Call the climate bluff once for all

By Dev Nadkarni

How well life imitates art.

When one of my favourite novelists, Michael Crichton (who died last year), wrote about how a group of influential climate scientists and diehard environmentalists in collusion with big firms involved in mega funded climate change projects hired experts to detonate explosives to set tsunamis in motion to prove their point just as a major global conference on the subject gets under way, I thought it was a bit over the top – even for a work of fiction by someone like Crichton.

In 2004, as I read State of fear, a novel based on the politics of global warming (and a fair bit of which is set in the South Pacific island nations), I was nagged by a sense of disbelief: I like works of fiction to be in the realm of the plausible. Fiction based on real life – not pure fantasy.

People of science going to such lengths in the novel seemed fantasy to me for in my rather naïve worldview; scientists are among the most trustworthy humans. True, all generalisations (including this one) are humbug but that’s the way I’ve always believed all scientists are: honest in their beliefs and true to their work.

But the weeks since Copenhagen have proved Michael Crichton right (and exposed my naivety): like everywhere else in life, there are exceptions among scientists too.

The bollocking for the global warming acolytes in the scientific establishment began with the leaked emails of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU). The missives eloquently told a sordid story of hostility to climate scientists with an opposite view that went against the view they were advancing, as also manipulations of documentation, distortions and data doctoring, not to speak of disparaging email messages.

The imbroglio is now a subject of investigations and one of the main scientists has had to shamefacedly step down. He has since been reported telling BBC that in the past 15 years there has not statistically been “any significant” global warming, though he said he personally believed the world was warming.

And this organisation – the CRU – happens to be one of the main sources, which the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) bases its science on.

In the following weeks, it got worse for the global warming fundamentalists. British newspapers reported that one of IPCC’s key findings on melting glaciers “may have been simply taken from a press interview with an obscure Indian scientist.” Based on such a flimsy premise, the IPCC had made a prediction that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035.

It was later found that the scientist quoted in the interview had expressed his opinion only as a surmise. He was untraceable when reporters tried to contact him.

In the wake of this Himalayan glaciergate, the Indian government’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh told the media, “We should not depend only on reports from the UN body.  Its fault was that it didn’t do original research and derives assessments from published literature.”

The Indian government has now set up the National Institute of Himalayan Glaciology to undertake its own research. This is bad news for the IPCC, which is now increasingly under the scanner (including reports that its chief drives a gas guzzler for city driving).

Like the University of East Anglia, the IPCC also uses NASA’s research, which, too, has come under scrutiny in recent times. When NASA scientists discovered errors in their logs and corrected them, the findings showed 1934 as the warmest year (instead of 1998, which was previously touted as the warmest) and 1921 was found to have been the third warmest in the past century. So, there were warmer years long before jets and big smokestacks filled the skies with their carbon-spewing activity.

It boggles the mind to think that it is such carelessly collated data, sometimes unabashedly fudged by vested interests and erroneous observations by scientific institutions that pour scorn on anyone who legitimately challenges them, that played a large part in shaping Kyoto and Copenhagen. And of course, went a long way in making US$ 100 million for Al Gore’s documentary.

What an inconvenient truth.

Such questionable observations and ‘findings’ by the pliable scientific establishment ably aided by the ever willing handmaiden that is the global instant media has driven governments, economists, lawyers and accountants to conjure up complex trading regimes such as cap-and-trade in the interests of a chimerical greener world that exists only in certain kinds of computer modeling techniques.

Ultimately, it is the mums and dads of the world who will fork out these costs – whether they understand their basic premise and how they are calculated and believe they are justified or not (surveys in Australia as also in several other developed countries show a majority of the people do not understand what carbon trading is and how its mechanism works. It is today a major issue confronting the Australia today).

The fad like phenomenon of food miles and carbon footprint, though extremely pretty and ennobling as concepts but based on the same faulty science, could actually prove counterproductive in the medium term, as a German speaker at a conference on tourism investment in Samoa demonstrated last month.

If people worried too much about their carbon footprint and stopped travelling to a faraway island nation that depends on tourism for revenue, sooner rather than later, the islanders will be forced to leverage their natural resources by resorting to deforestation, logging and the like – causing even worse and immediate environmental degradation than the damage caused by jet fuel if people travelled there.

Happily, at the same conference we also heard that climate change and sea level rise hadn’t yet touched the consciousness of the global investment community in a manner that deterred them from seriously considering investing in the poor, sinking Pacific Islands. This is indeed good news for the economy of the islands that can at least look forward to some forthcoming investment, not having to contend with scared investors touting sea level rise as their latest reason not to invest in the islands.

To say all this is not at all to deny climate change. That climate change is happening is beyond any doubt. No one has better experiential knowledge of it than the people of the islands, especially of the atolls. It’s a reality that stares them in their faces – and they can do without the spin of the alarmists whose extremism can do more harm than good.

What we need is a method in this environmental madness; not zealotry based on questionable science but a modicum of honesty and a willingness to deal with the problem at the local ecosystem level as much as at a global level. It is for honest and right thinking people to make that happen. We need to get real in the real interests of the planet, not the beliefs in our untested, imagined and many times fanciful theories.

Going back to Crichton’s fictional scientists who created a tsunami to prove their point and ensure continued funding, I wonder if global warming extremists secretly believe it was the climate skeptics who conspired to dump snow like never before in a 100 years on Copenhagen and Europe as the big jamboree unfolded there. That same scenario has been played out across the United States and Canada in subsequent weeks and months.

First appeared in Islands Business, March 2010