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

Code Blue in the Greenhouse:

Darwall tells how it was conservative governments who were the first to raise the alarm.

Book cover of Darwall, Rupert. The Age of Global Warming: A History. London: Quartet Books Ltd, 2013.In Australia and the USA today the politics of global warming falls fairly predictably across the right/left spectrum. Upon ascending to power in September, Tony Abbott could hardly wait to start abolishing a bunch of climate change qangos set up under Labor. Even before parliament had convened for the first time, the new conservative Australian government had launched their plan for rolling back Labor’s carbon tax and they had also sent into the latest round of UN treaty negotiation a strong message of resistance wrapped in anti-leftist sentiment.

[Australia] will not support any measures
which are socialism masquerading as environmentalism

All this is reminiscent of 2001, when George W Bush could hardly wait to announce that he was rolling back the excesses of Clinton-Gore. The scene is not so straightforward in the UK. But even under David Cameron, where the old dark blue of the Tories has been lightened by a tide of green, warming alarm looks like a push from the left, while skepticism is a pushing back from the right. Lord Lawson’s launch in 2009 of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (to which John Howard recently gave a much publicized speech) fits with just such a pushing back against a weakening of conservative resolve. However, Rupert Darwall’s historical study, The Age of Global Warming, tells a more complex story, where there are deep historical sympathies of conservatism with the global warming scare. Moreover, it was conservative governments who succeeded in first raising the global alarm.

During the twilight years of her decade-long domination of British politics, Margaret Thatcher capitalised on her scientific background in four powerful and considered speeches on global warming.

The first of these was delivered in the autumn of 1988 to her fellows at the world’s premier state-instituted scientific organization, the Royal Society. Emphasizing greenhouse warming among international environmental concerns, this speech marked a volte-face for a government previously criticized as tardy in coming to the table on the other international environmental issues about which she boasted action, namely acid rain and ozone depletion. The surprise recruitment of Thatcher to the environmental cause undoubtedly added to the excitement generated in North America during that fateful summer of 1988 (see here). It added to the push within the United Nations for a climate treaty and for the strengthening of the mandate of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Tory torch introduced by Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s

The Tory torch introduced by Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s

While at the Royal Society, Thatcher cautioned the scientists that an assessment of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions should be ‘founded on good science to establish cause and effect,’ this message soon shifted. The following year Thatcher continued to emphasis ‘sound scientific analysis,’ but now as the basis of the measures taken to mitigate climate change. In a full 30 minute address to the UN General Assembly in November 1989, Thatcher left no doubt that immediate action on emissions is required. ‘We can’t just do nothing’ she insisted, and she joined the call for a framework convention followed by binding protocols to control emissions. Later in that session of the General Assembly, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP) were directed to ask their newly established climate panel to go beyond their assessment of the greenhouse effect, of its impacts and of the various ways of mitigating climate change. The IPCC was also asked to begin preparations for just such a climate convention. In her UN speech, Thatcher boasted her government’s coordinating role in the IPCC, the report of which she said ‘will be available to everyone by the time of the Second World Climate Conference next year.’ But Thatcher herself was not going to wait that long.

John Houghton with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the opening of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Meteorological Office, Bracknell, May 1990.

Margaret Thatcher with John Houghton opening the Hadley Centre, May 1990. (Source: WMO )

The assessment of the scientific basis for action had been assigned to the IPCC Working Group I, which scheduled a meeting to finalise its report in Windsor, England, May 1990. These working group meetings are closed to the press while the governmental delegates agree line-by-line to a summary of the expert report. Once agreed, each of the three working groups then submits their report and summary to a full meeting of the IPCC, which, for the first assessment, would be held in Sundsvall, Sweden later in the year. Only once accepted by the panel would it become the official assessment of the panel. Just as Thatcher had indicated in her UN speech, the plan was to present to the world this freshly minted assessment at the Second World Climate Conference in November. However, in her UN speech Thatcher had also announced that the UK would establish a new centre for ‘the prediction of climate change.’ The opening of this ‘Hadley Centre’ was planned for the end of the week of the Working Group I meeting in Windsor the following May – long before the World Climate Conference. During the week, Thatcher had the British chair of the Working Group, John Houghton, brief her on the draft summary of the report. By incorporating the as-yet-unannounced working group findings into her opening speech, Thatcher achieved quite a scoop.

Gummer, Houghton, Major, Tickell and Selbourne at the launch of the Government Panel on Sustainable Development in 1994.

Gummer, Houghton, Major, Tickell & Selbourne at the launch of the Government Panel on Sustainable Development in 1994. (Source: WMO)

By this time the WMO’s World Climate Conference came around, environmental concerns were well established in Thatcher’s global policy profile, and there again she took the opportunity to join the chorus calling for action. But while Thatcher’s support undoubtedly empowered their cause, it is hard to see how this grandstanding on global action helped her win any support back home. Then perhaps, at that stage, nothing could; and returning home must have been a sobering experience for Margaret Thatcher. With the bright flame of Thatcherism receding, she arrived to find her government collapsing around her. It would soon die down into the smouldering and spluttering continuance of Tory government under John Major. Nevertheless, there remained John Gummer (Lord Deben), perhaps the most enthusiastic supporter of climate action of any member of any government of Great Britain. As environment minister under John Major, he would carry the flame for the Iron Lady all the way to Kyoto.

