18 January 2010

Sorry, But This Stinks

The IPCC treatment of Himalayan glaciers and its chairman's conflicts of interest are related. The points and time line below are as I understand them and are informed by reporting by Richard North.

1. In 2007 the IPCC issues its Fourth Assessment Report which contains the false claim that the Himalayan glaciers are expected to disappear by 2035.

2. The basis for that statement was a speculative comment made to a reporter by Syed Hasnain in 1999, who was then (and after) a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

3. Following the publication of the IPCC report, and the widespread media coverage of the false claim about Himalayan glaciers, Dr. Hasnain joins TERI as a Senior Fellow, where Dr. Pachauri is the director.

4. Drs. Pachauri and Hasnain together seek to raise fund for TERI for work on Himalayan glaciers, justified by the work of the IPCC, according to Dr. Pachauri just last week:
Scientific data assimilated by IPCC is very robust and it is universally acknowledged that glaciers are melting because of climate change. The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI) in its endeavor to facilitate the development of an effective policy framework and their strategic implementation for the adaptation and mitigation of climate change impacts on the local population is happy to collaborate with the University of Iceland, Ohio State University and the Carnegie Corporation of New York,
5. When initially questioned about the scientific errors Dr. Pachauri calls such questions "voodoo science" in the days leading up to the announcement of TERI receiving funding on this subject. Earlier Dr. Pachauri criticized in the harshest terms the claims made by the Indian government that were contrary to those in the IPCC
Pachauri said that such statements were reminiscent of "climate change deniers and school boy science".
6. Subsequent to the error being more fully and publicly recognized, when asked by a reporter about the IPCC's false claims Dr. Pachauri says that he has no responsibility for what Dr. Hasnain may have said, and Dr. Hasnain says, rather cheekily, the IPCC had no business citing his comments:
It is not proper for IPCC to include references from popular magazines or newspapers.


  1. Roger,

    You are a representative of climate science.
    Your father is a representative of climate science.
    Roy Spencer a representative of climate science.
    See the direction this is going?

    Please stop conflating an arm of the United Nations with climate science.
    If you were to say that the home the Oil for Food program needs to clean up its act everyone would agree (or just say duh).

    Those who believe in the scientific method need to disavow the IPCC to hold on to the credibility that science still has. If it’s not already too late; the public tends to paint corruption with a broad brush.

  2. -1-Maurice

    I appreciate the sentiment, but I don't think anyone would suggest that my father or Roy Spencer represents "climate science" -- least of all me ;-)

    For better or worse the IPCC is the leading institution of climate science. It thus needs to be fixed.

  3. The UN is the most corrupt public organization in the world. The record of corruption, on matters large and small, is lengthy. The record of achievement is essentially blank.

    That the citizens of free democracies all over are not fully apprised of that record is, sadly, the legacy of our news media. Had that record been fully and accurately reported over the years, the very idea of the UN sponsoring and taking control of any important scientific assessment would have been found laughable.

  4. Roger,

    this is totally off topic, but considering Tol is lurking on the thread I might as well ask. In a recent presentation of yours you make two arguments that seem contradictory to me. I'm paraphrasing so correct me if I'm wrong.

    1. realpolitik will prevent any C&T system from imposing meaningful caps that will significantly raise the cost of energy.

    2. a small carbon tax (e.g. $5/tCO2e) coupled with an aggressive R&D strategy is likely to be more effective.

    A couple of questions. How is #1 different from #2? Wouldn't a weak cap result in cheap allowances (i.e. in the $5 range)? Why do you believe a carbon tax is more palatable politically; particularly as you're an American where tax is a 4 letter word?

    I tend to lean in favor of a tax myself, but I've never seen compelling arguments in favor of one over the other. If anything I think it's one of those things that really comes down to nation-specific political considerations. IOW it's not about which is better, but rather which one is likely to get off the ground given the particular circumstances of the day...

    Since you're a policy type I wonder if you'd be interested in sheddidng more light on the basis of your thinking on this issue, as it seems topical these days, see j. stiglitz for example.

  5. If the IPCC cannot be “fixed”, does that mean that they will remain the leading institution of climate science? Or put another way, are we doomed?

    It might be easier to deny the IPCC the respect they seek than force them to behave respectably.

    Maybe someone who is representative of climate science could make that point since only the IPCC claim to singularly represent the science. Anyone come to mind?

  6. -5-Marlowe

    Thanks, a few quick replies ...

