Climate Change

Published on February 19th, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan

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Skeptical Science Takes a Look at NIPCC in Midst of Heartland Hoopla

February 19th, 2012 by

 

Skeptical Science has done what it does so well this week and taken an opportunity to look into a scientific matter related to a current hot topic, the Heartland Institute leak. Dana Nuccitelli, in the piece reposted in full below, discusses the “climate-skeptic” NIPCC report and how it differs from the Nobel-prize-winning IPCC’s widely cited report (enjoy):

DenialGate – the leaked internal documents from the climate science denying think tank Heartland Institute – has given us a small glimpse into the operations of the climate denial movement.  Funds from a few wealthy individuals and corporations are funneled to these think tanks (and Heartland is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak; there are dozens of similar anti-climate science think tanks), which in turn use those funds in attempts to delay climate policy and misinform school children.  While the end goal of those climate action delay tactics may be in the best short-term economic interests of those wealthy donors, they also bring us one step closer to ensuring that we all will have to face the harmful consequences of climate change, particularly those children who they seek to misinform by ‘teaching the controversy’ in our schools.

However, while this rare glimpse into the climate denial money machine is fascinating, we must not lose sight of the body of climate science evidence.  Examining what the full body of scientific evidence says about various climate myths is our main purpose at Skeptical Science.  As such, we felt this would be a good time to take another look at one of the quasi-scientific products of the Heartland Institute, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) report.

The IPCC Report

First, a few words about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The IPCC report is one of the most impressive, comprehensive scientific documents in existence.  Every ~5 to 7 years, the IPCC invites some of the world’s best climate scientists to contribute to the report, putting together a chapter on their respective fields of expertise.  The climate scientists contribute their time pro bono, putting their own research projects on hold and locking themselves away for weeks on end, compiling all the up-to-date research and summarizing it in their assigned chapters.  The climate scientists are willing to do this without pay because it is an honor to contribute to the monumental end product that is the IPCC report.

(Note: this is the same reason why so many people donate their efforts to Skeptical Science, despite tinfoil hat climate denialist conspiracy theories that our website is secretly funded by billionaire Nazi conspirators)

There have been a few “-gates” associated with minor errors found in the IPCC report.  The only one of note involved the date by which certain Himalayan glaciers would melt.  However, the IPCC report is actually comprised of three separate reports by three working groups, and no significant errors have yet been identified in the primary report, The Physical Science Basis.  That so few errors have been identified in the many-thousand-page IPCC reports, and none in its physical science basis, is a testament to the quality of the report and the robustness of the human-caused global warming theory.

The NIPCC Report

Then there is the NIPCC report, which is sometimes referred to as “Not the IPCC report,”and for good reason; the NIPCC report is everything the IPCC report is not.  For starters, the goals of the reports fundamentally differ.  The purpose of the IPCC report is:

“to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts….The IPCC is a scientific body. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change.”

On the other hand, according to the Heartland 2012 budget plan, the purpose of the NIPCC report is to critique the IPCC report.  According to the Heartland 2012 Fundraising Plan, its purpose is to create a rebuttal to the IPCC report.

In short, the purpose of the IPCC report is to accurately summarize the most up-to-date state of climate science research and understanding, whereas the purpose of the NIPCC report is to try and poke holes in the IPCC report (unsuccessfully, as we will see below).

Second, unlike the IPCC report, the scientists contributing to the NIPCC report are paid for their efforts.  The overall Heartland budget for the NIPCC reports from 2010 to 2013 is nearly $1.6 million ($388,000 in both 2011 and 2012), with $460,000 going to the lead authors and contributors ($140,000 in both 2011 and 2012).  The 2011 Interim NIPCC report has 3 lead authors (Craig Idso, Fred Singer, and Robert Carter) and 8 contributors(Susan Crockford, Joe D’Aleo, Indur Goklany, Sherwood Idso, Anthony Lupo, Willie Soon, Mitch Taylor, and Madhav Khandekar), most of whom also receive a monthly salary from the Heartland Institute.

Note that Heartland is not the only think tank contributing to the NIPCC report; the Centre for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change (CSCDGC) and Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) are both listed as contributors on the document’s front cover.

Basically these scientists are paid with the specific goal of arguing against the scientific evidence in the IPCC report, whereas the only goal of the IPCC authors is to produce an accurate, comprehensive review of the climate science literature.  Indeed, this represents the biggest difference between the IPCC and NIPCC: the former is a comprehensive literature review, while the latter is a very select literature review.

The NIPCC Selective Vision

The NIPCC report exclusively examines the literature published by climate “skeptics,” whereas the IPCC report examines the work of both “skeptics” and mainstream climate scientists.  For example, the 2011 NIPCC report has a section about climate sensitivity – how much the planet will warm in response to increasing CO2 emissions.  Climate sensitivity is one of the most important climate science issues, especially for climate “skeptics”, whose arguments for climate inaction depend entirely on low climate sensitivity.  It tells us how much we can expect the planet to warm, depending on how much CO2 we emit in the future.

However, the 2011 NIPCC report only devoted one sub-section (and one page) to the subject of climate sensitivity, and only referenced four scientific studies on the subject (one of which is the debunked Lindzen and Choi [2009]; a second was specific to high-latitude, not global sensitivity; a third was published in a journal of dubious quality over a decade ago; and the fourth does not support low sensitivity).  The IPCC report on the other hand devotes several sections to the subject (i.e. here and here and here) and references dozens of peer-reviewed studies investigating the question of climate sensitivity.  It’s a clear difference between comprehensive and selective reviews.

