Saturday, 31 December 2011

Review: 'The Delinquent Teenager' by Donna Laframboise

This 'exposé' of the IPCC, the UN body which assesses the climate change science, has polarised its readership exactly as climate change does - you are either for or against, it seems. So the reviews are either glowing 4/5 star affairs, or outraged 1 stars. Well, my middle name has always been awkward, so I'm going to put this firmly in the three star box - it's a lightweight little effort, fluffing a small amount of actual data into a book-length diatribe.

Much of the supposed scandal is, to be honest, not very dramatic. So some of the authors of the IPCC's reports are students and mere graduates? A science graduate is still a scientist, and the quality (or otherwise) of the science is all that really matters. So some of the authors are also publishing their own research, which they then quote? I would expect a climate scientist worthy of inclusion in IPCC to be conducting research and publishing it, in fact, it would be more of a worry if they weren't (they are supposed to be experts on the subject, after all). So the head honcho makes glib statements not borne out by the facts? This happens in any big organisation.

And shock horror - the IPCC is a political organisation. Of course it is, it's part of the UN, a wholly political body, funded by national governments to create an entire extra layer of bureaucracy. Like any parasitic bureaucracy, it has no actual political power, but it has great influence, and is self-serving, self-perpetuating and effectively accountable to no one.

The author does a useful job pulling together some of the biggest outrages perpetrated by the IPCC. It put forward the view that climate change was making hurricanes more frequent and more severe. It proposed that natural disasters cost more because of climate change. It warned that malaria would spread because of warming. It suggested that the Himalayan glaciers were melting faster than expected. All of these contradicted the consensus views of experts, and were not supported by hard evidence.

Then there is the infamous hockey stick graph, showing temperatures flat for a thousand years and a sharp recent rise, thereby ignoring the well-known Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. It's worth quoting the reaction of geologist Don Easterbrook on this: "If you look in GeoRef, which is the bibliography for publications in geology, you will find 485 papers on the Medieval Warm Period and you'll find 1,413 on the Little Ice Age. So the total number of papers in the geologic literature is 1,900. And we're expected to believe that one curve [based on] tree rings is going to overturn all of those 1,900 papers? I don't think so." Several people have devoted a lot of time and effort to working out just where the hockey stick graph came from and finding the flaws in the data and analysis behind it, and the IPCC has quietly dropped it from its latest publication, but it was hugely influential at the time.

There have been many books published over the years about climate change (on both sides of the debate) and the argument has become increasingly acrimonious. This book looks closely at the organisation most responsible for bringing the issues to public attention, and persuading governments to do something about it. Given the high stakes and costs involved, and the implications for those impacted by government action, it was time for an investigation of the IPCC. This book questions the process it uses, its standards and methods, and even its motivations. There is nothing terribly profound or surprising in here, but it needed to be said. Three stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment