by Judith Curry
Two recent articles of interest, both from a conservative perspective.
The Serpent’s Egg
A recent article in the Quadrant is entitled “The Serpent’s Egg.” It is a hard-hitting critique of the IPCC, some excerpts (see original article for references and citations):
The newly formed IPCC rushed out its first report by 1990—in two years instead of the later reports’ five or six years—with the intention of making it a key document for the 1992 conference in Rio de Janeiro. To its credit, the 1990 report was moderate in tone. Its key tract was in the Executive Summary of the human-attribution chapter: “The fact that we are unable to reliably detect the predictive [carbon dioxide] signals today does not mean that the greenhouse theory is wrong, or that it will not be a severe problem in the decades ahead.” In Bolin’s memoir he pointed out that “The IPCC conclusions were carefully worded and did not say that a human-induced climate change was under way.”
The IPCC’s 1990 report was of course unsatisfactory to the green movement, from top level (UNEP) down. Putting the political cart before the science horse, the UN drew up its “Framework Convention on Climate Change” (UNFCCC) treaty, which asserted human causation in no uncertain terms, and foreshadowed a regime of emission controls. Additionally, according to Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC charter was modified to explicitly state that it was to support the UNFCCC.
The next IPCC report, scheduled for 1995, could hardly maintain the 1990 report’s “neutral” stance, given the Rio and UNFCCC anti-carbon-dioxide politics. In the event, the 1995 all-important summary for policy makers said: “The balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.” This itself was a compromise, watering down the draft’s wording of “appreciable” human influence. Bolin says he also ensured that the conclusion was qualified with a phrase, “fully recognising the uncertainty”, but media, lobbies and governments subsequently ignored it. He also complained that many other points in the summary should have been qualified for uncertainties, but were not.
Given that the 1995 summary gave an elephant stamp to the carbon dioxide pollution story, what (if anything) underpinned that summary? Frederick Seitz claimed critical caveats in the 1995 body text were deleted to permit the activist summary. Bolin denied this and said there were merely normal reviews of drafts. The deleted passages cited by Seitz included:
No study to date has positively attributed all or part [of the climate change observed to date] to anthropogenic causes …
None of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can attribute the observed [climate] changes to the specific cause of increases in greenhouse gases …
Any claims of positive detection of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced …
Seitz, a former president of the US National Academy of Sciences and of the American Physical Society, said he had never witnessed “a more disturbing corruption of the peer-review process than the events which led to this IPCC report”.
Bolin himself let a cat out of the bag. He revealed that the chapter heads Ben Santer and Tom Wigley had claimed, after inspecting the reviewed draft, that new evidence had arrived in the literature justifying a stronger conclusion on human causation. The chair of the science group, Sir John Houghton, thought this summary-strengthening was warranted and the bulk report was retrospectively amended. Human causation thus became scientific orthodoxy. But tangling the web that way offended some delegates, “who emphasised more the need to safeguard the credibility of the assessment process”, as Bolin put it.
Melbourne IT expert John McLean says that the “new evidence” involved was a five-page draft paper submitted to Nature but not yet reviewed, let alone published. And who co-wrote this draft article? The chapter heads Ben Santer and Tom Wigley, along with about seven authors of the IPCC chapter and five other names.
Sherlock Holmes would conclude that the chapter team, lacking evidence to back up their desired post-review rewrite, had written a paper and sent it off to Nature specifically so they could cite it for the IPCC report. The paper itself was clubby, thirty-two of its fifty-nine references involving papers by the chapter members, according to McLean. Four of the fifty-nine references were not even published work, and eight referred to IPCC documents. Of those, three were circular, referring to the impending 1995 IPCC report itself! The Nature paper was not published till July 1996. It was of the “state-of-the-art models suggest” kind, and it concluded rather weakly, “It is likely that this [warming] trend is partially due to human activities, although many uncertainties remain, particularly relating to estimates of natural variability.”
Somehow this conclusion had justified the 1995 IPCC summary: “The balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.” The saga was prolonged when several of the paper’s authors were selected as authors of the 2001 report, which in turn cited the Nature paper approvingly.
The IPCC charter has instead generated a circular process. Research funds pour into the human-attribution issue. Non-human causation has become the Cinderella of science, starved of funds and likely to kill your promotion prospects. Such research could put the IPCC out of business, and evaporate a lot of the science and technology funding (of which something like $80 billion has been spent since 1989 by the USA alone).
JC comment. This article paints a disturbing picture. I would like to hear a defense/critique from IPCC principals.
A conservative’s approach on combating climate change
Johnathan Adler has a guest post at the Atlantic. Adler is a professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law and regular contributor to the Volokh Conspiracy. Adler characterizes his position in this way:
Though my political leanings are most definitely right-of-center, and it would be convenient to believe otherwise, I believe there is sufficient evidence that global warming is a serious environmental concern.
But the excesses of climate activists and bad behavior by politically active scientists (and the IPCC) do not, and should not, discredit the underlying science, or justify excoriating those who reach a different conclusion.
The theme of the post is summarized by this statement:
[T]he embrace of limited government principles need not entail the denial of environmental claims and that a concern for environmental protection need not lead to an ever increasing mound of prescriptive regulation.
Adler makes the following recommendations:
First, the federal government should support technology inducement prizes to encourage the development of commercially viable low-carbon technologies. For reasons I explain in this paper, such prizes are likely to yield better results at lower cost than traditional government R&D funding or regulatory mandates that seek to spur innovation.
Second, the federal government should seek to identify and reduce barriers to the development and deployment of alternative technologies. Whatever the economic merits of the Cape Wind project, it is ridiculous that it could take over a decade for a project such as this to go through the state and federal permitting processes. This sort of regulatory environment discourages private investment in these technologies.
Third, I believe the United States should adopt a revenue-neutral carbon tax, much like that suggested byNASA’s James Hansen. Specifically, the federal government should impose a price on carbon that is fully rebated to taxpayers on a per capita basis. This would, in effect, shift the incidence of federal taxes away from income and labor and onto energy consumption and offset some of the potential regressivity of a carbon tax. For conservatives who have long supported shifting from an income tax to a sales or consumption tax, and oppose increasing the federal tax burden, this should be a no brainer. If fully rebated, there is no need to worry about whether the government will put the resulting revenues to good use, but the tax would provide a significant incentive to reduce carbon energy use. Further, a carbon tax would be more transparent and less vulnerable to rent-seeking and special interest mischief than equivalent cap-and-trade schemes and would also be easier to account for within the global trading system. All this means a revenue-neutral carbon tax could be easier to enact than cap-and-trade. And as for a broader theoretical justification, if the global atmosphere is a global commons owned by us all, why should not those who use this commons to dispose of their carbon emissions pay a user fee to compensate those who are affected.
Fourth and finally, it is important to recognize that some degree of warming is already hard-wired into the system. This means that some degree of adaptation will be necessary. Yet as above, recognizing the reality of global warming need not justify increased federal control over the private economy. There are many market-oriented steps that can, and should, be taken to increase the country’s ability to adapt to climate change including, as I’ve argued here and here, increased reliance upon water markets, particularly in the western United States where the effects of climate change on water supplies are likely to be most severe.
JC comment: So if policies related to climate change do not include increased federal control over the private economy, are they more palatable to libertarians and conservatives? I suspect that all of these except #3 should be broadly palatable?