Rael Jean Isaac Interviews Donna Laframboise, author of The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert, available from Amazon or, a digital edition, from IvyAvenue.com, 2011.
This is a book about the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an outfit few know much about if indeed they have heard of it at all. That’s unfortunate because the IPCC is having a huge impact on all our lives. The IPCC has fashioned the so-called “scientific consensus” that man-made global warming threatens the future of the planet. Its periodic weighty Reports (literally, they are in the range of 800 pages and up) are the basis for the efforts by the governments of developed countries to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in the process make the energy our economy depends on to function, and we depend on to drive our cars, heat our homes and power our appliances, vastly more expensive.
Journalist Donna Laframboise has exposed the full range of deceptive techniques, at times descending into outright fakery, practiced by the IPCC. While her sprightly title may suggest a flippant take on the issues, Laframboise has performed an astonishing feat of investigative journalism. It is all the more impressive given that she had retired from her journalistic career and was working as a solitary blogger, with none of the resources of the literally thousands of journalists worldwide who have covered the IPCC reports with mindless, slavish adoration.
Laframboise contrasts the claims made for its reports by IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri–the claims on which the reports’ status as the repository of a vast scientific consensus rests– with the wildly different reality. Pachauri says those chosen to contribute to the reports are “people who are at the top of their profession,” “almost four thousand of the world’s best specialists.” In fact, not only are some of the world’s leading experts in fields covered by the reports left out, but many of those who are “in” have no credentials to speak of.
Laframboise identifies a number of graduate students (at least one without so much as a Masters degree at the time) who served as coordinating lead authors (the most important role, in charge of the entire chapter) or lead authors (responsible for large segments of text). Half of those “four thousand of the world’s best specialists” were chosen on the basis of affirmative action criteria, above all geographic diversity, so that “the developing world” would be fully represented. One of those chosen on this basis said candidly “we were out of our intellectual depth as meaningful contributors to the process.” Many of the anointed experts were activists with close ties to environmental lobbies like the World Wildlife Federation, openly wedded to the proposition “It is nearly impossible to overstate the threat of climate change.”
Pachauri has boasted that “you can’t think of a more transparent process than what we have at the IPCC.” In fact, Laframboise shows, it is opaque, with no one outside the inner circle having any idea how key decisions are made.
Pachauri declares “The IPCC studies only peer-reviewed science.” Anything else, he says, can just be thrown “in the dustbin.” Laframboise reveals that this too is a fairy tale. She focussed on the 2007 IPCC Report which had 18,531 references. These were far too many for a single person to monitor so Laframboise called out the troops, in the form of readers of her blog. She worked out a system where three people, working independently, would examine the references at the end of each chapter to see how many were peer-reviewed. If their findings differed (the IPCC did not always include complete information and it’s difficult to tell whether some journals are peer-reviewed or not), the result most favorable to the IPCC would be used. It turned out that 30% of the references were to non peer-reviewed sources, including newspaper and magazine articles, discussion papers, Greenpeace and other activist literature– even press releases!
There is much, much more. Laframboise describes how the IPCC manufactured peer- reviewed literature. She quotes an IPCC insider who reported that when governments wanted questions covered for which there was little peer-reviewed literature, lead authors would try to have material published in peer reviewed journals while they were drafting the chapter so the article could be cited at least as “in press” by the time the final draft was ready. Laframboise notes that journals run by IPCC insiders could be counted on to cooperate.
What Laframboise shows beyond a reasonable doubt is that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was grossly distorting reality when, on the release of the final segment of the 2007 IPCC Report, he said: “Today the world’s scientists have spoken, clearly and with one voice.” Rather, as Laframboise writes, “a highly politicized body–cloaking itself in the prestige and authority of science–has spoken.”
It is a pleasure to interview the author.
Questions for Donna Laframboise: -
Rael Jean Isaac: Has the IPCC or any of those closely associated with it responsed to your book? What response have you had from global warming adherents or have they hoped to minimize your impact by ignoring you? What about critics of man-made global warming? Do you see them making use of the ammunition you have provided?
