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.

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The Scepticism of Hubert Horace Lamb Part II

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Lamb’s Skepticism: Cleansing the MemoryBefore the Warming Boom

SourceBookDiscussion on Bishop Hill

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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.

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The Skepticism of Hubert Horace Lamb

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Lamb’s Skepticism: Cleansing the MemoryBefore the Warming Boom

SourceBookDiscussion on Bishop Hill

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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.

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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.
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Millennium Idols: smash the Hockey Stick but smash the others too!

There is one temperature reconstruction of the last millennium that skeptics love to hate. And there is another that skeptics idolize in its place. The one is the ‘Hockey Stick’ northern hemisphere reconstruction, while the other appears as a schematic global trend line in the First Assessment Report of the IPCC. But neither graph is any good. They both obscure and distort the underlying science. Moreover, the skeptic’s idol itself usurped yet another dubious graph that reigned through the late 1970s and early 1980s. Thus, since global climate change anxiety emerged in the 1970s, we find a succession of three iconic millennium temperature graphs, each as different from the other as they are obscure in their scientific grounding. What is strange is that such plastic transformations are not found with the conventional reconstructions at smaller and larger timescales. The trend on the geological scale was only being refined over the same period. The large scale 100-year trend line has been more controversial. But both have maintained their general characteristics throughout the cooling and then warming alarm. So, what is it about the 1000-year timeframe? In the next couple of posts we uncover the origins of the two predecessors to the Hockey Stick. While the earliest version is as obscure in its origins as it is forgotten today (Part II), the other remains the idol of the skeptic (Part I). And so smash it we do!

Part I: The Idol of the Skeptic

(Go to Part II)

UPDATE: This essay has been modified to remove any suggestion that it challenges the following argument: Since IPCC FAR (1990) there have been those who argue on good scientific grounds that there was an extended period during the Middle Ages where the global mean temperature was warmer than the 20th Century. This being true does not contradict the main argument of this essay regarding the graph in fig 1. However, it may diminish the impact of the argument for some readers.  This essay has also been modified to credit Steve McIntyre for revealing the source of this same graph on Climate Audit 9 May 2008 (this is uncredited in Jones et al 2009 and remains uncredited on Wikipedia). See discussion on Climate Audit here  and here that includes a intermediate version of the graph in Tickell 1986.  Jones et al give another intermediate source Global Climate Change 1989, p24. I am grateful for the feedback that lead to these changes posted below and on Bishop Hill. —BernieL, 12 Sept 2013

Mediveval Warm Period in IPCC FAR 1990

fig. 1: The IPCC First Assessment offered this unreferenced schematic diagram of global temperature variation across the previous millennium. It clearly shows nearly 4 centuries during the Middle Ages warmer than the beginning of the 20th century.

A global Medieval Warm Period (global MWP) warmer than the thermal maximum of the 20th century is a skeptic’s myth first propagated by the IPCC in a single aberrant graph. Since the 1910 Geological Congress in Stockholm when the idea of a period in the Holocene generally warmer than ‘the present’ was first proposed on good evidence, until this graph was publish by the IPCC, paleoclimatology hasd never known a school of thought proposing such a period occurring during the Middle Ages. Clearing up confusion surrounding this topic is important for skeptics. Here we argue—and very much from the sceptical side—that, if ever this debate is going to rise above a political-motivated stoush, then we must get rid of the Medieval Warm Period where it is proposed globally.

An impressive global temperature graph showing a MWP rising solidly above a mid 20th century thermal maximum appears in the First Assessment Report published by the IPCC in 1990 (fig. 1). However, this graph not only misrepresents its sources but it misrepresents the science of the time, including that discussed in the accompanying text. Nonetheless, it has become the idol of the manmade climate change skepticism that emerged on the blogs in the wake of the Hockey Stick controversy. Sometimes it seems that everything that is wrong about the Hockey Stick and contemporary paleoclimatology reduces to a sly campaign to get rid of the MWP. At other times this chart is posted so as to play off the IPCC against its earlier self. Either way, the hoisting of this idol again and again only serves to oppose one form of pseudo-scientific dogma with another. What is left out is what is really worth defending in this controversy, which is evidenced-based science.

For some three years now, every time this writer witnesses yet another affirmation of this idolatry he is sure to post a cautionary comment. These comments sometimes elicit angry responses, and he is often mistaken for a trolling dogmatist of that other variety. Certainly, more explanation is required than what might be posted in a blog comment. And so, in the first part of this essay on millennium idols, here at last is an expanded explanation for why we must smash this one.
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Enter the Economists Part III

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Enter the Economists: Part IPart IIPart III
Summary and Discussion at Bishop Hill

