Lovelock, stock and barrel


James Lovelock is in the media again, proving that anyone who thinks the IPCC is “alarmist” is sadly deluded. The excellent Marc Roberts’ Cantankerous Frank provides the necessary context… [See also BBC (with video) (audio), Guardian (one, two, three), Telegraph. H/t <2º].

Jones and CRU exonerated by parliamentary inquiry

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report into the disclosure of climate data by the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia has just been released [PDF, via DeSmogBlog], and it clears Phil Jones and the CRU on all charges. From the press release:

The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—”trick” and “hiding the decline”—the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.

The report calls for greater transparency and availability of climate data. Committee chairman Phil Willis said:

What this inquiry revealed was that climate scientists need to take steps to make available all the data that support their work and full methodological workings, including their computer codes. Had both been available, many of the problems at CRU could have been avoided.

More coverage at the Guardian, Times Online, The Independent and New York Times. Prepare for a deluge of spin from the denialist camp: Benny Peiser, head of Lord Lawson’s shiny new British sceptic think tank (you may remember Lawson refusing to disclose his backers when questioned by the inquiry — so much for transparency) is already on the job, as the the Guardian discovered: “It doesn’t look like an even-handed and balanced assessment. It looks like an attempt to whitewash and I fear it will be perceived exactly as that. I fear this will backfire because people will not buy into it.” And of course Benny’s already out there doing his best to create that very perception. No “fear” involved, it’s the impression he wants to create.

Global Warring

Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map

Geopolitics don’t stop because climate change and other environmental pressures confront the global society.  Cleo Paskal in her book Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map offers little hope of human societies setting aside their differences to confront the common threat. Not that she’s sceptical of climate change – quite the opposite – but as a Chatham House Fellow she has a lively sense of how rooted we are in our perceived national and economic interests and how that may play out as climate change begins to bite. It won’t preclude co-operation, but it won’t exactly facilitate it either.

The first section of her book looks at the internal vulnerability of the US and other Western countries to environmental change. The West is foolish to consider itself relatively insulated from the worst effects. Katrina was a good example of the unpreparedness of the US for the sort of environmental crises likely to become more common. Damages were estimated at more than $100 billion, in a year when the spending on the Iraq war amounted to $87.3 billion. The US is not preparing itself adequately. The key organisation, the US Army Corps of Engineers failed in New Orleans. The Corps is used by politicians to steer jobs and money to their constituents, and lacks executive-branch oversight. The National Flood Insurance Program, which steps in when private insurers deem areas too risky to cover, is resulting in people continuing to live in hurricane pathways and flood zones. The military is not trained to manage repeated major domestic disasters. Voters are not made aware of some of the already unavoidable impacts of environmental change.

Europe too has its set of problems. The UK government is far ahead of the pack when it comes to assessing specific climate impacts such as flooding, but is so far not tackling them.  Food and energy security are looming as major problems.  Given the existing vulnerabilities in the developed world she finds it unsurprising that stability may soon hinge on the environment.  Her complaint throughout the section is that shortsighted, narrow policies are undermining a home front threatened by climate and other environmental change. Those policies are also eroding the West’s position in the global balance of power.

Paskal devotes the next section of her book to changes in the Arctic environment. They may be a tragedy for the people trying to live there, but others see opportunities for resource extraction and for the much shorter transportation routes opening up for travel between the Atlantic and the Pacific.  The Russian Northeast Passage has been clearing faster than the Canadian Northwest passage, providing Russia with a head start and bringing Russia and Asia much closer to each other. Melting in the frozen tundra poses infrastructure problems, some of which may be eased by a switch from pipelines to tankers. However most of her attention is focused on the Northwest passage and the failure of the US to support Canada’s bid for control over it. She sees the US preference for an international strait as bound up with the ambiguity with which the US has long regarded their northern neighbour, and thinks it runs the risk of destabilising the West. Until Canada’s claim to the Passage is recognised and defendable it is difficult for Canada to talk to other countries, including Russia, on an equal basis about the orderly development of the opportunities offered by the Passage.  Instability threatens as a consequence.

