14 February 2010

Glantz and Pielke Letter in the Boulder Daily Camera

Mickey Glantz and I have a letter in today's Boulder Daily Camera, here it is:

Watch that finger pointing

In an Associated Press article in the Daily Camera (Feb. 11) NCAR`s Kevin Trenberth is quoted as saying that the social sciences are "soft sciences," hence they bear responsibility for the sloppiness that has been revealed in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Dr. Trenberth`s comment on the social and other scientists working on part of the multi-volume IPCC report is an attempt to deflect attention away from increasing and legitimate concerns about the panel`s credibility.

Indeed, the defensive approach taken by the IPCC and its leadership is part of the problem, and has made the IPCC`s difficulties even worse.

The facts are that the IPCC Working Group 2, the impacts report he refers to, was put together by all people from many disciplines -- physical, biological and social sciences. The two of us -- both social scientists -- have raised issues about the integrity of the IPCC assessments for years, only to be ignored by IPCC scientists, including our former colleague, Dr. Trenberth. The IPCC`s failings are the result of an organization that operates with far too little accountability and transparency.

For instance, we have repeatedly warned about the lack of a scientific foundation in claims that the increasing toll of disasters can be attributed in part to warming temperatures. The IPCC`s gross mistreatment of this subject is only now being widely recognized, and rightly so.

Yet just last October Dr. Trenberth testified to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that the rising toll of disasters has been at least in part caused by global warming (cdphe.state.co.us/climate/ClimateChangeTrenberth.pdf). There is simply no scientific basis for this claim. Increasing wealth, population and reporting explains the entire increase. Before pointing fingers at other scholars, Dr. Trenberth may first wish to ensure that he has his own facts straight and is not misleading policy makers.

We have no doubts that humans have an influence on the climate system, with a significant influence from accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We have both advocated action to reduce emissions and improve adaptation. Enacting such policies will be much more difficult if processes of expert advice lose their credibility and trust with the public. Finger pointing, rather than taking responsibility, will not help rebuild that lost credibility.