceived the IPCC, by winter 1991 they were out in the cold.

This banishment from the treaty process was particularly shocking for UNEP. In the afterglow of its success with the ozone treaty, it was coming up to the 20th anniversary of its inception at the 1972 UN Stockholm conference where global environmentalism was born. Riding a new wave of environmental consciousness, another grand conference was in the planning to mark the anniversary. The Rio ‘Earth Summit’ of 1992 would be the biggest UN talkfest to date, with its policy centre-piece The Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). But few would ever guess just how much this Convention was a political triumph not for UNEP but for the conference hosts, Brazil. Its success would set in train the role of the poor countries in the climate treaty negotiations where the talks would stall and stall again with their repeated attempts to use the pretext of warming mitigation to increase the flow of aid.

In The Age of Global Warming Robert Darwall details how global environmentalism concentrated itself onto the global warming scare. Here we take up with a group of activist climate scientists, tracing how they enter this political game, how the greater politics of the UN quickly overwhelmed and corrupted their science, and, finally, how the academies of science were soon dragged down with them….

This is the opening of my essay in the new book Climate Change: the facts, available in ebook from Amazon, or in print from the IPA.

The Scepticism of Hubert Horace Lamb Part II


Lamb’s Skepticism: Cleansing the MemoryBefore the Warming Boom

SourceBookDiscussion on Bishop Hill


Doing Climatology before the Warming Boom

Hubert Lamb was never formally trained as a meteorologist. Nor did he train as a climatologist. His entry into that field was something of a trick of fate.

Joining the Meteorological Office as a cadet weather forecaster, Lamb’s formal training was forever postponed. Instead, Lamb learned on the job while taking up posts in Scotland, Ireland, on a whaling ship in the south ocean, in Malta and in Germany. In 1954 he found himself back in the England, a permanent employee without a position. At the age of 40, with nowhere else to go, he was placed temporarily in the climatology department. The limited tenure with climatology was soon forgotten and he remained there until 1971, during which time the bulk of his research was completed.

'Why Britian's weather seems to be getting worse' by H H Lamb, The London Times, 30Aug66

Lamb on climatic change in The London Times, 30Aug66

The timing of Lamb’s entry into climatology was fortuitous. Expensive new primary research (geological, oceanographic and cryogenic) initiated in the International Geophysical Year (1957-8) was pointing toward climatic variability during very recent geological time. These findings, linked with all sorts of speculation about extreme weather events during the 1960s, provoked interest in climatic change. Upon this interest rode Lamb’s notoriety. He found himself increasingly in demand, and soon the volume of inquiries by post and telephone, and the requests for lectures and articles, began to restrict the time available to progress his research. Nonetheless, under the directorship of Graham Sutton, Lamb’s attempts to reconstruct past climates were valued, supported and encouraged. When Lamb finally published the first hefty volume of his magnum opus, Sutton would write a glowing forward.

…climatology is more than a branch of physics and it is in the wider aspects of its study that the unique nature of this book lies…This is the book that I always hoped Mr Lamb would write….I know of no other work in this field that approaches it in scope and reliability. I have no doubt that what I have been reading are the proofsheets of a classic of meteorology, and that here, if anywhere, climatology really enters into its own.
[1972, Foreword]

Such sentiments were not shared by many of Lamb’s colleagues and certainly not by the new director of the Met Office, B J Mason, appointed after Sutton retired in 1965. The new director was a vocal skeptic of cyclic natural climatic change across historical time, the nature of which Lamb was intent on establishing. Mason preferred to explain recent changes as evidence of only random fluctuations on different time scales [1, 2]. He made it clear that he did not value Lamb’s work and expressed concerns about Mr Lamb’s lack of qualifications as a climatologist. But there was more behind Mason’s dim view of Lambs efforts to glean climate data from historical archives.

Continue reading

The Skepticism of Hubert Horace Lamb


Lamb’s Skepticism: Cleansing the MemoryBefore the Warming Boom

SourceBookDiscussion on Bishop Hill


Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret.

— Horace

Even during his life, the research findings and opinions of Hubert Lamb had a strangely distorted and selective influence on the climate change debate. Previously we saw how his reconstructions of regional climate variation across the last millennium have been misused in official reports as though they might indicate the global temperature anomaly. This began in 1975 when a derivative chart of winter severity for the region of Moscow served this purpose in an influential US report. This graph was subsequently re-used many times through the 1980s to indicate the global trend. Then, in 1990, the IPCC used a very different looking graph—Lamb’s extension of Gordon Manley’s central England temperature chart—which became an idol for skeptics.