    1. A weak or non-existent cap would indeed imply cheap allowances.

    2. In my opinion, an upstream (e.g., well head) carbon tax would be much more practically meaningful than a convoluted C&T system. The point of the tax would be to raise money for investment in energy innovation.

    I do not believe at all that a carbon tax is politically unacceptable. In fact, a low carbon tax might be a welcome relief after the games played with cap and trade.

    Thus I see a tax as politically more transparent and from a policy perspective, more likely to do something meaningful.

  7. Judging by what's going on in US Congress these days, vis-a-vis health "reform," the leftists now consider corruption to be perfectly acceptable. I'm sure, therefore, that we cannot count on help from the libs to straighten out IPCC. Maybe there will arise a new paradigm that returns us to a modicum of honesty?

  8. As a glaciologist I certainly do not look to the IPCC for information on glaciers. It is not a leading climate science research institution. I see it as the lead reporting arm for global climate change science and response, trying to gather information from leading climate science research and put it together in a global picture. To understand the complexities of the current climate system, just as an example, I would see the BAMS State of the Climate annual report as a better source for climate data and analysis, though of course their focus is primarily just on that single year. With respect to the 2035 Himalayan glacier disappearance reference. I have commented specifically on Khumbu Glacier several times over the last year.
    I am glad it is finely being addressed. There is no mention of this silly time frame in the IPCC section on glaciers, that glaciologist's had a chance to review. There are glaciers disappearing, but they currently smaller ones.

  9. I agree with Roger on two points. More importantly this shows everyone has to follow the money. It really does stink.

    I also agree that a carbon tax is a better alternative than cap and trade.

    Cap and trade has proven to be a good approach when there are direct control alternatives. There aren’t cost-effective post combustion control alternatives for CO2 so in order to meet the cap games have to be played. One of the games is the use of offsets where CO2 credits are created to substitute for direct reductions. Not unexpectedly, the accounting of the credits and the offset projects will necessarily turn into a major accounting effort and is ripe for gamesmanship because of the money involved. The other control approach is to auction the allowances then apply the money for the same kinds of things that would be done with the carbon tax. Of course the problem with that is that governments could take the money and use it for other purposes and New York State has already done that in the RGGI program. The final argument for a tax is that defining the cap and allocating the allowances is controversial. So controversial that coming to an agreement may not be possible or may result in a program that has so many political compromises that it ends up being a charade.

    A carbon tax is direct and the money could be used for the projects that the cap and auction approach adherents espouse. The main argument against it is that it does not guarantee reductions.

  10. "Richard Tol said... 3

    Pachauri must go."

    Now you are talking :)

  11. The high altitude of the Himalayas is accompanied by thin air. Apparently thin air creates a lack of oxygen which affect theories. The consequential “thin air theories” are quickly cured with thick rolls of payola.

  12. Roger,

    Thanks for the clarification. Is your opinion/preference based on a 'gut' feeling or is it the result of a more nuanced policy assessment? Same question applies to your advocacy for a more aggressive emphasis on the R&D side of the equation.

    Again, I'm fairly agnostic on the choice of instrument and would like to be persuaded one way or the other as I don't find the fence particularly satisfying :)

    CNY Roger - there are plenty of control options for CO2 (and other GHGs). To name of few: fuel switching (from coal to NG or biomass), energy efficiency investments (e.g. new boilers), process changes to higher value-add products (e.g. pulp and paper). with regards to offsets they are indeed a jungle and an area where many reasonable people agree to disagree, but I would suggest that we need to avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There are in fact a number of very promising offset opportunities that don't fit within the incentive structure of a carbon tax (e.g. carbon sequestration via biochar, cool roofs). Just because we can agree that not all offsets are good, it doesn't follow that all offsets are bad.

  13. -13-Marlowe

    There is a much more nuanced policy assessment behind my views, which will be clear when the book comes out ... ;-)

  14. Buy the book eh? Plus ca change...but in fairness it is more lucractive :)

  15. -15-Marlowe

    Don't just buy one, buy a few copies, and share with your friends ;-)

  16. Patchygate's days are counted...

  17. Pachauri is not the only one with a conflict of interest due to AGW advocacy

  18. What I find strange is that such an egregious error could stand for 2+ years before being effectively challenged.

    That what is clearly a bogus, unsupported claim could last 2 years before being identified concerns me even more than the specific error.

