Climate ‘scandals’: Why it’s a storm in a teacup and why the media should be apologising

Today the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) confirmed record levels of decline in Arctic Sea Ice.

So it’s particularly ironic that this conclusion should come on the same day that everybody in the media is fussing about whether or not a handful – of several thousand climate scientists worldwide – may or may not have followed the correct protocols on freedom of information in relation making available their years of research. (In the face of harassment from a denial machine, we should add.)

Needless to say, the scientific evidence of warming is not in doubt as none of the supposed ‘scandals’ undermines any of the actual science.

Indeed, as Left Foot Forward has previously highlighted, even Lawson and Peiser – two of Britain’s most prolific climate sceptics – have acknowledged to Parliament, “This is nothing to do with the basic science, that’s not the issue.”

So to remind you of what is at issue, we’ve summarised (as Realclimate did in more detail some time ago) the main “scandals” of the last few months below.

We should add that not all of the below are within the remit of the Muir Russell inquiry, but we’ve put them all here to really highlight the triviality of the charges in the grand scheme of things … and at the bottom of this blogpost you’ll find news of the latest two ‘climate scandal’ stories to be retracted this week. Time for the media to apologise we’d say …

“Glacier-gate.”

The so-called “glacier-gate” story was about a claim in the findings of Chapter 10 of Working Group II of the 2007 IPCC report. This was an assertion that 80% of the Himalayan glaciers could melt and be gone by 2035.

The IPCC referenced this to a report from the global conservation group, WWF. It later emerged that the evidence for the glacier claim in fact stemmed originally from a speculative comment made by an Indian scientist, Syed Hasnain, in New Scientist magazine in 1999. It was therefore incorrectly referenced.

However, the line in question from the IPCC report was actually just one sentence in nearly 3000 pages, and it was not repeated in the summary of the report produced for policy makers. Equally, it received very little media coverage at the time that IPCC report was originally published. However, it was erroneous. Since most respected glaciologists do not expect Himalayan glaciers would melt until way beyond 2035 it shouldn’t have slipped through the IPCC review process. However, the 2035 claim was not the proper IPCC projection of future glacier decline, which remains valid and can be found in Volume 1 of the IPCC’s report with 45 pages of explanation.

The mistake was spotted and highlighted, not by climate denier activists seeking to sow seeds of doubt about climate science, but by climate scientists themselves. Equally, whilst the glacier claim exaggerates the impact of climate change, other parts of the same IPCC report can be said to underplay the risks posed by the rapid shifts occurring in our climate.

“Amazon-gate.”

So-called “Amazon-gate” was a completely fake scandal, which originated on the website of a well known climate denier, Richard North.

At the centre of this allegation against the IPCC is a line from page 596 of their second Working Group report, which stated that “40% of the Amazon forests could react drastically to even a slight change in precipitation”, potentially being replaced by “ecosystems that have more resistance to multiple stresses caused by temperature increase, droughts and fires, such as tropical savannas.”

The IPCC referenced this claim to a report from the conservation group, WWF. In fact, it originated from a 1999 Nature Paper by scientist, Dan Nepstad. In other words, there was a referencing error.

And that’s all.

Yet climate denier blogger, Richard North, accused the IPCC of making “false predictions on the Amazon rain forests,” of producing “a complete fabrication,” and stated that “the IPCC has grossly exaggerated the effects of global warming on the Amazon rain forest.” Some days later, North’s blog post was picked up by The Sunday Times, which ran a story headlined: UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim.

In fact, that claim was far from “bogus.” The problem was not with the accuracy of the IPCC’s statement, which reflected the peer-reviewed scientific literature – but with the reference that had been attributed to it. (In fact Working Group I of the IPCC repeated the claim but used the correct reference.) A leading tropical forests scientist from Leeds University, Dr. Simon Lewis, who was quoted in the newspaper story, made a complaint against the Sunday Times for misrepresenting his views in their article, which he described as “distorted.” The PCC upheld the complaint, the Sunday Times admitted “the story was flawed” and they have since retracted it.

Sea level in the Netherlands

The Working Group II report of the IPCC states that “The Netherlands is an example of a country highly susceptible to both sea-level rise and river flooding because 55% of its territory is below sea level”. This sentence was provided by a Dutch government agency – the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which has now published a correction stating that the sentence should have read “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.”

In fact, the IPCC noted that there are several definitions of the area below sea level. The Dutch Ministry of Transport uses the figure 60% (below high water level during storms), while others use 30% (below mean sea level). Needless to say, the actual number mentioned in the report has no bearing on any IPCC conclusions and has nothing to do with climate science, and it is questionable whether it should even be counted as an IPCC error.

Still the Dutch government launched its own investigation in response to the media hysteria and this week concluded by endorsing the IPCC’s findings.

