TCS Daily


A Matter of Balance

By Roy Spencer - January 19, 2005 12:00 AM

A leading U.S. hurricane researcher at NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Dr. Chris Landsea, has resigned from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The reason: To protest the personal leanings of an IPCC lead author on the subject of climate and hurricanes.

That is no small matter. The IPCC is widely considered by the world's governments to be the most authoritative source for what we know about global warming. It periodically produces reports on the sate of the science of global warming, and is currently working on its Fourth Assessment Report.

Many scientists from a variety of countries participate in this process, and the reports are packed with useful -- if often technical -- information. Unfortunately, because of the large amount of detailed analysis in the reports, they are abbreviated into summaries for policymakers and politicians. And that opens the door to bias if the authors of the summaries and lead authors of individual chapters do not ensure that what is written provides a balanced view of the science.

Landsea, in resigning, is protesting a lack of such balance on the part on one lead author - Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the Observations chapter on which Landsea was working. Landsea notes in his letter to the scientific community that Trenberth has publicly advocated the view that substantial increases in hurricane activity will accompany global warming, despite the lack of a scientific basis for a hurricane-global warming connection.

Dr. Landsea, in fact, believes from his research that the current state of the science suggests little if any increase in predicted hurricane strength in the next 80 years. His view is consistent with the IPCC's Third Assessment Report of 2001.

Some might try to portray these events as simply a case of "sour grapes" on the part of Dr. Landsea for being a minority voice against a "consensus" viewpoint. But Landsea is not attacking "consensus." He notes that all scientists have the right to disagree with what is perceived to be a "consensus view" of a particular subject. He believes, though, that it is incumbent upon an IPCC lead author to foster balance in the chapter for which he or she is responsible. Dr. Landsea's resignation suggests that that balance is currently lacking, at least on the chapter on which he was working.

His resignation, though, is just the latest fallout from what appears to many to be a U.N.-guided effort at influencing public policy in a politics-driven exercise in environmental advocacy wrapped in science, while co-opting the credentials of the world's climate scientists to advance its agenda.

Prof. Richard Lindzen from MIT has often noted the political leanings of the IPCC's Summaries for Policymakers, and therefore of its authors. And past experience has shown that the summaries tend to gloss over uncertainties concerning the future magnitude of global warming.

Of particular concern have been the oft-repeated declarations by the press to the effect that "2,500 of the world's climate scientists" (the approximate total number of participants in the IPCC process) "agree that global warming is a real threat to mankind."

Such statements are gross exaggerations as no such sweeping statements were ever signed off on by the participants, many of whom are not even scientists, but governmental representatives. Only a few of the reports' authors actually craft such pronouncements.

Through his resignation, Dr. Landsea has made it clear that he will not be part of a process that is currently broken. And the IPCC leadership would be well advised to not ignore the significance of his resignation, as it portends a shroud of bias that will envelope the Fourth Assessment Report if changes are not made.

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