The book moves to a lively section on the Asian giants India and China. Both face very serious environmental threats and both are likely to play an increasingly strong geopolitical role globally.  Paskal differentiates the two countries’ handling of environmental problems. India benefits from grassroots initiatives but lacks cohesive central support. However with good management the author sees the possibility of India ending up more resilient to environmental change than many other great powers, including China. The Chinese Communist Party applies its massive levers of state to challenges, sometimes without a real grasp of on-the-ground realities; it has political will but lacks ground-level information to assess the real vulnerabilities and flexible and innovative policies to counter them.  Increasingly both countries will, like the West, try to shore up home deficiencies by securing resources and geopolitical support from abroad. If the two countries muddle along allowing their competing interests to interfere with critical issues such as environmental change, there will be economic, political and security costs for everyone, including the West. Paskal considers various loose alliance arrangements which would avoid this. She has worked in India and puts some hope in the West discovering more respect for India and more ways of cooperating with her than heretofore. That’s her preferred path towards stability in a time of change.

What of the states which disappear beneath the rising sea?  In a section partly given to political discussion of the manoeuverings of the powers for influence in Pacific nations Paskal asks whether the ocean territory of drowned states can remain in the ownership of their dispersed population.  She discusses the possibilities in international law, which she acknowledges at base is largely a matter of international politics. Bangladesh has already achieved a fixed coastline under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Retaining ownership of the exclusive economic zone by those whose homeland has disappeared could soften the impact of relocation, allowing the refugees to come into a new home as a kind of state within a state with something to offer their host, rather than as downtrodden and dislocated. The Maldives and India is offered as an example which could work to the benefit of both.

This is a book about adaptation to environmental change. Not that the author is ruling out mitigation of worsening effects, but she recognises that the impacts already being felt or in the pipeline represent a pervasive attack on the status quo. It is her view that no country is prepared.  Sudden shocks can find the developed nations among the most wanting of protective measures. She compares the shambles of Katrina in the US with the way Mumbai coped with a great flood around the same time, and the relatively successful evacuation procedures in China in the summer of 2006 when eight typhoons hit the southeast coast. Nations can learn from one another.  Economies which don’t have the political will and don’t come up with good basic engineering, long-term planning, and sustained funding, will suffer. More environmentally adaptive countries will rise, as will countries with less expensive infrastructures that can take hits and still stay functional, like India.

Paskal’s book is spirited and interesting. Her background in journalism probably contributes to the light touch with which she conveys some potentially heavy geopolitical material.  Her insistence that climate and other environmental change demands a much higher level of preparedness than we have yet seen is plain commonsense for anyone understands the changes that are currently well under way.  Her perceptions of how those changes will also help shape future geopolitical developments are worth attention, though I can’t help fearing that the disruptions may be more profound than she or any of us would wish.

It’s grim up North (but beautiful too)

Blogs, or to spell out the contraction, web logs, were originally just that: a log of interesting things found on the internet. Yesterday was a day when I rediscovered that tradition. Prompted by a comment from glaciologist Mauri Pelto on my recent Greenland post, I started off by making a visit to NASA’s MODIS Rapid Response System image site, which provides access to near real-time imagery from the Aqua and Terra satellites (click on Near-real-time production under “quick links” to be taken to the most recent images). The images aren’t fully processed (you can see “stripes” and slight distortions), but they give you a good look at what’s going on. I first went and had a look at what spring on the Petermann glacier in NW Greenland looked like:

Continue reading “It’s grim up North (but beautiful too)”

IPCC’s Pachauri fights back

“We have a very apt saying in Hindi, which essentially translates as: ‘When a jackal is threatened, he starts moving toward the city.’ In other words, he becomes more visible. I think some of these guys are speaking out volubly because they read the writing on the wall.”

That was IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri in an interview nearly a year ago, speaking of the increase in the decibel level of contrarians.  Even so he was probably not prepared for the strength of the attack they mounted as the year proceeded.

