Commencement of the second week at COP26 produced few highlights, but Barack Obama’s tendentious address has at least enabled today’s examination of how climate politics has polluted climate science and driven noble cause corruption.
COP26 President Alok Sharma set out the intended course for the negotiations throughout the final week, with ministers to lead discussions on political issues, while the more technical work continued. Discussions on finance continued, with continuing divisions remaining remain between developed and developing countries on how to set a new collective quantified finance goal before 2025.
Many issues are yet to be resolved, including Article 6 on cooperative approaches to emissions trading which has been a sticking point in finalising the architecture to implement the Paris Agreement. There are also adaptation issues, transparency issues, loss and damage, response measures, and finance. While Sharma intends to keep to the planned closure of 6:00pm Friday, such hopes are usually dashed at these meetings. With hopes for meaningful outcomes diminishing, even an outcome that attempts to construct a silk purse from what has thus far largely been a sow’s ear will likely extend the meeting beyond the planned closure.
Former US President Barack Obama made his appearance on Monday, lambasting those who politicise climate change (as if policies of this magnitude are somehow beyond politics) and those who are reluctant to sign up for the most extreme agenda.
He singled out Russia and China, and his remarks endorse the view that in place of politics, we should defer to The Science. He defended Biden’s (lack of) progress, because he he had been ‘constrained in large part by the fact that one of our two major parties has decided not only to sit on the sidelines but express active hostility toward climate science and make climate change a partisan issue.’
There are two problems here: the quality of climate science; and the impossibility of science dictating which policies should be pursued.
To take the second point first, there is no linear relationship between science and public policy, as Roger Pielke Jr pointed out in his excellent book The Honest Broker. The assessment of risks entails economics, social factors, ethics and more, and so does policy development. There are many questions that science cannot answer, and as the late, great scholar of risk, Mary Douglas put it ‘When science is used to arbitrate in these conditions, it eventually loses its independent status, and like other high priests who mix politics with ritual, finally disqualifies itself.’
Climate science has long since lost its independent status. It cannot, for example tell us what the balance should be between mitigation (measures to prevent climate change) and adaptation (measures to prosper safely within a warming world). It would be hard to find an example of an area of science more prone to what I have called virtuous (or noble cause) corruption. Science insists on the transparency of data and methods and, as Karl Popper put it, advances by disagreement. Scientists are not prone to seeing their own errors, so it is important that critics can examine the basis of their conclusions (for a detailed examination of noble cause corruption, see my chapter in Climate Change: The Facts 2020, here)
Two brief examples of the common deviation of climate science from the scientific method illustrate the point.
When Australian sceptic Warwick Hughes sought access to raw temperature data from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the UK, Director Phil Jones wrote to Hughes stating ‘We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?’ This remains one of the most profoundly anti-scientific statements I have ever encountered. (to see the IPA’s definitive take on Phil Hughes, Climategate, and its Australian connection, in the original Climate Change: The Facts, read here)
My other example goes to the very heart of climate science supporting claims of an existential threat, because it relates to the key assumption of the climate models that modest climate forcing by increasing carbon dioxide will increase the concentration in the atmosphere of water vapour, the dominant greenhouse gas. This assumption of positive feedback is the basis on which The Science has amplified the original warming projection of Svante Arrhenius over a century ago, which was for a 1.2°C if there was doubling of atmospheric CO2. In the projection the warming would follow a logarithmic curve towards the ultimate outcome because saturation of the atmosphere with CO2 meant that each successive tonne of CO2 produced less and less warming. (Arrhenius thought some warming would be beneficial because it would stave off the next ice age, which was due, and which scientists in the 1970s warned might come upon us quickly).
Garth Paltridge, formerly Chief Research Scientist at CSIRO Atmospheric Research, and two co-authors, reanalysed the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) data on tropospheric humidity for the period 1973-2007, and in March 2008 submitted a paper to the Journal of Climate concluding that the NCEP data indicated that water vapour feedback over the last 35 years had been negative rather that positive. They found that if the pattern continued into the future, water vapour feedback in the climate system would halve rather than double the temperature rise due to increasing CO2.
The paper was rejected, with the rather remarkable statement from one referee that ‘the only object I can see for this paper is for the authors to get something in the peer-reviewed literature which the ignorant can cite as supporting lower climate sensitivity than the standard IPCC range.’ The Editor who rejected the paper at the Journal of Climate, was Andrew Weaver, who happened to be the leader of the Green Party in British Columbia. (the paper was then accepted by Theoretical and Applied Climatology).
Mary Douglas describes the situation with activist climate scientists perfectly, stating that for information to be accepted as true it ‘has to be wearing a badge of loyalty to the particular regime which the person supports; the rest is suspect, deliberately censored or unconsciously ignored.’
This explains why the consensus generated by the IPCC is not challenged, especially because those who question it are called ‘deniers’, the equivalent of Holocaust deniers, and sent to the intellectual green gulag. And so small island states seek aid to save their sinking nations, even though science says most of them are actually growing; the climate models overwhelmingly run hot; the landfall of serious hurricanes has declined; the earth has greened with carbon dioxide fertilisation; the crop harvest in India set a new record; and the risk of dying from an extreme weather event is less than 1% what it was a century ago.
The values that infuse climate science are clearly those of fin de siècle apocalypticism. Especially given the role of the Club of Rome, sponsor of the 1970s neo-Malthusian millenarianism, in helping create the sense of climate emergency, it is apposite to quote the Thomas Babington Macaulay’s 1830 response to Malthus’s Principle of Population:
On what principle is it that, when we look we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?
Science has not relied on consensus as a basis for verification for 500 years, at least since Galileo noted in 1632: ‘In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.’ Einstein made a similar point with his riposte to the pamphlet 100 Authors Against Einstein: ‘If I were wrong, one would be enough.’
The US Supreme Court in the Daubert decision of 1993 pleasingly endorsed Karl Popper’s view of what science is, and ruled that in fact we should assess the reliability of scientific information according to whether it can generate and test a falsifiable hypothesis (a theory or proposition that can be refuted).
The ‘consensus’ generated by the IPCC is the result of a political process intended to produce a consensus; it has not emerged from an open contest of hypotheses and observations, as one might expect of a scientific consensus that has emerged over time. Even then, such a consensus can be wrong – witness the persistence of the incorrect theory that gastric ulcers were the result of stress, not bacteria. Dissenters are simply not invited back and the IPCC process is riven with well-documented quality problems. [for example, IPA Senior Fellow, John Abbot, has shown that scientific research pointing to the influence of variable and/or cyclical solar activity on climate was clearly excluded from the IPCC’s most recent report in order to protect the image of the desired consensus, read here).
The official climate models are inescapably works of fiction and to a greater or lesser extent unreliable. They may better at discerning the future than reading the entrails of chickens, but they remain unreliable. A manufactured scientific consensus built on models of the future rather than on observations might serve the purposes of the Barack Obamas of the world, but it is not a sound basis for the radical restructuring of economies and societies.
Aynsley Kellow is Professor Emeritus of Government, University of Tasmania, and a Special Correspondent for the Institute of Public Affairs on COP26 and Net Zero. This is his contribution to the IPA’s daily COP26 Bulletin, to which you can subscribe here.