Can Climate Forecasts Still Be Trusted?

Toyota, the world's largest automaker, also contributed $80,000 to TERI. Last week the Japanese company was awarded the $1.5 million (€1.05 million) "Zayed Future Energy Prize" for its Prius hybrid car. Pachauri was the chairman of the jury, but he explains that he temporarily suspended his chairmanship because of his consulting activities. Nevertheless, he did manage to praise Toyota at the awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi, saying that the company deserves "the fullest appreciation" for bringing about a radical shift in technology.

Unfortunately, the questions about the IPCC and its president come at a time when the credibility of climatologists has already suffered, partly as a result of the theft of confidential e-mail messages written by scientists, the content of which has led critics to claim that data were manipulated. Although none of these incidents negate the evidence supporting climate change, facts ceased to be the focus of the acrimonious debate long ago. Instead, it now revolves around questions of belief.

'Criticism Has Become Fashionable'

"Confidence in the authority of the science of climatology is currently eroding in the public consciousness," says Roger Pielke Jr., an American social economist and expert on natural disasters. Environmental economist Richard Tol agrees, saying: "Criticism of climate research has become fashionable." And the British science journal Nature warns that climatologists can no longer assume that solid evidence alone will convince the public.

New Ammunition from an E-Mail Scandal

For years, malaria expert Paul Reiter of the Paris-based Pasteur Institute has criticized the warning, as expressed in the third IPCC report, that climate change will lead to the spread of malaria, saying that there is no evidence to support such a claim. Reiter accuses many climatologists of perceiving themselves too strongly as activists who are more interested in spreading an alarmist message.

Scientists already feel that the second part of the IPCC report, which addresses the consequences of global warming, is not as sound as the first part, which deals with the underlying physical factors contributing to climate change. This could, in fact, explain how the erroneous Himalayan prognosis slipped into the report in the first place. The report's lead author, Murari Lal, defends himself by saying that "the melting of the glaciers is such a huge threat to so many people" and, for that reason, had to be included in the report. According to malaria researcher Reiter, it is precisely this passion that is so dangerous to science.

The e-mails hackers stole from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia last November and placed on the Internet have also provided critics with new ammunition. An e-mail exchange between climate modelers that took place in the fall of 1999 suggests that the scientists were biased.

Abnormal Temperature Graph

The exchange involved the validity of a controversial temperature curve. The so-called hockey stick graph was intended to prove that the average global temperature in the last 1,000 years was never as high as it is today. To arrive at the date, several groups of researchers reconstructed past temperatures, to a large extent based on tree-ring data.

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