Madrid 1995: The Last Day of Climate Science

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

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We continue our quest for how human attribution was first established by the IPCC with a close look at the dramas on the final day in Madrid using the Australian Delegation Report as our guide. The first and second essays on the  Chapter  8 Controversy will help readers follow the story, but the main tip for new readers is to catch up on the importance of  Barnett et al 1996 in maintaining the scepticism of all but the published version of Chapter 8. Also helpful will be this key to drafts and meetings:

SAR 18Apr95 draft: the version of the Working Group 1 Second Assessment  Report sent out for review before the deadline for comments on chapters in early July 1995
Asheville Meeting of Lead Authors (25-8 Jul) convened primarily to redraft the Working Group 1 Report’s Summary for PolicyMakers (SPM) in the light of comments and in preparation for Madrid
SAR 9Oct95 draft: the  version of the Working Group 1 Report circulated to the governmental delegates prior to Madrid
Madrid Working Group 1 Plenary (27-29 Nov) convened primarily to give line-by-line approval to the Summary for PolicyMakers (SPM) and to accept the underlying Report.
Rome IPCC Plenary (11-5 Dec)  to accept all the Working Group Reports and give line-by-line approval to the Synthesis Report.
SAR: The IPCC Second Assessment Report as published in June 1996, the Working Group 1 part of which is also referred to as the ‘Scientific Assessment’ [pdf].

Palacio de Congresos de Madrid

The Working Group 1 delegates entered the Palacio de Congresos de Madrid under a ceramic banner created by Artigas following a design of Miró.

If we were to fashion a comic strip, or a cartoon for some fantastic narrative of Madrid, we might imagine our evil antagonist as the chief delegate from some fabulously wealthy kingdom in Arabia.

He would arrive in costume from the North African deserts of sand dunes, oil and Mohammad. He would be Mohammad yes, but Dr Mohammad, a scientist with the best education the West could offer, enunciating graciously the lingua franca of modern diplomacy. And he would have the most wonderful Big Oil title, like:

Economic Advisor to the Minister of Oil for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Dr Mohammad Al-Sabban

The Saudi Arabian delegate:  Dr Mohammad Al-Sabban

And so it is Dr Mohammad Al-Sabban from Jeddah who raises his flag once again to speak. Ever polite, but never afraid to re-state his point if it were slightly misconstrued…and persistent…Is he persistent! He is legendary at the various climate conferences for his ability to keep going, tenaciously labouring a point, sometimes solo against the whole room, politely—And just one more matter if you please Mr Chair—miraculously all day and into the night if necessary, one time even until dawn, only stopping when the Chairman simply said Enough is enough! It is diplomacy by exhaustion. And then it becomes consensus by exhaustion as we shall see.

This is the sort of thing that Tim Barnett could not stand for a moment. Tom Wigley has gotten used to it, as much as a scientist could. But then there are the likes of John Zillman who seem to thrive on it. Zillman won’t tell you that. Instead, he will complain of the talks getting bogged down in some nuance, of stalling and blocking with dubious motivation, of marathons session for which no amount of coffee could prepare. But these types like Zillman still managed to stay calm and hang in through the day and into the night and then up again the next morning. They seem to be blessed with some super-human tolerances for what would do in the heads of any of us mortal folk. Mortal folk like Ben Santer for instance. He could only tolerate so much, and this time he snapped. For a moment he completely lost his cool, barking back at the Saudi: If YOU are so interested in this topic then why had YOU not joined the Side Group to discuss it!
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Madrid 1995 and The Quest for the Mirror in the Sky (Part II)

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

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Continuing from The Quest (Part I)

The conditions under which science was practiced in the D&A scene in and around the writing of the IPCC Second Assessment reminds me of a search for a mountain hut in a near whiteout. I remember how turning to approach a ridgeline on the horizon it was a snowdrift in the face, and how an obtruding boulder loomed like a 3-pitch crag. How many times did an apparition of that safe place appear in the swirling mist. There it is!  We were all determined to retain a sober judgement, nonetheless we were all intoxicated by the desire to believe it was there…

Imagination is funny,
Makes a cloudy day sunny.
It makes a bee think of honey
Just as I think of you.

The Mirror in the Sky Explained…

Summary constucted from Fig 1 on page 41 of Santer et al, 'A Search for human influences on the thermal structure of the atmosphere' Nature, Vol 382.

