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In Denial

The meltdown of the climate campaign.

Mar 15, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 25 • By STEVEN F. HAYWARD
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In Denial

It is increasingly clear that the leak of the internal emails and documents of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in November has done for the climate change debate what the Pentagon Papers did for the Vietnam war debate 40 years ago—changed the narrative decisively. Additional revelations of unethical behavior, errors, and serial exaggeration in climate science are rolling out on an almost daily basis, and there is good reason to expect more.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), hitherto the gold standard in climate science, is under fire for shoddy work and facing calls for a serious shakeup. The U.S. Climate Action Partnership, the self-serving coalition of environmentalists and big business hoping to create a carbon cartel, is falling apart in the wake of the collapse of any prospect of enacting cap and trade in Congress. Meanwhile, the climate campaign’s fallback plan to have the EPA regulate greenhouse gas emissions through the cumbersome Clean Air Act is generating bipartisan opposition. The British media—even the left-leaning, climate alarmists of the Guardian and BBC—are turning on the climate campaign with a vengeance. The somnolent American media, which have done as poor a job reporting about climate change as they did on John Edwards, have largely averted their gaze from the inconvenient meltdown of the climate campaign, but the rock solid edifice in the newsrooms is cracking. Al Gore was conspicuously missing in action before surfacing with a long article in the New York Times on February 28, reiterating his familiar parade of horribles: The sea level will rise! Monster storms! Climate refugees in the hundreds of millions! Political chaos the world over! It was the rhetorical equivalent of stamping his feet and saying “It is too so!” In a sign of how dramatic the reversal of fortune has been for the climate campaign, it is now James Inhofe, the leading climate skeptic in the Senate, who is eager to have Gore testify before Congress.

The body blows to the climate campaign did not end with the Climategate emails. The IPCC—which has produced four omnibus assessments of climate science since 1992—has issued several embarrassing retractions from its most recent 2007 report, starting with the claim that Himalayan glaciers were in danger of melting as soon as 2035. That such an outlandish claim would be so readily accepted is a sign of the credulity of the climate campaign and the media: Even if extreme global warming occurred over the next century, the one genuine scientific study available estimated that the huge ice fields of the Himalayas would take more than 300 years to melt—a prediction any beginning chemistry student could confirm with a calculator. (The actual evidence is mixed: Some Himalayan glaciers are currently expanding.) The source for the melt-by-2035 claim turned out to be not a peer-reviewed scientific assessment, but a report from an advocacy group, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which in turn lifted the figure from a popular magazine article in India whose author later disavowed his offhand speculation. 

But what made this first retraction noteworthy was the way in which it underscored the thuggishness of the climate establishment. The IPCC’s chairman, Rajendra Pachauri (an economist and former railroad engineer who is routinely described as a “climate scientist”), initially said that critics of the Himalayan glacier melt prediction were engaging in “voodoo science,” though it later turned out that Pachauri had been informed of the error in early December—in advance of the U.N.’s climate change conference in Copenhagen—but failed to disclose it. He’s invoking the Charlie Rangel defense: It was my staff’s fault.

The Himalayan retraction has touched off a cascade of further retractions and corrections, though the IPCC and other organs of climate alarmism are issuing their corrections sotto voce, hoping the media won’t take notice. The IPCC’s assessment that 40 percent of the Amazonian rain forest was at risk of destruction from climate change was also revealed to be without scientific foundation; the WWF was again the source. The Daily Telegraph identified 20 more claims of ruin in the IPCC’s 2007 report that are based on reports from advocacy groups such as Greenpeace rather than peer-reviewed research, including claims that African agricultural production would be cut in half, estimates of coral reef degradation, and the scale of glacier melt in the Alps and the Andes. Numerous other claims were sourced to unpublished student papers and dissertations, or to misstated or distorted research. 

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