As another example, the 2009 NIPCC report has an entire sub-section devoted to global warming “fingerprints,” and yet it only discusses one – the tropical troposphere “hot spot” (a part of the atmosphere expected to warm particularly fast as a result of global warming).  The NIPCC report has no mention of the many actual fingerprints of human-caused global warming which have been observed (Skeptical Science discusses 10 here).  Instead, the NIPCC focuses on the one fingerprint which may be missing, even though it’sa fingerprint of any global warming, and is not specific to human-caused warming.

Climate scientists Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt have also documented a number of the long-debunked climate myths propagated in previous NIPCC reports, which we have rebutted by examining the full body of scientific literature at Skeptical Science (click the links below for the myth debunkings):

In addition to being long-debunked myths, several of these arguments contradict each other.  For example, arguing that the planet isn’t warming, but it’s warming because of the sun, and it’s warming because of natural cycles, and warming is good anyway.  The report also argues that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was warmer than today; however, if the planet is sensitive to the factors which caused the MWP, then it’s also sensitive to greenhouse gas changes, which contradicts the “climate sensitivity is low” argument.

Summary

To sum up, IPCC mainstream climate science is about taking an accurate, comprehensive view of the entire body of climate science evidence, which inevitably leads to the conclusion that humans are causing dangerously rapid global warming.  The overall strength of the evidence supporting the human-caused global warming theory is the reason the scientific consensus exists.

Rather than taking this sort of broad overall view of the scientific evidence, the Heartland Institute pays its scientists to disregard most climate science research and focus exclusively on the few “skeptic” studies which support their very narrow focus on poking holes in the IPCC report.

The difference between the two groups could not be more clear.

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



  • George Baggett

    From the day Rachel Carson first published “Silent Spring” interested parties have realize they will need to work hard to debunk rational science. As Zachary aptly notes, it is so often the case that Environmental propaganda is often the best science money can buy. The other problem with this form of propaganda is that it is not actually directed at the thoughtful and circumspect. It is for distribution for the likes of Rush Limbaugh’s listening audience, and like the evening TV add about Oil and Gas being abundant in North America, the pretty blond is actually a dupe or completely amoral.

  • Greg Tilson

    It seems to me that the argument over the validity of climate change doesn’t matter.

    If climate is warming humanity is not willing or able to stop it. Concentrate on adapting human life to climate change impacts when an overwhelming majority of taxpayers believe climate change is occurring. People will believe it when they see it, not before. Now is too late to make a significant difference.

    If the climate isn’t warming there aren’t any actions necessary. Do nothing until an overwhelming majority of taxpayers believes climate warming isn’t happening then do more nothing.

    The climate change validity argument only matters if there is a political agenda that goes with climate change. People need to be educated (scared) so that the politics can evolve as desired.

    • http://importantmedia.org/members/zshahan/ Zachary Shahan

      We are already seeing the effects, clearly.

      The solutions:

      -Incentives solar energy so it’s more logical for people to put solar on their homes (even though they can already be making money from such systems within as little as 3 years).
      -Incentives for wind and geothermal, which have a similar effect.
      -Incentives for energy efficiency, so that people also see rewards for the societal benefits they are creating (not just their own money-saving benefits).
      -Put the proper price on fossil fuels (i.e. make such companies tap into their record-breaking profits to internalize the health, societal, and environmental effects of their goods and processes).
      -Put more money into clean transportation, rather than roads and oil, which would actually create more jobs and improve our health as well.

      Scary?

      Yes, very.

  • IBenJamin

    Yes, humans cause global warming. Take some dirt and cold water and mix it into a human with a body temp of 98 degrees, six billion times and you will have increased the global temp. Never mind that every action humans take from breathing and sweating to compacting the surface with every step and paving roads and building black roofed homes not to mention using refrigerators and air conditioners and creating thousands of explosions per minute under the hood of their cars for hours a day and there is no doubt that we are warming the planet.
    Now, what we do about it is another matter. Every time we try to control mother nature we tend to make things worse. Man is the most adaptable animal to have appeared on Earth and I say what we need to do is adapt not alter the course of nature. We better get the clean water issue resolved or we are all going to be in the desert without a drink.

    • http://importantmedia.org/members/zshahan/ Zachary Shahan

      Yes, water and food will be VERY hard to come by if we don’t take action fast, as will avoiding geoengineering solutions I think you are (and I am) strongly against.

      The solutions available today are quite simple and would save us a lot of money and health problems as well:

      -Help solar, wind, geothermal, and small hydro to have a price more equal to their value.
      -Price fossil fuels such as oil and coal to line up with their actual costs.
      -Advance clean transportation such as bicycling, EVs, transit, and walking through policies that stop pushing gasoline-powered cars on everyone everywhere and give us more choice.
      -Price food correctly where fruits and vegetables are not more expensive than chips and livestock products.

      Simple.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    There have been various claims or suspicions raised that the leaked Heartland documents are bogus (like by Meagan McArdle and commenters etc. thereof), including PDF time-zone tags etc. Anyone have more scoop on that issue?

    • http://importantmedia.org/members/zshahan/ Zachary Shahan

      been verified now by many sources.

  • Jake Starling

    Occupy the Planet.

    Global Strike on May Day 2012.

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