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[A review ofThe Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World's Top Climate Expert]
DOES THE ENVIRONMENTAL EMPEROR HAVE NO CLOTHES ?
In recent years I have come to believe that “anthropogenic global warming” (AGW) is a gathering disaster for human life—in fact, for the entire biosphere. My main news source, “Democracy Now,” has hosted several prominent spokespersons for this viewpoint, including Bill McKibben, whose books, The End of Nature (1993) and Eaarth (2011) have helped to persuade me of the magnitude and urgency of this mega threat. Scientists Tim Flannery and David Suzuki have also impressed me with their climate concerns; and I should add that Al Gore’s 2003 film and book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” first troubled me about this issue.
A close and respected friend whose views I generally share, blogger John Spritzler, has always challenged my belief in a scientific “climate consensus” about AGW. Now he has thrown down another gauntlet of cognitive dissonance by asking that I read and review a book which asserts that the most prominent spokesperson for AGW, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has feet of clay.
The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert is the title of a self-published, 235-page paperback by journalist Donna Laframboise. She applies this epithet, written in screaming red capital letters, to her personification of the IPCC. The book cover displays a face with dark sunglasses masking its eyes and a cigarette projecting from its mouth. It seems to invite our disdain for the subject of the book before we even read the first page. This title and cover design would prompt me to ignore the book during my frequent visits to local bookstores. However, as of this writing (March 18, 2013), the 158 reviews at Amazon.com are very positive (73% = 5 stars, 13% = 4 stars), although I myself would give it only 3 stars.
The author does not explicitly state her aim until the five-page “Acknowledgments” section at the end of the book: “I am addressing an audience of ordinary citizens, and the questions under discussion are: What is the IPCC? and Can it be trusted? Then she briefly summarizes her answer: “this organization wields an inappropriate level of influence over our lives—and…it has a credibility score of zero.” Perhaps she exaggerates for emphasis.
The 36 short chapters and four sections of back matter in this book (77% are 2-5 pages in length) give cursory and unsystematic answers to the question, “What is the IPCC?” That information is helpful for a person who knows nothing about IPCC function, structure, personnel or publications; but the reader will be much better served to read the Wikipedia article (www.en.wikipedia.org/IPCC/) or the IPCC’s own website (www.ipcc.ch ). “Can it be trusted?” The author makes repeated assertions throughout her book about the IPCC’s unwarranted prestige, biased personnel, unaccountable procedures and misleading publications; but she relies more on rhetoric than on facts to support them.
Chapter 1, “A Closer Look at the World’s Leading Climate Body,” personifies the IPCC as “a spoiled child… admired, flattered, and praised…insulated from consequences (p.1), an obnoxious adolescent… a slapdash, slovenly teenager who has trouble distinguishing right from wrong (p.2). Elsewhere she calls it “a social club” (p. 58), “a highly-politicized body, cloaking itself in the prestige and authority of science (p. 86), “a small group of people imposing their own opinions on everyone else (p. 93), “moral midgets” (p. 118), and a “lynch mob outside the jailhouse door (p. 147). She calls IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri “a damaged goods chairman (p. 165). The Wikipedia article, “Ad hominem,” explains the “informal fallacy” or “irrelevance” of such criticism.
Chapter 2 suggests, as a prime example of the IPCC’s undeserved prestige, that it erroneously received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 and that IPCC chairman Pauchari inappropriately declared in his Nobel acceptance speech that “Action is needed now.” IPCC “Assessment Reports” (AR) of 1990, 1995, 2001, 2007 (and a fifth to be published in 2014) are popularly termed “The Climate Bible.” This is an example, the author declares, that “environmentalism has become a substitute religion,” and one which—evidently to her mind--is heretical.
Theologian Paul Tillich, one of my first heroes, defined religion as “ultimate concern .” My own ultimate concern is for the continuation of our human species together with the entire, enormous, marvelous diversity of flora and fauna on Earth; and I have come to believe that AGW seriously threatens that. I have never believed in the Apocalypse or the Hell of the Bible; but my personal experience during the past 70 years, together with an extensive study of human history, makes me believe that we human beings often inadvertently create small catastrophes and hells for ourselves on Earth, and that recently we have become capable of ending or transmogrifying life on Earth by means of either a nuclear or an environmental apocalypse. Author Laframboise does little to persuade me otherwise, although she declares that “Smart individuals armed with plenty of facts and figures argue that the opposite is actually the case. They say the state of the world is steadily improving, that it’s becoming cleaner and healthier. But their voices barely register.”
In Chapter 3 she gives examples of three such scientific experts with different specializations—Robert Gray (hurricanes), Paul Reiter (mosquitoes as disease vectors), and Nils-Axel Mörner (historic sea levels)—who have not been nominated to the IPCC, presumably because their scientific conclusions disagree with the asserted political agenda of the IPCC. Certainly, it is reasonable to explore those questions through the work of these non-IPCC scientists who dissent from the IPCC report.
Chapter 4, “Twenty-Something Graduate Students,” describes the relative lack of scientific credentials and inexperience of many young scientists who serve as contributing authors, lead authors and coordinating lead authors of the IPCC reports—in contrast with their allegedly hyperbolic character-ization by IPCC chairman Pauchari as “the best talent available across the world.” Laframboise laments that journalists simply accept and echo Pauchari’s pronouncements without researching the subject as she herself (a journalist) has done.