The mark of man is found by comparing model predictions of warming with changes in the real data (radiosonde 1963-1988). The resemblance of the combined CO2+SO4 image (from Tayler Penner 1994) with the observed pattern is mostly in the stratospheric cooling and the more pronounced warming in the southern hemisphere. [See SAR p428. Colour images adapted from Santer’s original paper referred to in SAR as Santer et al 1995b, and later published in Nature, 4Jul96.]

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The Human Signal Emerging from the Background Noise

Asheville, North Carolina, July 1995: this was Santer’s first real opportunity to present the new attribution findings that are our Mirror in the Sky. Not long after the deadline for reviewer comments on the chapters, this conference of 70-odd Working Group 1 chapter authors convened in Asheville to revise the Summary for Policymakers. As if a rehearsal for Madrid later in the year, the attribution question all but hijacked proceedings. Continue reading

Madrid 1995: Was this the Tipping Point in the Corruption of Climate Science?

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

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John Houghton writes of it under the heading:  Meetings that Changed the World. He may be right but not only in the way he thinks. Here we consider whether this meeting in Madrid was the moment when climate science gave way under the monumental pressure of politics.

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

In 2008 John Houghton reminisced on the tense meeting ‘without which there would be no Kyoto Protocol’, and he ‘recalls how science won the day’—at least that’s how Nature called it (vol455, 9Oct08)

When Ben Santer arrived in Madrid in the late autumn of 1995, did he know that this conference would change his life forever?

Undoubtedly ambitious, a rising star in the climate modelling scene, he was doing well at age 40 to be leading the writing of a key chapter in the IPCC Second Assessment Report.  In fact, the convener of this IPCC Working Group, John Houghton, had asked him to take it on quite late in the day, only after more established scientists had turned down the offer. Perhaps they had a hunch of what was about to unfold, for it would be Santer’s fate that great forces of history would bear down on the lead author of his chapter at this conference. When he was through with it, when Houghton had accepted the final draft a few days later, climate science would be changed forever. After a long struggle, the levees of science gave way to the overwhelming forces of politics welling up around it, and soon it would be totally and irrevocably engulfed.

The story of Ben Santer’s late changes to Chapter 8 of the Working Group 1 Report is familiar to most sceptical accounts of the climate change controversy (e.g. here & here and a non-sceptical account). However, it is often overshadowed by other landmark events, and so it is usually not put up there in the same league with Hansen‘s sweaty congressional testimony of 1988, with the establishment of the IPCC nor with the Hockey Stick Controversy. Yet, if one looks at the greater controversy in terms of its impact on science, then this conference in Madrid might just surpass them all.

This was the tipping point. This was climate science’s Battle of Hastings, when political exigencies—the enemies of science—broke through the lines and went on to overrun all its institutions. Before Hansen there had always been the rogue scientists hawking some kind of scary scenario to the press or politicians. Indeed, sometimes they listened, and sometime they got all het up about it. Yet the institutions of science held firm. Before the IPCC there had been other politicised scientific institutions—the USA EPA is the prime example (see discussion here). And as for the Hockey Stick, well, by then it was all over, with the Climategate emails confirming that a culture of science-as-advocacy was already endemic in the science informing the IPCC assessments. The travesties of the Third Assessment would be unimaginable without the transformation that had already occurred in the writing of the Second Assessment. Madrid was the tipping point, when everything began to change. Not that everyone noticed it at the time. That the general shift begun at Madrid is much easier to see now with so many years of hindsight. Continue reading

Civilisation and Climate

A review of Historical Perspectives of Climate Change by James Fleming

It is the Greens’ wont to abandon all advance of modern civilisation and return us to the Middle Ages!

The Greens want us to abandon civilisation, so it is often proclaimed. In fact, reducing fossil fuel usage and the promotion of renewable energy sources will have no such effect. But nor will they prevent the release into the carbon cycle of all that long-buried carbon. And so they will not stop the marvellous and manifold slow-burn that on the one hand keeps modern civilisation purring along, while on the other hand (so they say) is slowly destroying it.

The reasons that the release of all this buried carbon will not be stopped with the implementation of climate change policy are mostly technological: no renewable process is even close to substituting for base-load coal-powered plants; there is no renewable substitute for the high energy mass transportation arcing across the globe day and night burning avgas; neither for base-load nor transportation are we even close to a carbon-capture burning process; nor is anyone daring to tell the Saudi’s to plug their oil wells and get back on their camels.