Sustainable Thatcher

Thatcher was astute with the science and sober in her assessment. Crispin Tickell, a prominent conservative diplomat, had encouraged her to take a stand on global environmental issues, and this one in particular, but she did not take his word for it, nor rely on political advisors. Instead, she consulted directly with Britain’s leading climatic researchers. These included John Houghton, who had been picked for his role in the IPCC while already the head of the British Meteorological Office. At times she also worked closely with Tom Wigley, the head of the Climatic Research Unit at University of East Anglia. Thatcher’s diligence with the science shows through in some of the most accurate and circumspect summaries of the IPCC’s assessment of any political leader at the time or since. Indeed, Tickell and Thatcher both recognised the speculative nature of the science as it stood. Thatcher even makes reference to the finding of Tom Wigley in his chapter of the IPCC assessment, which concludes that the human influence on global climate still had not been detected and that it is unlikely to be detected for decades. But Thatcher, again following Tickell (1986), did not see the lack of empirical confirmation as cause for delay in taking action to drastically reduce emissions. Thus, it was in full knowledge of the less-than-conclusive findings of the IPCC that Thatcher supported the plans to have a framework convention ready for signing at the Rio Earth summit in 1992, and for this to pave the way for protocols delivering legally binding emission reduction targets.

In her calls for climate action, it was a shock to many on both sides of the debate how Thatcher played the complete convert to the environmental cause. Her advocacy of precautionary action on prospective global warming was always presented in the context of a much grander cause which is the urgent need for cooperative action to protect the fragile global environment. In this she was early to embrace the language and scope of the ‘sustainable development’ movement as it had only recently been formulated in the Brundtland Report. After a late start, Thatcher had leaped to the front of the pack of world leaders campaigning on this issue. For it was only after she was prised off the stage by her Tory colleagues, only at the Rio earth summit in 1992, that all the aspirations of the sustainability movement was fully channelled into the campaign for a climate treaty.

Margaret Thatcher’s role in propelling the global warming scare onto the geo-political stage is only one small part of the story that Rupert Darwall offers in his The Age of Global Warming, a wide ranging study of the political phenomenon that is the global warming scare. But it is an important part, for it highlights the role that conservative governments played in the early scenes of this story. Their role is often neglected in other histories such as Booker’s less ambitious and much more readable The Real Global Warming Disaster.

Logo of the British Conservative Party introduced in 2006
Continue reading

Enter the Economists Part III


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


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.



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.


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


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

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.

Continue reading

Enter the Economists Part II


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


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:
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.)


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.

Continue reading

Enter the Economists: The Price of Life and how the IPCC only just survived the other chapter controversy


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



What price Climate Change? Before Stern and Garnaut there was Pearce. Chapter 6 of the IPCC Working Group III 2nd Assessment by David Pearce et al is now forgotten, yet it caused the first public controversy in the history of the IPCC. This chaotic assessment of scant and confused costings of expected damages was under attack before it was even drafted. The ensuing scandal over the price of life among the world’s poor dragged the IPCC into an embarrassing political controversy that broke at the very first Conference of Parties to the climate treaty. It was a taste of things to come, with authors simultaneously publishing what they assessed, leaking drafts, and pressure at the intergovernmental Plenary to change the chapter in conformity to a re-write of the Policymaker’s Summary. But there were important differences also. While later in Madrid Ben Santer was entirely complicit in the push to change his Working Group I Chapter 8, David Pearce and his crew held their ground against the onslaught in workshops, plenaries and finally through the press. Indeed, the authors won the battle for scientific independence, but at what price?


Part 1: An Uncommon Activist

At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees,
then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest.

Now I realise I am fighting for humanity.
Chico Mendes

Chico Mendes. That man is a good place to start. Or at least, his death. Gunned down in his home out in the wild west, almost as far west as you can go into Brazilian Amazonia.

Barefoot and illiterate, growing up into colonial serfdom, it was all Chico knew since before he was ten years old to be out in the rainforest tapping the rubber trees. But when news of Chico’s death reached a certain violinist in London, it would turn his life around and launched him on a collision course with IPCC Working Group III. The onslaught against the Working Group began in 1993 and continued through the next two years as the co-chairman, Jim Bruce, tried and tried again to get the Second Assessment Report over the line. He nearly didn’t make it.

Protests against the method of costing the damages of climate change in this Report’s Chapter 6—where the death of the world’s poor is valued much less than the death of the rich—turned a large grouping of poor nation delegates against the Report, against the authors, and against the rich nations from whence they came.  A wedge driven deep in the fault line already opening between rich and poor nations at the climate treaty talks, the Price of Life Controversy was orchestrated by one man, our violinist, Aubrey Meyer.