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An Amateur Appraisal

So far we have avoided an appraisal of the critique of Chapter 6 that was offered at the time by the Global Commons Institute and other outsiders. We have also avoided an appraisal of the treatment of this critique by the expert authors in the IPCC process. While something should be said of the latter, it is difficult to avoid in such a discussion an evaluation of the economic methodology in question. When faced with the ravings of a ‘crank‘, with (as one interviewee advised) ‘little understanding about economic systems,’ there is only so much polite listening that can be expected of the expert economists called in to do the Assessment. All the more so when political motivation is apparent. Can we dismiss the GCI critique as a silly campaign of misinformation and abuse? Or does it contain something solid that hits hard at the science behind the Assessment? Answers to these questions require economics expertise to which this blog can only aspire. What to do? With a view to reduce misinformed criticism (and notwithstanding many other concerns) this final post on the Price of Life Controversy restricts discussion of economic methodology to the key concerns raised in the controversy at the time, including many noted in the Assessment Report itself. And indeed, if this appraisal is cut down by an expert reader in the comments below, then this posting has not been in vain.

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Protagonists

David Pearce: Co-ordinating lead author of IPCC Working Group III Chapter 6, which assesses estimates of expected climate change damages. His findings support his view that moderate mitigation measures are required. He rejects changes to the Summary for Policy Makers made under pressure from government delegations. And he is especially angered when, in response to concerns about the reliability of the data, the Chapter’s percentage figures for damages at doubling of CO2 (1.5 to 2%) are replaced with the vaguer ‘a few percent.’
Aubrey Meyer: Founding director of the Global Commons Institute (GCI) and instigator of the Price of Life Controversy. His criticism of the economic methodology and the uncertainty in the data behind the conclusions of Chapter 6 are taken up by poor country delegations at the Working Group Plenary and the climate treaty talks. He believes that damages will be much greater than given in Chapter 6, and his critique supports the GCI campaign for the wealthy developed countries (who are mostly doing the damage) to act immediately to stop the warming.

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Jim Bruce, co-chair IPCC Working Group III

Jim Bruce, the co-chair of Working Group III steered the assessment process to its eventual conclusion in Rome by successfully resisting pressure from government delegations to modify the underlying Report while yet achieving inter-governmental agreement on a Summary that did not overly contradict it.

The first thing to say about this controversy is that the integrity of the IPCC process was saved. Chapter 6 was not changed after its final drafting by the expert authors.

As for the Policymaker’s Summary (and the ‘Synthesis’), it does indeed present a critical perspective on the methodology and conclusions of the Chapter. Due to the intervention of the government delegates, the conclusions of the Chapter are couched within strong warnings. The section opens with:

The literature on the subject of this section is controversial and mainly based on research done on developed countries, often extrapolated to developing countries…

This is true and in accord with the Chapter, as are the proceeding warnings about the unreliability of the data. The emphasis these warnings are given only reflect the intergovernmental reception of the Chapter—which is entirely legitimate.

After this opening, the summary of Chapter 6 continues: ‘There is no consensus about how to value statistical lives or how to aggregate statistical lives across countries.’ This is partially misleading. Valuation tables do vary and one cited report (see: this summary) does value all lives at OECD levels. But as for the aggregation of these values across countries through conversion to US dollars, this is only disputed outside the reviewed literature.

Other changes reach beyond the Chapter content and into the plenary debate so as to introduce curious and distracting artifacts like:

…the value of life had meaning beyond monetary considerations

and

…the Rio declaration and Agenda 21 call for human beings to remain at the centre of sustainable development.
(p10)

Perhaps it does and perhaps they do. But it is unclear how these statements even add or change anything. If they are meant to contradict the damages findings then they fail.

Indeed, the Summary does present all the Chapter’s key findings. And, while sometimes, and sometime curiously, it does reach beyond these findings, in doing so it does not directly contradict them. Thus, overall, considering the extraordinary level of disagreement between the authors and a whole bloc of delegations, this is a remarkably successful outcome for the science-to-policy process that is the IPCC—a credit to those, including Jim Bruce, who managed to hold it all together.

The next thing to say is that the authors had good reason for their differential monetary valuation of life. Like it or not, it is in terms of a global currency that government and inter-governmental bodies need to assess damages in order to determine how best to invest their limited resources. The valuation is for assessing the damages of climate change. It does not itself prescribe policy for responding to it. It is descriptive and not prescriptive. But anyway, even if wrongly interpreted prescriptive, it is still not easy to come to Meyer’s dark interpretation—a rationale for the genocide of impoverished nations. Let me explain.

At least with the IPCC, if not before, it was never going to be an all-or-nothing equation about whether we were going to stop global warming immediately in its tracks. Early intervention with ‘no regrets’ and ‘easy wins’ emissions reductions are more precisely identified due to this economic analysis. Moreover, with the twin finding of so many more poor lives under threat and their salvation so cheap, the economics of the Chapter suggests that spending money to save the poor is much more cost-effective than trying to saving the few among the rich. In all, it is hard not to be persuaded by a view common to those on the IPCC side in support of the authors. This is that the Global Commons Institute grabbed the opportunity to expose these ‘sensitive’ calculations, to interpret then crudely, and so to scandalise both the authors and their methodology in order to drum up opposition to the Chapter’s moderate conclusions.