“Climate-gate”

In November 2009, hackers stole several years’ worth of emails between climate scientists from the server of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, in an event that was dubbed “climate-gate” by those wanting to sow seeds of doubt about the science of climate change and slow down the transition towards a clean energy economy.

Climate deniers seized upon certain sentences in the emails to try and change public perceptions of climate scientists and their work. In particular they pointed to one line of one email in particular. Scientist Phil Jones, in discussing the presentation of temperature reconstructions, stated:

“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” (emphasis added)

The phrase has been widely spun by self-proclaimed “sceptics” as an effort to prevent the truth getting out that global temperatures had stopped rising. In fact it wasn’t anything of the sort. At the time the email was written in 1999, the world had just experienced the hottest year on record, and a run of record warm years in the warmest decade of the century.

Instead, the decline referred to was an apparent decline in temperatures shown in analysis of tree rings. Tree rings have historically correlated well with changes in temperature, but that relationship has broken down in the past half century. The reasons are still debated among scientists. The “trick” was a graphic device used by Mann in a 1998 paper in Nature to merge tree ring data from earlier times with thermometer data for recent decades, which Mann explained in his paper. Jones was merely repeating it in another paper. It was certainly not clandestine data manipulation, and nor was it a trick to hide global cooling.

Also of note, The Daily Telegraph this week retracted another story that turned out to be bogus about Pachauri’s links to industry. This followed a German newspaper’s report into so-called ‘Africagate’ – which also turned out to be bogus and was retracted. This in turn followed the Sunday Times’ retraction of the ‘Amazongate’ story.

UPDATE 15.49:

World leading climate scientists tell Guardian:

“This was a shameful chapter in the history of news reporting, and a lesson for those who are concerned about fair and honest communication with the public.” Professor Mann says, “We’re currently witnessing the warmest temperatures ever globally, and are in the midst of a record-setting heat wave in the US associated with the warmest early summer temperatures ever.”

33 Responses to “Climate ‘scandals’: Why it’s a storm in a teacup and why the media should be apologising”

  1. B Latif

    RT @leftfootfwd: #Climate so-called ‘scandals’: Why it’s a storm in a teacup and why it’s the media who should be apo.. http://bit.ly/aa5wWw

  2. Will Straw

    Terrific piece by @jossgarman for @leftfootfwd on why the media should be apologising on Climate 'scandals' http://bit.ly/aa5wWw

  3. Stuart Alder

    RT @wdjstraw: Terrific piece by @jossgarman for @leftfootfwd on why the media should be apologising on Climate 'scandals' http://bit.ly/aa5wWw

  4. Tom Chance

    Media retractions but no apologies on nonsense #climategate non-story – http://bit.ly/dvJJWm

  5. Oxford Kevin

    RT @leftfootfwd: Climate ‘scandals’: Why it’s a storm in a teacup and why the media should be apologising http://bit.ly/batI14

  6. Ben Jasper

    RT @leftfootfwd: Climate ‘scandals’: Why it’s a storm in a teacup and why the media should be apologising http://bit.ly/batI14

  7. bitoclass

    RT @tom_chance Media retractions but no apologies on nonsense #climategate non-story – http://bit.ly/dvJJWm

  8. Paul Stanistreet

    RT @leftfootfwd: Climate so-called ‘scandals’: Why it’s a storm in a teacup and why it’s the media who should be apologising http://bit.ly/aa5wWw

  9. Dave Coleman

    RT @theneweconomics: Great post from @leftfootfwd on why the various climategate "scandals" amount to nothing more than media hype. http://bit.ly/aa5wWw

  10. DrKMJ

    Climate so-called scandals: Why its a storm in a teacup and why its the media who should be apologising http://bit.ly/aa5wWw via @leftfootfw

  11. Peter Martin

    RT @climatesafety: Climate ‘scandals’: Why it’s the media who should be apologising http://bit.ly/aa5wWw (via @jossgarman & @leftfootfwd)

  12. Paris Gourtsoyannis

    RT @leftfootfwd: Climate so-called ‘scandals’: Why it’s a storm in a teacup and why it’s the media who should be apologising http://bit.ly/aa5wWw

  13. Chris Bramall

    RT @climatesafety: Climate ‘scandals’: Why it’s the media who should be apologising http://bit.ly/aa5wWw (via @jossgarman & @leftfootfwd)

  14. Robert

    Yes last month the RAF came down to our bombing range and decided to drop god knows how many bombs, all I could taste is aviation fuel, as they did the tight turns to come in on the targets. Then we had an idiot from the council moaning about people not using low CO2 light bulbs, the council uses 6 spot light on the Town hall using what ordinary light bulbs but boy it looks nice. Then driving home one day my kids say look grand dad look at the steam train, boy look at all that black smoke.

    Nobody takes this serious anymore , if it is serious why is it government do not ban the cars which cause the biggest problems.

    I really will take this seriously when people fall dead in the street or I’m told it’s to late we are all going to die, guess what until then people who tell me to go green better bloody be ready to duck.

