Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Der Spiegel reports on climategate

An eight part series in Germany's De Spiegel contains a lot of climate realism.

An Entire Branch of Science in Crisis

The Climategate affair is grist for the mills of skeptics, who have gained growing support for their cause, particularly in English-speaking countries. What began with hacked emails in the United Kingdom has mushroomed into a crisis affecting an entire scientific discipline. At its center is an elite and highly influential scientific group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Working on behalf of the United Nations, the scientists organized under IPCC's umbrella -- including Phil Jones -- regularly prepare prognoses on the Earth's looming greenhouse climate. Without the IPCC reports, governments would not be embroiled in such passionate debate about phasing out the age of oil and coal.

In late 2007, the IPCC was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with former US Vice President Al Gore. IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, as the personification of the world's conscience, accepted the award on behalf of his organization. "Climate change poses novel risks," Pachauri told his audience, saying that the decision to award the prize to the IPCC was "a clarion call for the protection of the earth as it faces the widespread impacts of climate change." He also warned of the risk of not taking action: "Every year of delay implies a commitment to greater climate change in the future."

Sloppy Work

Since then, the IPCC has experienced a dramatic fall from grace. Less than three years after this triumph, more and more mistakes, evidence of sloppy work and exaggerations in the current IPCC report are appearing. They include Jones' disputed temperature curve, the prediction that all Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 -- which was the result of a simple transposition of numbers -- and the supposed increase in natural disasters, for which no source was given.

In mid-March, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon slammed on the brakes and appointed a watchdog for the IPCC. The InterAcademy Council, a coalition of 15 national academies of science, will review the work of the IPCC by this fall.

There is already a consensus today that deep-seated reforms are needed at the IPCC. The selection of its authors and reviewers was not sufficiently nonpartisan, there was not enough communication among the working groups, and there were no mechanisms on how to handle errors.


Here are Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
The series concludes with these very rational words from one of the modelers.
Time to React

"We climatologists can only describe possible futures," Storch points out. "It's also possible that things will be completely different."

Storch, a native of northern Germany and one of the pioneers of climate modeling, recommends a more dispassionate approach. He grew up on the North Sea island of Föhr, where he experienced storm tides at first hand. He learned that humans are tough and adaptable beings.

"Fearmongering is the wrong way to go about it," says Storch. "Climate change isn't going to happen overnight. We still have enough time to react."

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