There were a couple of errors in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, which comprises many hundreds of pages. A Wall Street Journal editorial that scolds the IPCC for its sloppy work comprises 12 short paragraphs. Let's see how well its facts hold up, by comparison.
It has been a bad — make that dreadful — few weeks for what used to be called the "settled science" of global warming, and especially for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that is supposed to be its gold standard.Wrong. The errors do nothing to change the "'settled science' of global warming." They change a couple of predictions about its likely effects.
As a subsidiary point, denialists tend to gloat when such errors come to light, because their default position is that all errors and uncertainty support their rosy outlook. In reality, uncertainty is not a reassuring thing, and could just as easily lead us to underestimate the threats we face.
First it turns out that the Himalayan glaciers are not going to melt anytime soon, notwithstanding dire U.N. predictions.Wrong. The IPCC's correction acknowledges that Himalayan glaciers are not expected to decrease by 80 percent -- let alone disappear -- within the next four decades. However, the IPCC stands by its prediction that "Widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges (e.g. Hindu-Kush, Himalaya, Andes), where more than one-sixth of the world population currently lives.”
That's not quite the same thing as saying that "Himalayan glaciers are not going to melt anytime soon." And the phrase "anytime soon" is silly in any case, partly because it's hopelessly vague, and partly because it would not provide grounds for complacency even if it were accurate.
In its 2007 report, the IPCC wrote that "up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state."Wrong. The author of the study in question says, "The scientific statement in the IPCC WG2 report is essentially correct, but has a referencing error. IPCC WG1 get it right." He went on to call Leake's piece "an outrageous piece of journalism."
But as Jonathan Leake of London's Sunday Times reported last month, those claims were based on a report from the World Wildlife Fund, which in turn had fundamentally misrepresented a study in the journal Nature. The Nature study, Mr. Leake writes, "did not assess rainfall but in fact looked at the impact on the forest of human activity such as logging and burning."
The IPCC has relied on World Wildlife Fund studies regarding the "transformation of natural coastal areas," the "destruction of more mangroves," "glacial lake outbursts causing mudflows and avalanches," changes in the ecosystem of the "Mesoamerican reef," and so on. The Wildlife Fund is a green lobby that believes in global warming, and its "research" reflects its advocacy, not the scientific method.Wrong, inasmuch as this is simply situational ad hominem. By this logic, any institution or scientist "that believes in global warming" is suspect by definition. (Of course, research by denialist groups and individuals remains purely disinterested and objective, no matter who funds it or how many times it's debunked.)
Beyond that, WWF's staff does publish scientific research in peer-reviewed journals, which is more than most denialists can say.
The IPCC has also cited a study by British climatologist Nigel Arnell claiming that global warming could deplete water resources for as many as 4.5 billion people by the year 2085. But as our Anne Jolis reported in our European edition, the IPCC neglected to include Mr. Arnell's corollary finding, which is that global warming could also increase water resources for as many as six billion people.Wrong, inasmuch as it groundlessly implies the IPCC did something dishonest. In the first place, Arnell specifically told Jolis that the IPCC's representation of his research was appropriate. In the second place, one person's increased "water resources" is another person's increased flooding. As I noted here, Arnell's 2004 paper, and the work he's done since then, is basically in line with IPCC conclusions, and utterly at odds with the WSJ's happy talk.
The IPCC report made aggressive claims that "extreme weather-related events" had led to "rapidly rising costs." Never mind that the link between global warming and storms like Hurricane Katrina remains tenuous at best.Arguably wrong in factual terms, and certainly wrong in its implication that the IPCC has done something dishonest. The IPCC's conclusions are clearly qualified, and acknowledge that "for a number of regions, such as Australia and India, normalised losses show a statistically significant reduction since 1970." That's not what I would call "aggressive." Furthermore, the IPCC stands by its assessment of the evidence. Unless the WSJ knows something they don't, there are no good grounds for treating this as an "aggressive" overstatement, let alone as an error.
In Holland, there's even a minor uproar over the report's claim that 55% of the country is below sea level. It's 26%.Yes, but the initial figure came from the Dutch government, which is also the source of the so-called "correction." If they got something this fundamental wrong at the outset, how can we believe anything they say ever again? For all we know, every inch of Holland is well above sea level, and its dike rings were built as part of an alarmist conspiracy, in order to compel citizens to accept nanny-state intervention in their personal lives.
Kidding aside, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency's correction states that "55 per cent of the Netherlands is at risk of flooding; 26 per cent of the country is below sea level, and 29 per cent is susceptible to river flooding." So obviously, the IPCC is a joke and Doomsday has been canceled.
Phil Jones, who stepped down as head of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit amid the climate email scandal, told the BBC that the world may well have been warmer during medieval times than it is now.To which the simplest response is, so fucking what? What's at issue is not how warm the world is today, but how much warmer it's going to get over time if no action is taken.
And Jones didn't say this in any case, as one can easily surmise from the lack of an actual quote. Instead, he responded at some length to a wildly hypothetical scenario:
And of course, whether current warmth is "unprecedented" has no bearing on whether it's anthropogenic. Compared to this tactic, quote-mining is downright respectable. Paraphrasing Jones as the WSJ did is an act of elemental dishonesty that, in my view, dwarfs every single one of the accusations they're making against the IPCC.
[I]f the MWP was shown to be global in extent and as warm or warmer than today (based on an equivalent coverage over the NH and SH) then obviously the late-20th century warmth would not be unprecedented. On the other hand, if the MWP was global, but was less warm that today, then current warmth would be unprecedented.
We know from the instrumental temperature record that the two hemispheres do not always follow one another. We cannot, therefore, make the assumption that temperatures in the global average will be similar to those in the northern hemisphere.
Mr. Jones also told the BBC there has been no "statistically significant" warming over the past 15 years, though he considers this to be temporary.So Phil Jones is right when he says things the WSJ likes, and wrong when he explains what they actually mean. Hooray for the scientific method! And hooray for rational self-interest!
The lesson of climategate and now the IPCC's shoddy sourcing is that the claims of the global warming lobby need far more rigorous scrutiny."Shoddy sourcing"? That's pretty fucking rich coming from people who treat Anne Jolis and Jonathan Leake as more credible than the scientists whose work they shamelessly twist to their own ends.
"Rigorous scrutiny?" That's pretty goddamn droll coming from people who've cobbled together a few minor errors of fact, interpretation, or attribution, magnified them ten-thousandfold, garnished them with outright lies, and still ended up with an underwhelming and astonishingly petty case against the IPCC.
As the great Irish phenomenologist Merle O'Ponty noted, there is "no realm in which consciousness is fully at home and secure against all risk of error." That said, it seems pretty clear that this brief, unsigned editorial contains more errors -- and more lies -- than the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. And unlike that report, there's precious little chance its errors will ever be corrected.
UPDATE: RealClimate covers many of the same points in a lot more detail, but spoils the effect by neglecting to use the word "fucking" as often as circumstances dictate. I say we call it a draw. (h/t: Chris in comments.)