  15. David Ritter

    RT @wdjstraw: Terrific piece by @jossgarman for @leftfootfwd on why the media should be apologising on Climate 'scandals' http://bit.ly/aa5wWw

  16. Billy Blofeld

    As usual with Joss Stone articles you have to look elsewhere to find the full facts. For instance with ref the Climategate report:

    1. The inquiry found that scientists at the CRU and elsewhere had been “misleading” in the way they used the celebrated “hockey stick” graph of reconstructed past temperatures.

    2. Criticism of the Climategate report itself: the report’s own methods seem less than thorough. For instance, the inquiry team investigated only three among many instances in which the scientists seemed to be subverting the peer-review process. In particular, it did not look in detail at one instance in which Jones, then director of the unit, said in an email that he had “gone to town” to prevent publication of a paper that was critical of his own work.

    3. Also: Nor did the investigators get to the bottom of whether CRU scientists had deleted emails for fear they might be requested under freedom-of-information laws. “We find that there was evidence that emails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them,” states the report. But at the launch this morning, the authors admitted they had not specifically asked the researchers if they had deleted such emails.

    Joss Stone has a political agenda. It is best to take his articles with a pinch of salt and find some balanced opinion.

    Source material from The New Scientist

  17. Billy Blofeld

    ………..even Joss Garman articles……..

  18. Jason

    RT theneweconomics: Great post on why the various climategate "scandals" amount to nothing more than media hype. http://bit.ly/aa5wWw

  19. Richard North

    Richard North says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    July 7, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Billy Blofeld says:
    published
    July 7, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Joss, why no publication? … begins to look as if you are frit. Is this how the great climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace and a co-founder of Plane Stupid reacts to criticism.

  20. Daniel Nobody

    RT @leftfootfwd: Climate so-called ‘scandals’: Why it’s a storm in a teacup and why it’s the media who should be apologising http://bit.ly/aa5wWw

  21. Mac

    Amazongate was a WWF piece of fakery. Give credit were credit is due.

    What is yet to be explained is how this nonsense piece of grey literature ended up in AR4. The IPCC have so far failed to provide an explanation.

  22. Joss Garman

    @ Richard North

    I have to admire your audacity… That even after the Sunday Times retracted their article and apologised – admitting their Amazon story was “flawed,” even after Dr. Simon Lewis’ PCC complaint was upheld, and even after you lost credibility with the British newspapers who (used to) take your briefings… you’re still banging the drum.

    An excellent account of how Amazongate unfolded is here: http://climatesafety.org/swallowing-lies-how-the-denial-lobby-feeds-the-press/

    In particular, I would draw your attention to this quote from Dan Nepstad:

    “The IPCC statement on the Amazon is correct, but the citations listed in the Rowell and Moore report were incomplete.”

    Like I said… a referencing error. And that’s all.

  23. Mac

    JG, quoting Nepstad, “The IPCC statement on the Amazon is correct”.

    It can’t be the particular IPCC claim that 40% of the forests of the Amazon rainforest are sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall, because that is an unsupported assertion (not a correct statement of fact).

    As you well know there is no science at hand to support the claims of the WWF, IPCC nor Nepstad.

  24. Thomas Nordwest ✔

    Climate ‘scandals’: Why it’s the media who should be apologising http://bit.ly/aa5wWw

  25. Mac

    re: JG, “Ah, Richard… http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/jul/09/monbiot-richard-north-eu-sue

    Nope, can’t see anything about the Amazon rainforest being sensitive to small reductions in rainfall in this link.

    Can you provide with a link to actual peer reviewed science that supports this claim?

  26. Mac

    Even Roger Pielke Jnr is on your case now.

    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2010/07/deep-into-amazonian-mud.html

    Quote, RG Jnr, “Those claiming that there is nothing to see here are simply wrong — the IPCC botched this one. The various defenses of this issue are an embarrassment.”

  27. Mac

    Left Foot Forward claims to be an evidence based blog.

    So RG, if you are an evidence based blogger, can you provide me with a link that supports the IPCC claim that 40% of the Amazon rainforest being sensitive to small reductions in rainfall.

  28. US climate scientists: World at a crossroads on climate | Left Foot Forward

    […] Left Foot Forward already reported, the so-called ‘Amazongate’ story was retracted. The so-called ‘Africagate’ story was also […]

  29. Exposed: Exxon funding climate denial. Yes, again | Left Foot Forward

    […] in the New York Times describing “the debunking of climategate”. It also comes after the retraction of both the “Amazongate” story and the “Africagate” story, and follows news that climate […]

  30. Exposed: Exxon funding climate denial. Yes, again | Joss Garman

    […] in the New York Times describing “the debunking of climategate”. It also comes after the retraction of both the “Amazongate” story and the “Africagate” story, and follows news that climate […]

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