Posted by: jmtoriel | February 10, 2010

Globe columnist exaggerates significance of errors by climate scientists

Excellent blog post by Matthew Bramley which I thought I’d throw up here (Feb 10, 2010)

As a longstanding advocate for stronger Canadian greenhouse gas reduction policies, it’s frustrating to see so much misleading journalism being published on the science of climate change.

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente’s contributions are unfortunately a case in point, notably her discussion on the Globe website yesterday.

Before jumping in, I should note that I’m motivated to do the work I do to a large degree because of my background in physical science.

Wente positions herself in the middle of the debate (“People on all sides of this debate are generally sincere”), and takes people like me to task for exaggerating the threat of climate change.

But her statements yesterday contained two stunning exaggerations of their own:

1. Wente wrote: “The claims made by the UN body on climate change are under scrutiny by climate scientists themselves, many of whom acknowledge that there is no scientific basis for them.”

The loss of sea ice is among the signs of climate change observed worldwide. This implies that the whole body of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) findings has “no scientific basis.” But the problems recently uncovered in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report relate to a handful of specific, detailed projections of future impacts. These problems in no away affect the central IPCC finding, that the world is heating up rapidly and greenhouse gases (GHGs) from human activities are the biggest cause.

2. Wente also asserted that “the public is being asked to make extremely expensive investments that would invariably mean a huge hit to their standard of living immediately.”

In an email, I asked her to please point me to a credible economic study that shows a “huge, immediate hit” to our standard of living as a result of substantial GHG emission reductions. In reality, such studies invariably show an impact on GDP of at most a few percent over a decade or more; for example, they might predict national GDP growth of 25% over 10 years instead of 27%. The reasons are clear – energy technologies that substantially cut GHG emissions are typically not that much more expensive than what we are using now, especially when compared to the whole economy.

Ms. Wente is surely aware of the very clear statements on climate change, and on the urgency of getting on with deep emissions cuts, made by all of the world’s major National Science Academies.

In response to the recent controversy over scientists’ stolen emails, editors of Nature (one of the world’s most respected scientific journals) also asserted that “nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real – or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.” Further, based on their review of the e-mails, they found no credible basis to investigate any papers published in the journal.

Finally, it’s hard to ignore the open letter sent to U.S. Senators by 18 leading American scientific societies, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society, which stated:

“Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science. Moreover, there is strong evidence that ongoing climate change will have broad impacts on society, including the global economy and on the environment.”

It’s remarkable that the world’s and North America’s most authoritative scientific bodies would make such unequivocal statements. To disbelieve them is a pretty extraordinary position to take – it requires one to believe that virtually the entire global scientific establishment is engaged in a massive conspiracy against the truth.

The uninformed writing on climate change exemplified by Ms. Wente’s work seems to encourage people in that view.

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Responses

  1. The whole ‘climategate’ is one of the most unfortunate things to happen to progress in decades. Thank you for working to reverse the damage.

    • Damage control is in effect.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Yep, that opinion piece by Wente was pretty disheartening. Have you seen Gerald Butt’s response?
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/your-square-jawed-hero-is-in-fact-the-scientist/article1461995/
    Keep up the good fight!


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