While I heartily agree with her that today’s journalism tends to be an echo chamber for official voices, I have not investigated the facts for myself. In fact, this is the dilemma of our computer-enhanced “age of information.” While a marvelous mountain of information for any given subject is theoretically available to us, few citizens have the time or energy to climb it and enjoy the clear view from the top; we necessarily rely on “authorities” for facts and conclusions. Although I am willing to consider that I have mistakenly boarded a bandwagon, I must say that, prima facie, the IPCC has considerably more authority than the author of this book.
Chapter 5, “The Right Gender or the Right Country,” asserts that, because of “UN diversity concerns… There are far too many politically correct appointments” to the IPCC, which is “a training ground for scientists from the developing world.” These criticisms are clear, but proof is not offered.
In Chapter 6, “Activists,” the author makes the assertion--which I absolutely do not accept--that “Data cannot be considered scientifically reputable if it has been collected and analyzed by activists. Then she discusses several IPCC scientists (Rajendra Pauchari, Richard Klein, Bill Hare, Malte Meinshausen, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Richard Moss, Jennifer Morgan and Michael Oppenheimer) who are involved in various ways with the major environmental organizations, Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund. She labels them “big green” and calls the double role of these scientists “a conflict of interest” and “shenanigans” by “brazen activists.” While the author condemns the activism of IPCC scientists in documenting and reporting AGM and warning the public about it, she herself is clearly engaging in activism with this published warning against the IPCC. Activism per se is admirable rather than deplorable if it is based on a true understanding of important facts.
Chapter 7 criticizes “Climate Modelers” among IPCC scientists (George Boer, Andrew Weaver, Gabriel Hegerl, Francis Zwiers) who “spend their professional lives in a virtual world rather than in the real one.” Against them, the author quotes Freeman Dyson, “one of the world’s most eminent physicists”: “They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in.” This argument against computer modeling of climate (and other subjects) persuades me more than the author’s assertion that it is “prominent among IPCC authors.”
Chapter 8 asserts that “Climate Bible authors are chosen via a secretive process….” and that it does not publish the names or credentials of government-nominated panel members nor the criteria for their selection. To substantiate this and other assertions, the author makes much of “678 pages of collected questionnaire answers” from a 2010 study by a committee of the InterAcademy Council (IAC), to be found at http://reviewipcc.interacademycouncil.net/comments.html . She implies that these include strong criticisms of the IPCC, and she quotes some passages from them in support of her arguments. I appreciate this citation as a source for future investigation, but I have not perused it because it is more than twice as long as the work I have been asked to review. Who knows if a reading of the whole will support climate sceptic Laframboise, or the IPCC? The concealed identities of respondents to these questionnaires also makes it more difficult to evaluate their comments. It is an example of the same secrecy which the author deplores in the IPCC.
Having spent far too long in reading and re-reading the book and writing this review, at this point I will abandon my chapter-by-chapter critique and skip to the end matter and my conclusion about the book.
Six sections of end matter follow Chapter 36: “About the Author” discusses the writer’s journalistic and other credentials, her motivations for writing this book, and her two blogs: www.NOconsensus.org and www.NoFrakkingConsensus.com . “Acknowledgements,” credits various facilitators of her work, including “large bottles of red wine.” “The Citizen Audit” describes “43 citizen auditors in 12 countries” who volunteered for five weeks to help the author fact-check the IPCC “Assessments.” “A Word About My Evidence” recommends “Both the Kindle and PDF editions of this book (which retail for $4.99)” and which “contain more than 1400 embedded hyperlinks that take readers directly to my source material.” That resource is certainly a big plus for this publication. The author rightly contrasts it with the fact that “much of the scientific literature cited by the IPCC is behind paywalls” [high cost of reprints or down-loads] that ordinary citizens cannot afford to breach.” The “Footnotes” section of this paperback, however, contains only 81 citations in non-standard form, and they do not cover the extensive quotations in the text. The “Index of Proper Names” includes titles of 7 books, 8 newspapers, 9 magazines and 5 scientific journals that are mentioned in the text; but there is no separate bibliography.
Ms. Laframboise concludes her critique of the IPCC “Delinquent Teenager” with this paragraph: “The real moral of this story is that scientists are merely human. They can be as short-sighted and as political and as dishonorable as the rest of us.” That conclusion resonates with the two quotations she placed after the title page: (1) “There are no real experts, only people who understand their own little pieces of the puzzle. The big picture is a mystery. Danny Hillis, Millennium bug skeptic, Newsweeek, May 1999 ,“and (2) “Science is a mosaic of partial and conflicting visions. Freeman Dyson, The Scientist as Rebel, 2006.”
Between these statements of reasonable caution, however, the author of this book has—in this reviewer’s opinion--given us a very modest number of facts, stated with immoderate language, in an attempt to undermine the authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Her book has not persuaded me that “the World’s Top Climate Expert” is really a “Delinquent Teenager.” It has not dissuaded me from believing that the IPCC represents a basic scientific consensus or that its findings and recommendations are correct. It has, however, persuaded me to reconsider the issue of anthropogenic global warming, and it has pointed to some other avenues of investigation. For this purpose, interested readers should probably get the e-book edition of this work with its “more than 1400 embedded hyperlinks” instead of this paperback edition, which I am tempted to classify as “pulp non-fiction.”
Robert N. Cable, Robert.firstname.lastname@example.org , Somerville, MA
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