But he is more than ready to defend the IPCC against the attacks it has been receiving.  The Guardian has just published a forthright article written by him.

“To dismiss the implications of climate change based on an error about the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are melting is an act of astonishing intellectual legerdemain. Yet this is what some doubters of climate change are claiming. But the reality is that our understanding of climate change is based on a vast and remarkably sound body of science – and is something we distort and trivialise at our peril.”

He reminds readers of the scale of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). The IPCC mobilised 450 scientists from all over the world to write it. An additional 800 contributing authors gave specialised inputs and about 2,500 expert reviewers provided 90,000 comments.

“In this mammoth task, which yielded a finished product of nearly 3,000 pages, there was a regrettable error indicating the Himalayan glaciers were likely to melt by the year 2035. This mistake has been acknowledged by the IPCC.”

He reaffirms that the major thrust of the report’s findings provides overwhelming evidence that warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and draws attention to our responsibility to ensure that future generations do not suffer the consequences.

“We cannot ignore the fact that the impacts of climate change, which are based on actual observations, are leading to ‘increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global sea levels’…

“Altered frequencies and intensities of extreme weather, together with sea level rise, are expected to have mostly adverse effects on natural and human systems. Even more serious is the finding that human-induced warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible. For instance, partial loss of ice sheets on polar land could imply metres of sea level rise, major changes in coastlines and inundation of low-lying areas, with the greatest effects in river deltas and low-lying islands.”

He acknowledges that the choices for stakeholders and the economy are difficult, but they should not ignore the IPCC’s findings, which are the work of thousands of scientists from across the world who “have worked diligently and in an objective and transparent manner to provide scientific evidence for action to meet the growing challenge of climate change.” Ignoring those findings “would lead to impacts that impose larger costs than those required today to stabilise the Earth’s climate.”

Pachauri moves on and presumably refers to Senator James Inhofe when he speaks of

“… the effort of some in positions of power and responsibility to indict dedicated scientists as “climate criminals”. I sincerely hope the world is not witnessing a new form of persecution of those who defy conventional ignorance and pay a terrible price for their scientifically valid beliefs.”

Inhofe is a long-standing climate sceptic, who last month called for a criminal investigation of climate scientists. He published a minority report from the Senate committee on environment and public works that claimed climate scientists involved with the controversy over emails from the University of East Anglia “violated fundamental ethical principles governing taxpayer-funded research and, in some cases, may have violated federal laws”. He named the scientists, who included Phil Jones and Keith Briffa from the University of Esast Anglia and Peter Stott of the UK Met Office.  Michael Mann was, of course, among the US scientists named.

Mann, in response, as reported in the Guardian, has quoted President Harry Truman way back in 1948 in the dark age of McCarthyism:   ’Continuous research by our best scientists … may be made impossible by the creation of an atmosphere in which no man feels safe against the public airing of unfounded rumours, gossip, and vilification.’

Mann added:

“I fear that is precisely the sort of atmosphere that is being created, and sure, it impacts research. The more time scientists have to spend fending off these sorts of attacks and dealing with this sort of nonsense, the less time is available to them to actually do science, and to push the forefront of our knowledge forward. Perhaps that is the intent?”

But to return to Pachauri.  He has not had an easy time himself in the wake of the acknowledgement of the error in the report. I have no interest in the personal accusations made against him, but it’s worth setting the record straight about his “voodoo science” comment.  It was not made in relation to the discovery of the error in the IPCC report, but in relation to a discussion paper authored last year by a retired official of the Geological Survey of India which said it would be premature to state the glaciers were retreating as a result of periodic climate variation until many centuries of observation were available. It concluded by raising the possibility that the retreat of Himalayan glaciers today was a delayed reaction to the Medieval Warm Period rather than a response to current warming.

However almost anything that Pachauri has ever said or done will become grist to the denialist mill. It is good to see him seemingly not dismayed and steadily persisting in conveying the message that there is every reason to trust the IPCC reports and it would be a dereliction of responsibility not to heed their warning.