While these two points need to be made in support of the process and the authors, they should not be used to veil some deeper problems with the Chapter, for they lie as though a thin cementing over a pile of sticks and straw. Probe a little deeper and the Chapter’s surface of scientific plausibility collapses into a jumble of chaotically aggregated quantitative data.

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Enter the Economists Part II

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Enter the Economists: Part IPart IIPart III
Summary and Discussion at Bishop Hill

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Continuing our look at the Price of Life Controversy, we find how the global sustainability movement influences the IPCC and especially through the re-constituted Working Group III.

But first, here is a brief chronology to guide the reader:
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1987 Our Common Future published by the United Nations
1988 The Changing Atmosphere Conference in Toronto (also: Hansen’s Congressional Testimony; Margaret Thatcher gets involved; the IPCC formed)
1990 The IPCC First Assessment Report published
1992 Rio Earth Summit in June introduces the UN FCCC which defers to the IPCC for its scientific assessment. At its 8th meeting (11-13 Nov) the IPCC re-directs its Working Group III to the ‘Economic and Social Dimensions of Climate Change’ for the 2nd Assessment.
1993 The inaugural plenary of the re-constituted WG III (4-7 May) proposes a work plan orientated to the sustainable development goals of the Earth Summit. This is approved by the 9th IPCC meeting (29-30 June) and the selection of lead authors begin.
1994 Four WG III workshops (Jan-July) in Japan, Brazil, Italy and Kenya involving a broader community of experts. A first draft of the Report is circulated for expert review. A revised draft is prepared and circulated for governmental and NGO review and then a final draft is produced before the year is out.
1995 The Price of Life Controversy: with the final draft of the chapters in hand, a lead author’ meeting (Paris 22-24 Mar) prepares a draft of the Policymaker’s Summary for the intergovernmental Plenary and its line-by-line approval process. At the same time, and days before delegates depart for the first Conference of Parties to the FCCC (April, Berlin), India sends a letter [Kamal Nath, 24mar95] to other poor country delegates raising concerns about the damage assessment in Chapter 6. The campaign during CoP1 includes strong words in the India’s delegations official address [Kamal Nath, 6Apr95]. Three months later, the WG III Plenary in Geneva (25-28 July) fails to agree on the Summary nor ‘accept’ the underlying Report. The Plenary reconvenes in Montreal (11-13 Oct) where the Report is accepted and the Summary approved. However, this is only after the Chapter 6 authors have their dissent from a number of points recorded in the minutes. The Controversy continues in the science press with both sides now calling for the removal of the Chapter from the Report before its final submission to the 11th meeting of the IPCC (11-15 Dec). The controversy dies when this meeting accepts the Report and Summary with a minimum of fuss. The Chapter 6 authors never accept the Summary, claiming that its Part 7 contains distortions and interpolations of their findings.

(For the larger context see this Timeline.)

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Channeling Sustainability Enthusiasm

Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India, addresses the UN Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, 1972

1972: UN Stockholm Conference: Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, links environmental protection with development goals.

The global environment movement bursts onto the world stage in 1972 with the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. It is here that the seeds of sustainable development enthusiasm are planted and the UN Environment Programme is born. 

But the great manifesto of sustainable development does not arrive until 1987 with the UN Report, Our Common Future.

The vision encapsulated in the ‘Brundtland Report’ is to bring together the apparent conflict between economic development and environmental protection as the twin goals in a new global project.  Across the world the successive public hearings of the Brundtland Commission attempt to give voice to those previously voiceless in the inter-governmental discourse. Aid workers and environmental activists are actively sought, as are the views of the poor and illiterate living close to nature. Indeed, such folk as Amazonian rubber tappers take to the microphone, and sound bites of their contributions remain preserved in the Report.  But ‘equity’ has two dimensions in sustainable development—not only across the globe but also forward through time: Our Common Future also invokes the voiceless voice of future generations so as to ensure that today’s prosperity does not spoil the natural and economic inheritance of those yet to be born.

Our Common Future, UN, 1997, Front cover

1987: The Brundtland Report, the sustainable development manifesto

Riding a wave of enthusiasm generated by the Report, Gro Brundtland headlines a charismatic and prophetic billing for perhaps the most evangelical Climate Conference of all time. The International Conference on the Changing Atmosphere issues from Toronto into that baking North American summer of 1988 a concluding statement that famously begins:

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

The Conference Statement [pdf] is primarily concerned with the ‘implications for global security’ of atmospheric damage, and, most alarmingly, the damage caused by greenhouse gases. But the ensuing ‘Call for Action’ is much broader and includes a call for the reversal of the current net transfer of resources from developing countries.

Much to the consternation of the American political right, Climate Change Alarmism has always been much more than about fixing the climate. Even before Rio, the movement for action on global warming has already emerged the great hope and channel for all the aspirations of the global ‘sustainability’ movement—including the aspiration for global economic justice.

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