In the next two posts we stay with Lamb and consider something that has remained obscure since he died in 1997, namely, his skepticism of man-made climate change. To accompany these essays, a new page is being developed as a SourceBook of Lamb’s skepticism. There you will find for the first time on the internet extensive quotation from Lamb on this topic. Our second post also contains lots of new material where it touches on  aspects of Lamb’s professional biography that are not widely known, including his struggle to fund historical research into natural climatic change before the warming scare began. But firstly, below, we begin by exploring why the views of Lamb provided here might appear surprising and in contradiction to other internet sources. What becomes evident is that Lamb’s protestations against the greenhouse warming scare present difficulties for those promoting climate alarm, especially at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), which he founded in 1972.

Part 1: Cleansing the Collective Memory

The Wikipedia enter for Hubert Lamb tells of how he was once known as ‘the ice man.’ This claim appeared in a curious addition to the first small ‘stub’ entry on the founder of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. We are told that our ‘ice man’ gained his epithet because he predicted global cooling and the return of the ice age. But the main point of the inserted sentence is his redemption from this view.

He was originally known as the ‘ice man’ for his prediction of global cooling and a coming ice age but, following the UK’s exceptionally hot summer of 1976, he switched to predicting a more imminent global warming.
[wiki history]

Now, given that by 1976 the scientific controversy remained wallowing in equivocation about whether the human influence was warming or cooling [see Matthews Nov76, Peterson Sept08], and given that greenhouse warming alarm only got traction in the late 1980s, this ice-man-redemption passage in the Wikipedia entry suggests that Lamb was a harbinger of warming alarm. He was nothing of the sort.

Continue reading

Hubert Lamb and the assimilation of legendary ancient Russian winters

Millennuium Idols Part II

fig 5: The millennium icon of the late 1970s and early 1980s

fig. 5 (repeated): The millennium idol of the late 1970s and early 1980s

(Go to Part I)

This essay primarily addresses the misconception that prior to the IPCC First Assessment there prevailed in paleoclimatology the picture of a generalized warming that reach an outstanding peak in the high Middle Ages. We have not found this. Indeed, we have not found much interest at all in depicting a generalized temperature trend (whether hemispheric or global) across the last millennium. In 20th century paleoclimatology the interest at this timescale was much more in the patterns of climate variability found to be shifting slowly across vast regions of the globe. Out of this work emerged the various theories of climatic oscillations and of the impact of climate change on human history.

But this is not to say that there was no demand for the depiction of a generalized temperature trend on this time scale. Indeed, during the 1970s and 1980s this demand emerged in the assessments commission by governments in response to the global climate change scares. It was just that, for this demand, the science and the scientists were ill prepared.

Nevertheless, in 1975 one millennium graph was chosen to depict a generalized trend, a version of which is given in fig 5 above. This trend line was repeatedly used though to the 1980s in reports assessing the risk of a human impact on climate. Not all the various assessments during the 1980s depicted a generalized millennium temperature trend (e.g., not this one associated with the Villach ’85 conference (1)). But, where a trend was given, (at least, as we have found so far) only various versions of this graph (fig. 5) were used.

Two other millennium graphs have also been found in use during the 1980s to give the generalized trend, but these were not in assessment reports, nor the primary literature. They are found in textbooks, one by Davis, the other by Tickell. As Steve McIntyre noted in a comment (here) on our Part I, it seems to be from the latter that the IPCC graph is derived. What can we say about the transition to this new and very different looking chart? The IPCC First Assessment authors must surely have known the previous usage in the previous assessments, and so they would have consciously chosen the new graph (whether or not via Tickell) for their new assessment.

Not until the late 1990s did a group of scientists set out to meet the demand of the climate change assessments for a generalized millennium temperature trend. Using mostly the previously much maligned tree ring data, this group produced 3 different trend lines for the northern hemisphere, all published in 1998 (see here). One of these was not yet extended across the millennium until 1999, but, complete with the spliced instrumental data of recent years, it prevailed in the IPCC Third Assessment as the famous Hockey Stick. And so we have the third of our three millennium idols.

Hubert H. Lamb, born 22 September, 1913

Hubert H. Lamb, Paleoclimatologist, born 22 September, 1913

Before the Hockey Stick, all the previous generalized millennium trends lines mentioned above (including Davis 1986) were derived from charts by Hubert Lamb. Lamb, who remained skeptical until he died in 1997, never saw the Hockey Stick, but he would undoubtedly have seen his various charts used in various ways to depict the generalized temperature trend. On this misuse of his work, so far no comment from Lamb has been found. But, if this essay in any way brings greater clarity to the true legacy of Hubert Lamb, then it has served some purpose appropriate to this day, the day of Lamb’s centenary.
Continue reading