    Where were all of the professional glacier scientists during the last two years? Did they never notice the many times this bogus statement reappeared?

    Does anybody have any serious (non-vitriolic, non-ranting) comments on how it went so long?

    I have seen some pretty damning stories about how the AR4 review process was rigged (Pielke Sr had a blog post on that IIRC), but is there no effective way outside of the IPCC for serious scientists to challenge something they know is bogus?

  19. 13- Marlowe
    We do not disagree much. For electric generating units I stand by my assertion that there are no cost-effective add-on control options. Fuel switching to natural gas does work but you have to build a pipeline to get the gas and some are close and some are not . Once you get the gas the efficiency is relatively low in an old boiler, so, generally, it is better to replace with state-of-the-art combined cycle. I don’t consider replacement add-on control but concede the point if you do. Firing biomass is good in theory but in practice it takes a heck of a lot of biomass. Think of a power plant that gets a unit train every couple of days trying to replace all that with biomass at much less heat content. Ironically energy efficiency improvements are discouraged because if you improve efficiency you have to upgrade all the other pollution control devices. That destroys the cost benefit analysis of the improved efficiency.

    I agree that offsets have their place but believe that they cannot solve the problem. We need lower cost low-carbon alternatives so we need research money for that. It seems to me that a tax is more direct and simpler to do than cap and auction.

  20. Roger, I think you're absolutely right that something, anything, other than cap and trade, is needed. C&T isn't a bad idea in the abstract, but as implemented, it is an impossibly tempting opportunity for graft.

  21. 19- Charlie
    I suspect, in a data free way, it's because the physical scientists look at and cite almost only WGI

  22. Cap and Trade ? $5 tax ? you people are living on another planet ! Just suppose your $5 became law, I would bet you 10 years of my life that $7.50 ($5+$2.50) would be eaten up by the bureaucrats to administer the $5.
    Think, not Thimk, we have to many bureaucrats which means we must pay excessive taxes to support there idiotic lifestyle, a bureaucrat ( public servant) should take a IQ test, in this world they don't and that is the problem, wake up, as Plato said, ''those who are to intelligent to enter into politics are ruled by idiots''

  23. CNY Roger - Agreed that there is no one size fits all solution and that there aren't any good end-of-pipe controls, but when talking about CO2 that isn't particularly relevant unless you want to get into conventional CCS which is very expensive.

    You're also right that biomass has its own obstacles but it can work under the right circumstances, particularly when coupled with co-gen (see Sweden for example) and the costs aren't what I would consider prohibitive. Of course that may where you and I part ways; I suspect my definition of cost-effective is probably different than yours :)

    I think we all agree that more research is needed for alt energy (ARPA-E is a good thing). But the more interesting question is what is the most 'effective' path forward from a policy perspective (note I didn't say cost-effective). I'm more interested in what can work rather than some theoretical 'best' approach. And that requires one to venture into the realm of politics (which is why I keep bugging Roger given his poli sci background). This quote from James Buchanan's nobel speech in 86 sums it up pretty well IMO.

    "Economists should cease proffering policy advice as if they were employed by a benevolent despot, and they should look to the structure within which political decisions are made…[We should] postulate some model of the state, of politics, before proceeding to analyze the effects of alternative policy measures."

  24. I am against cap & trade, carbon taxes, and regulating CO2 in any way. All these ideas are based on the fraudulent "science" of AGW.

    If you want a clean source of alternative energy, we have it - nuclear power generation. It is clean, efficient, and it would be inexpensive if the bogus legal hurdles were removed.

    We have plenty of other resources we are not using effectively too - coal, and natural gas for two. Shale oil and coal oil are all too expensive and ethanol should be completely done away with. We should not be turning food into fuel.

    We should be expanding our drilling for oil, the number of refineries we have and our smoke stack cleaning technology. Nothing else makes any sense in a market-driven economy. Government mandated markets are inefficient and destined to fail, and should not be tolerated in a free society.

  25. #19 Charlie

    We all accept confirmatory evidence that matches our beliefs without much question.

    Well run companies as a matter of course bring in 'outside consultants' to review those beliefs as a normal course of business.

    Unfortunately, one only needs to wander over to real climate to see that the AGW community is not well run. Rather then taking 'skeptical views under advisement', they spend all their time attempting to discredit the skeptics.

    Appellate and Supreme Court decisions always include the 'dissenting view'.