Aubrey Meyer playing the violin in front of a UNFCCC slide

Aubrey Meyer illuminates climate change mitigation with music

This unlikely course of events began back in 1988 when Meyer was seeking a theme for a new musical. He could hardly have missed the reports of Chico’s bloody demise as they came through on the eve of Christmas. At the end of a year when global environmentalism broke into the mainstream as never before, the news was everywhere; for this humble rubber tapper, born a nobody, died famous, world famous.

What began with a determination to preserve the livelihood of the local tappers, by 1985 had converged with the global campaign to preserve the entire Amazon.  Advocating the sustainable development of the forest that sustained them, the united rubber tappers of Brazil formed under Chico’s leadership to become the cause célèbre of the global environmental campaign to preserve not only the Amazon but threatened rainforests everywhere. The rise and demise of Chico Mendes captured the imagination of the entire movement – a martyr to environmentalism immortalised in prose, film and song.

Indeed, this Amazonian tragedy held Aubrey Meyer captive that Christmas, but there never was a Chico Mendes musical. Instead, the tapper’s story sparked the musician’s epiphany, launching his life in an entirely new direction.  Anyone who has ever heard Meyer speak will tell you that the passion for music never left him. But soon Meyer began to discover new talents, acknowledged by friend and foe, as he threw himself into the services of Chico’s cause—a cause that is as much about defending the global environment as it is about defending the rights of the poor.

David Pearce (economist)

David Pearce, the co-coordinating lead author of Chapter 6, died in 2005 aged 63.

When Meyer’s own brand of activism arrived at the climate talks, it was seen to be threatening what others saw as the greater purpose—a general agreement for action on climate change. His aggravation of this rich-poor split seemed to delight parts of the business lobby as much as it frustrated the environmental establishment.  Most of all, Meyer’s intervention exasperated the expert economists drafting Chapter 6. As we shall see, the dispute was never really resolved. When the controversy was over and the Report published, David Pearce, the coordinating lead author, remained insulted and perplexed that their expert assessment could be called into question by the government delegations due to the confused and spurious reasoning of this enthusiastic outsider with his ‘silly campaign of misinformation and abuse.’  In fact, to his dying day, Pearce remained convinced not only that Meyer served the interests of the coal lobby, but that they were funding the whole absurd charade.

Continue reading

Madrid 1995: The Last Day of Climate Science (Part II)


MADRID 1995: Tipping Point?The Quest (Part II)—The Last Day (Part II)


Continuing from the Last Day The Last Day (Part I)

It is not over yet. We pick up the story again on the last day in Madrid. Yes, Al Sabban has lost the battle to base the D&A section of the Summary on the conclusions of Chapter 8. But now the approval process begins on the re-write of this section. Santer’s draft will now be debated line-by-line, word-by-word, and this debate continues through to the afternoon and into the night. Once again it is the new pattern studies giving the human ‘fingerprint’ that will be most resisted.

Ceramic banner created by Artigas from a design by Miró above the entrance to the Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid

A shambolic Victory of the Virtuous

The Side Group’s redraft of the D&A section of the Executive Summary lists three key areas where recent results contributed to positive attribution.1 The first is the proxy data giving that the 20th century is the warmest century in the last six. The second is the statistical significance of the warming trend in the global mean temperature suggesting that it is unlikely to be entirely natural in origin [see SAR Fig.8.3]. This evidence on global mean temperature is well-known to be weak, continues to be expressed in the negative, had already been challenged by Australia, and it had previously been considered by the IPCC (in the 18Apr95 drafts and in the First Assessment) unable to provide positive support to the human attribution claim [see here]. As if to emphasise this, the third and final area of research, the CO2+ Sulphate pattern correlation studies, is introduced with the words ‘More convincing evidence:’

More convincing evidence for the attribution of a human effect on climate is emerging from pattern-based studies…1

These studies showed ‘pattern correspondences increase with time,’ as would be expected with increasing emissions, and there is a very low probability that ‘these correspondences could occur by chance as a result of natural variability.’ As we noted previously, the exclusion of ‘chance’ or ‘accidental’ variability implicitly leaves open the possibility of the standard century-old candidates for natural external forcing.  Perhaps it was to allay concerns about natural forcing (previously expressed in the commentaries, and so they are likely to have re-emerged in the Side Group) that the next sentence makes a curious reference to the ‘vertical’ pattern studies—as per our ‘Mirror in the Sky’—as also ‘inconsistent with the possible effects of known solar and volcanic forcing.’2

For this claim to be proposed for such a peak summary is curious because exclusion of such natural external forcing is not a major claim of Santer’s studies, nor of the other pattern studies, and no such conclusion is drawn in the Chapter itself. On the contrary, the Chapter repeatedly makes reference to the problem that we really don’t know what the pattern of nature forcing looks like. The best it can say right at the end of the section titled ‘Progress since IPCC 1990’ is that ‘we have now started to see pattern-based studies’ (which are not the flagship ones by Santer) that ‘try to rule out various non-anthropogenic forcing mechanisms.’ Thus, once again we have a situation where a claim is introduced during the inter-governmental negotiations that is contrary to the underlying scientific report, and nor is it derived from the ‘new evidence’ introduced to those negotiations in Santer’s extraordinary presentation.
Continue reading