Donna Laframboise: The IPCC appears to be doing its best to ignore my book. However, a mere 10 days after the Kindle edition appeared – and prior to the publication of the paperback shortly afterward – the World Wildlife Fund’s head office in Switzerland issued a press release denouncing it. I find that rather interesting given the close relationship between the IPCC and the WWF which is documented in my book.
The response of climate change partisans to The Delinquent Teenager is perhaps best illustrated by the 17 one-star reviews (versus the 96 five-star reviews, as of this writing) of my book on Amazon.com. One of those reviews is authored by Peter Gleick, a member of the US National Academy of Sciences. He declares (twice) that people “don’t need this book” and says it will appeal to those who hate and fear science. Which is rather odd since the book is about a UN organization. Although Gleick accuses me of “lies and misrepresentations” when he was publicly challenged to provide evidence of this (by economist Richard Tol who read early drafts and provided an endorsement), he failed to do so. For its part, the climate skeptic community around the world has been enthusiastically supportive of my book. Readers are eager to see it translated it into other languages, and people in several countries have expressed an interest in getting copies into the hands of their elected representatives.
RJI: You give many examples of the IPCC’s malfeasance in your book, including outright fakery. Is there something you would single out as the worst example?
Donna Laframboise: I find it particularly alarming that the IPCC doesn’t describe its own personnel, its own reports, or its own procedures accurately. These are basic, minimum standards that anyone who wants to be taken seriously surely has to meet. I mean, if a child care center makes untrue claims about the qualifications of its staff, I’m not going to leave my child there. Period. We’ve been told that IPCC reports are written by the world’s finest scientific minds, but that’s simply not the case. Among IPCC lead authors we find graduate students 10 or more years away from completing their doctorates. We find employees of activist groups such as Greenpeace and the WWF. We find unqualified personnel from the developing world who are there for window-dressing so that the IPCC can appear to be internationally diverse. What’s astonishing is that even though the IPCC fails this basic test, people still think its conclusions about horrendously complicated matters can be relied on.
RJI: How do you evaluate the outcome of the Durban meetings and the “consensus document” that came out of it?
Donna Laframboise: I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to the climate summit in Durban, and haven’t looked at the document it produced. But this tiresome UN process – in which thousands of people fly off to exotic places at regular intervals and pretend for the TV cameras that a global emissions treaty is achievable – may finally be running out of steam. Much of the world is currently facing grave economic challenges – which means governments have real problems to deal with (as opposed to hypothetical ones that may or may not emerge over the coming decades). But the biggest obstacle to the sort of emissions treaty the UN has been pursuing is the simple fact that the US Senate voted 95-0 back in 1997 against having anything to do with the Kyoto Protocol. Let me repeat that: the vote was 95-0. It was unanimous. It was bi-partisan. Democrats as well as Republicans made it clear that the world’s largest economy would not be party to an agreement of that sort.
According to the UN, climate change is a planetary emergency and time is running out. And yet, rather than abandoning the idea of an emissions treaty and pursing Plan B, UN bureaucrats and green activists have spent the past decade and half pretending that such a treaty is actually attainable. I mean, what have they been smoking? It’s difficult not to conclude that UN climate summits are 100% political theatre – and that the only reason they haven’t already wound down is because the individuals involved enjoy partying in Bali and frolicking on the beach in Cancun.
RJI: It seems clear that the IPCC’s forthcoming 5th Assessment Report will be more of the same. What are the prospects of reform of the IPCC or substitution by a genuinely scientific body rather than a political body disguised as a scientific one?
