The credibility of climate change science took two more hits this week. The first occurred when it was revealed that a prominent Greenpeace activist Sven Teske had been a lead author of a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change renewable energy report. The second happened when researchers at the University of Colorado admitted that they had included an unacknowledged "adjustment" in their sea level rise figures.
So to the first: Steve McIntyre, the proprietor of the Climate Audit blog, looked into the IPCC renewables study that claimed:
Close to 80 percent of the world's energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies a new report shows.
This statement comes from an IPCC press release. The study on which the claim was made wasn't made public until a month later. By then the media had moved on, and the meme that renewables could solve climate change by 2050 launched. What McIntyre found was that the scenario highlighted in the press release was ulitmately derived from a report issued jointly by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council. That's right—activists and lobbyists collaborating. Who would have thought?
An Exxon-Mobil employee – admittedly an energy specialist with an engineering background – serves as a lead author on an important IPCC report looking into the future of fossil fuels. The Exxon guy and his fellow lead authors assess a whole variety of literature, but select for special treatment four particular papers – one produced by Exxon-Mobil. This paper heralds great things for the future of fossil fuels, suggesting they can supply 80% of the world's energy in 2050, and this headline is the first sentence of the ensuing IPCC press release, which is picked up and repeated uncritically the world's media. Pleased, the Exxon employee issues a self-congratulatory press release boasting that his paper had been central to the IPCC effort, and urging the world's governments to get on with opening up new areas to oil drilling for the benefit of us all.
Well. You can imagine the furore this would cause at Greenpeace. The IPCC would be discredited forever as an independent voice. There would be pious banner-drops by Greenpeace activists abseiling down Exxon HQ and harshly criticising the terrible stranglehold that fossil fuel interests had achieved over supposedly independent science. Campaigners everywhere would be up in arms. Greenpeace would feel doubly justified in taking direct action against new oil wells being opened up in the Arctic, and its activists could demonstrate new feats of gallantry and bravery as they took on the might of the world's oil industry with some ropes and a rubber dinghy somewhere near Greenland.
How is the Exxon scenario different from what has just happened with the IPCC's renewables report? And why – when confronted with this egregious conflict of interest and abuse of scientific independence – has the response of the world's green campaigners been to circle the wagons and cry foul against the whistle-blowers themselves?
Very good questions. It's possible—not likely in my opinion—but possible that the Greenpeace report bears some resemblance to reality. But the big problem here is that Greenpeace's Teske seems to have been reviewing his own work. That's like an accountant auditing himself.
The second foot-shooting occurred when it was discovered that climate change researchers at the University of Colorado have been quietly adjusting the figures for sea level rise. Sea level rise is considered one of the major problems posed by climate change as glaciers around world melt and drain into the sea. As Fox News reports:
The University of Colorado's Sea Level Research Group decided in May to add 0.3 millimeters—or about the thickness of a fingernail—every year to its actual measurements of sea levels, sparking criticism from experts who called it an attempt to exaggerate the effects of global warming.
"Gatekeepers of our sea level data are manufacturing a fictitious sea level rise that is not occurring," said James M. Taylor, a lawyer who focuses on environmental issues for the Heartland Institute.
Steve Nerem, the director of the widely relied-upon research center, told FoxNews.com that his group added the 0.3 millimeters per year to the actual sea level measurements because land masses, still rebounding from the ice age, are rising and increasing the amount of water that oceans can hold.
Hold on a minute:
"To me… sea level rise is what's measured against the actual coast," he told FoxNews.com. "That's what tells us the impact of rising oceans."
Nerem replies that the adjustment adds just an inch over a century to the figures which doesn't amount to all that much when computer models project that the future rise is sea level will be 2 to 4 feet over the coming century.
Now Nerem says that his group is thinking about making both the adjusted and unadjusted data public. Well, yes.
Just a note: Remember the disappearing Pacific island nations? A 2010 study finds:
…86% of islands remained stable (43%) or increased in area (43%) over the timeframe of analysis. Largest decadal rates of increase in island area range between 0.1 to 5.6 ha. Only 14% of study islands exhibited a net reduction in island area.
Climate researchers are reporting results which many claim will require vast economic adjustments. Naturally, a lot of vested interests will push back against these findings. If climate researchers want to be believed, they must be completely transparent about their results and methods.
Kudos to Maxim Lott for sending along the sea level adjustment item.
*The terms each side calls the other.