Thus, all and any action on climate change that has been placed upon the table for serious consideration will only ever slow down the release of the buried carbon, and so only slow the warming by a few decades or so. Otherwise we can say (if we permit a little poetic licence) that indeed we should say good-bye to modern civilisation …and back to the Middle Ages we go…

The easily discernible mismatch of the policy rationale with the outcomes of the proposed policies has prompted many attempts to explain the (coalescence of) motivations otherwise. Indeed, some Greens do have a hippy-ideal of a semi-subsistent agrarian future, however impractical such a transformation of our cities – our civil-ization – might be. A more moderate explanation is that renewables are a good thing for other reasons (environmentally, politically), and that this AGW scare (consciously or unconsciously) serves but to facilitate our inevitable transition to them. More sinister is that vested interests (in more nuclear power, more taxes, more power to the environment industry etc) are harnessing and exciting genuine concern in a Baptists and Bootleggers kind of way.

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James Fleming

James Fleming as he appears on his Classic Articles site (link)

However we may come to understand what is going on in this controversy, we can always return to the fact that the AGW scare is grounded in an argument giving that, by way of the environment, civilisation is impacting profoundly upon itself (even upon its civilised appreciation of the beauty of nature). This is familiar to us in the pollution campaigns of the 1960s and 70s, but it does pay to go back much further than this and compare the current movement with earlier episodes of western environmentalism during previous centuries.

One of the rewarding features of Fleming’s Historical Perspectives on Climate Change comes where Fleming draws our attention to the all-but-forgotten environmental debates of these past centuries, where climate also came into play with claims of civilisation’s affect upon civilisation. Fleming gives particular attention to the 18th century debate of, and mostly in, the America colonies, where many scientists and learned gentlemen were persuaded to the idea of anthropogenic climate change. The difference with today is that the effect was seen as not global but local, and (at least in the debate Fleming cites) moderating and beneficial. Civilisation had a civilising effect on climate.

Yes, we have been through this all before! Differently we travel but across the same terrain. And herein is the redemption the historical perspective affords: whenever you get sucked up into the novelty of the present, the history comes up sobering, grounding. It is to Fleming’s credit that he began to dig under the surface so early, and went to press with this major study in 1998, even if this was too late for AGW’s political triumph at Kyoto. Continue reading

Insecticide Alarmism, the DDT Ban and the Global Warming Scare

On the opening day of the Copenhagen Climate Change conference, the US EPA declared that Carbon Dioxide is a pollutant of the air. The long anticipated declaration that a natural component of air is a threat to public health was easily mocked, especially as it implies that simply to breathe is to pollute. A political motivation for this decision was evident: with the ‘Cap and Trade’ bill floundering in the Senate, this decision would permit regulation of CO2 emissions (under the existing Clean Air Act) without passing any new legislation. And it came just in time for the USA delegation at Copenhagen to point at least to this step as demonstrating USA readiness to take action on climate change.

William Ruckelshaus

William Ruckelshaus, the 1st head of the US EPA, acted quickly and against the evidence to ban DDT

This was not the first time that the EPA was seen to be acting on political consideration with little regard for the evidence. In fact, its first significant achievement, the banning of DDT in 1972, gives all the appearance of a political decision against the presented evidence. In this post I want to open up discussion of the links between recent Global Warming Alarmism and the organic insecticides scare of the 1960s and 1970s.

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The Blog: a new mechanism of scientific review?

If Climategate, and the ensuing controversy, has given us nothing else, it have exposed shocking examples of how scientific processes of review can become so corrupted that bad science survives and thrives in the suppression or diversion of sound criticism. There is evidence of corruption at every turn of the process: from the apparent neglect of the proper checks of facts and data behind articles subject to peer review, to the obstruction of the normal critical processing of published papers – and this occurring in journals of the highest impact, and including the refusal to release the primary data upon which the published findings could be tested.

Climate science insiders (and outsiders) could see what was going on all along. And certainly anyone who cared to follow the controversy over the Hockey Stick graph after its publication in Nature in 1998 – and then prominently in the IPCC report of 2001 – they could detect dysfunction in these critical processes. But it would take the leaking of the Climategate emails to release more than a decade of pent-up protest breaking though the official silence, deflection and obfuscation.

Steve McIntyre

Climate Audit blogger Steve McIntyre as he emerged in a profile in The Guardian, 9 Feb 2010

The momentum of Climategate permitted at last a critical reading of the IPCC 4th assessment report. Until this time any questioning, any challenge to the reports from outsiders, had been shouted down with the mantra that we should ignore anything but the proper peer-reviewed sources, and we should allay any doubts by trusting the assessment of these sources in the ‘gold standard’ of such authority, the IPCC reports. And throughout the heat of the emails scandal this mantra was shouted all the louder. Closer scrutiny of the 2007 report put the lie to this claim, revealing that in fact some of its most alarmist and controversial claims about the impacts of the predicted warming ran roughshod over peer-review science to establish an obscured authority via reference to ‘grey literature.’