    If one looks at the Annual Report of Corporations...they always include all the items that have a chance to substantial impact the future of the company, regardless of whether management believes those events may happen.

    The fatal flaw of the IPCC is an attempt to produce a 'consensus view'.

    If science were done by consensus the world would still be flat.

  26. harrywr2,

    what exactly is the AGW community? Assuming there is such a thing, how are you then able to claim that they 'spend all their time attempting to discredit skeptics'? If you go by the recent GISS mail dump it doesn't appear that way...

    WRT to the IPCC you're fundamentally mistaken about its role. It does not 'do' science. It is a glorified lit review, nothing more. Is it subject to political interference? Of course! it reports to governments after all...

    And if you think corporate annual reports should serve as some kind of model for risk management (which is what climate change policy is REALLY all about) then I'm wondering if you know how many predicted the global credit collapse in their outlooks...

  27. Oliver (#22) -- That physical scientists look mainly at WG1 is an interesting supposition/observation. Like many things, it's obvious, but only _after_ someone has pointed it out to me.

    Harrywr2 (#26)-- confirmation bias explains why persons not familiar with Himalayan glaciers would accept the statements unquestioningly. My concern is more about how knowledgeable experts in the field seemed to ignore such wacko statements for so long.

    I wonder how much "self censorship" was involved in this case. In other words, were there experts in the field that knew of the errors, but consciously chose not to try and correct it because of potential negative repercussions on their professional reputation and standing, relations with others in the field, grants, etc. ?

    Sometimes I find that bigger problems can be understood and solved through first solving a smaller, simpler, but related problem. I look at the Himalayan glacier story as a possible way to better identify problems in the IPCC and climate science field, and perhaps figure out ways to improve things.

  28. Dear Sirs,

    Dear Sirs,
    I understand that for now a Hansen tax & dividend is no where in sight,
    Jim Hansen's latest proposals on "Tax&Dividend" vs. Cap & Trade ;

    What is coming down the road are other mechanisms like the carbon foot print pricing that will soon be lead by Walmart, (as goes Walmart so goes the world)

    To me, in the long run, the final arbiter / accountancy / measure of sustainability will be
    soil carbon content. Once this royal road is constructed, traffic cops ( Carbon Board ) in place, the truth of Biochar systems will be self-evident.

    As I read the agronomic history of civilization, only the Kayopo Amazon Indians and the Egyptians
    (Nile floods, which they now have forsaken) have maintained fertility for the long haul.

    We are also in De-nile about our own soil carbon loss over time due to technical mitigations like NPK and the green revolution.

    The true "Gold" standard is soil carbon, measurable soon by earth sensing satellites, available for all to see their good (or bad) works.

    The clarity and lack of complexity in this simple perspective has focused my efforts to this goal.

    The Ag Carbon standard is in the second phase of review by the ARC branch at USDA.
    After initial review they had objections on the oversight provisions and a few others that have been addressed. Gary DeLong expects approval in the next month.

    Contact Gary Delong if you wish to join this review list. www.novecta.com 515-334-7305 office

    Read over the work so far;

    I am also doing field trials in Virgina with the Biochar research group at Rodale Institute , in conjunction with their people doing regular soil carbon research involved in this Ag Carbon Standards process.

    Biochar systems for Biofuels and soil carbon sequestration are so basically conservative in nature it is a shame that republicans have not seized it as a central environmental policy plank as the conservatives in Australia have; "Carbon sequestration without Taxes"

    All political persuasions agree, building soil carbon is GOOD.
    To Hard bitten Farmers, wary of carbon regulations that only increase their costs, Building soil carbon is a savory bone, to do well while doing good.

    Biochar provides the tool powerful enough to cover Farming's carbon foot print while lowering cost simultaneously.

    Agriculture allowed our cultural accent and Agriculture will now prevent our descent.
    Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,
    Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

  29. Charlie # 28. "My concern is more about how knowledgeable experts in the field seemed to ignore such wacko statements for so long...."

    Similarly, leading IPCC authors such as Trenberth, privately admits to doubts within his small clique, but publically plays along with a so called "consensus."

    Disappointing and disgraceful.

  30. To someone who is saving the world, it is not a problem to overlook inaccuracies in laymans' publications, especially if it encourages funding their efforts. After all, what could be more important than saving the world!

  31. Erich J. Knight said: a lot of bull.

    The only thing phony "organic farming" can bring is sky-high produce prices and mass starvation.