As I write, we are now passing the point where the more this ‘gold standard’ mantra is chanted, the more foolish its choir appears, and the more legitimacy is awarded its critics. Blocked for so long, the pipes are clearing, and the normal critical processes of science look likely to start flow again – criticism will be permitted, primary data will be released and the claims of ‘certain’ and ‘settled’ science will recede. In the meantime, while waiting for this to unfold, we can pause to reflect on how the breakthrough was achieved, and consider in particular the appearance of a new mechanism of review that emerged heroic during this brief episode of scientific corruption. I refer to the extraordinary corrective role played by the blog. Continue reading

The Creeping Tolerance of Pseudo-Science

How do we explain so-called ‘Glaciergate?’

Glaciergate refers to a claim made in the IPCC 4th assessment report (2007) that, at the present rate of warming, all the Himalayan glaciers are likely to disappear by 2035. If these glaciers did all disappear, it would have devastating consequences for millions of people living downstream who rely on the glaciers for year-round supply of water. And so if this were likely to happen soon, then it would be the causes for some alarm for all these peoples and their governments. When a report submitted to the Indian government in 2009 brought this claim into question, the head of the IPCC called it ‘voodoo science.’ Only in January 2010, after it had scandalised the press, did the IPCC retract the claim.

How exactly the 2035 date made it into the IPCC report remains unclear, but we do know that the (non-peer review) WWF report cited for the claim was in turn based on information in a magazine article (New Scientist) which was based on a single interview with a single glaciologist who claims his speculation was never so precise as to propose a dated prediction.

What makes this so scandalous for science is that it seemed that anyone with any expertise would not support the claim — in fact it would be absurd to suggest that such large masses of ice could melt so fast. And many had already said so. Expert reviewers had queried the claim before the report was published, and others did so very publicly after it was published, and long before the scandal and the retraction.

As outrageous as the whole affair appears to outsiders, there are those who would say that we should not be surprised by the survival in scientific documents of such unsubstantiated claims as this. In fact, critics of such pseudo-science show how the persistence in scientific literature of such unsubstantiated and/or refuted claims is not at all unusual. And as Bjorn Lomborg (and also, more recently, Aynsley Kellow) has shown, such phoney science is most especially prevalent in the environmental sciences.

Martin Luther greasing the Peasants' book

Politicised Science (Theology) in the 16th Century: Martin Luther depicted by Catholic opponents greasing the Peasants' boot during the Peasants' War - the 'buntschuch' was the symbol of their rebellion. In fact, Luther was to use his status as a theologian to condone the slaughter of the 'marauding' peasants by their princes' armies.

The Politicisation of Science

In a speech of 2003 the famous fiction writer, Michael Crichton, shows how there has been a creeping toleration of pseudo-science in government-funded science during the latter decades of the 20th century. This is where claims are upheld despite the fact that there is a lack of scientific evidence for them, or the apparent evidence has been show to be unsound. He cites recent climate science as constituting the most extreme example yet.

In the history of the movement to mitigate anthropogenic global warming (AGW) there has often been an implicitly or explicitly stated licence to exaggerate the negative impacts. This is so as to raise the alarm with frightening scenario in order to prompt people and governments into action. Here is one of the founders of the movement, Stephen Schneider, talking to Discover magazine in 1989:

On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.

Given this licence to raise the alarm by bending the facts, we should therefore not be surprised that, after the Glaciergate scandal emerged, the author overseeing the chapter that included the 2035 melt claim would be reported defending the inclusion of this claim, despite knowing it came from outside the peer review process, because it related to several countries in this region and their water sources. Well, yes, that is a reason that it is important to get it right. But he goes on to say: we thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action. What he seems to be suggesting is that a claim that was not on good authority was included because it would cause alarm.

While exaggerated predictions of future doom is a big part of AGW alarmism, it is not the only problem. There is also the claims about the degenerate conditions of the world as it is. Lomborg’s book, The Sceptical Environmentalist is subtitled measuring the real state of the world as a challenge to the annual State of the World report and its ‘litany’ of environment ills, declining from bad to worse. On the evidence, as Lomborg sets forth, things are not so bad, and mostly seem to be getting better. How could it be that the accepted science could be so wrong? Continue reading