Donna Laframboise: I think it’s unlikely that the IPCC can be redeemed or reformed. But it’s also true that many good, smart, sincere people have worked on IPCC reports over the years. Many of them were simply naïve – oblivious to the fact that they were being used by UN officials like pawns in an international chess game. Bureaucracies strive to expand their scope, their budget, and their prestige. It therefore isn’t difficult to understand why a grand global emissions treaty is attractive to UN bureaucrats. Such a treaty places those people at the center of the action. Nevertheless, I was genuinely shocked when I discovered that IPCC officials freely admit that the primary purpose of IPCC reports is to make emissions negotiations possible – to achieve “buy in” from all the countries of the world.
First and foremost, therefore, the IPCC serves UN bureaucrats – bureaucrats who decided more than 20 years ago that emissions reduction was required. It’s important to understand the sequence of events, to realize that the cart was put before the horse. The UN campaign to regulate greenhouse gas emissions officially launched back in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit. That was long before climate science was anywhere near mature. Because the IPCC was designed by bureaucrats to serve the interests of bureaucrats, I think it’s unlikely it can be transformed into a body that serves the public.
RJI: There seems to be a radical disconnect between the public, which is growing more skeptical of global warming claims, thanks partly to the efforts of many bloggers like yourself, and many governments which seem to dig themselves deeper into man-made global warming dogma every day. For example I saw that the new Danish government has just promised to phase out the use of fossil fuels entirely by 2050. How do you see the conflict over climate change playing out in the years ahead?
Donna Laframboise: Rather than thinking for themselves journalists and politicians are prone to following the intellectual fashion of the day. Since at least the first Earth Day in 1970 it has been fashionable to believe that the planet is fragile, that human beings are reckless and rapacious, and that we are on the verge of an eco-apocalypse. Rather than treating these ideas with one-tenth the normal journalistic skepticism, the mass media has endorsed and promoted these ideas for decades. The result is that enormous numbers of educated, affluent people across the world assume/believe that Nature is static, that any change in the natural world must therefore be alarming, and that these changes must somehow be the fault of humanity. When, for example, is the last time anyone was quoted in your local newspaper reminding you that planet Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years, that she was dancing to her own drummer, passing through one perfectly natural phase after another – some cooler, some warmer – billions of years before we humans turned up?
I live in Canada. Twenty-thousand years ago my country was 98% covered with ice. That ice has been melting and retreating all on its own for twenty thousand years. The Egyptians, remember, only came into the picture 5,000 years ago. The Romans ruled 2,000 years ago. So if the ice at the Northern end of the globe has been shrinking for the past 20,000 years why do we suddenly imagine that what’s going on at this very moment is our fault? And yet when’s the last time you’ve seen a talking head on the television ask that question? I mean, the level of debate and public discourse on these issues is pathetic. It’s beyond lame.
While I am heartened by the growing levels of climate skepticism reflected in opinion polls around the world, I fear that many of us are slow learners. It may take a dreadful number of expensive boondoggles before people wake up to the fact that electric cars and solar panels aren’t yet ready for prime time. It may take the grim news that wind turbines have wiped out bat populations (and therefore dramatically disrupted the ecosystems in which those mammals play an important role). It may take blackouts in which operating rooms and intensive care units go dark and people lose their lives, before we abandon our childish fantasies that it’s possible, with our current level of technology, to power modern industrial societies with nothing more than intermittent, low-density energy sources such as solar and wind.
The reason those kinds of tragedies may come to pass is because politicians like fighting climate change. It appeals to their egos. It casts them as heroes. It’s more gratifying and glamorous to rail against climate change than to spend one’s time balancing the budget or fixing the school system. Here, for example, is a quote from a recent newspaper article regarding Florida governor Charlie Crist:
Crist’s climate-change crusade got him national attention, with a write-up in Time magazine and an interview on the CBS Early Show. He shared a stage with singer Sheryl Crow and met with Robert Redford. California’s then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called him “another great action hero.”
In a world in which politicians are popularly regarded as scumbags and pathological liars, fighting climate change casts them as admirable. They aren’t going to give that up easily. Politicians who do begin to express more reasoned views on energy matters will need support from ordinary people. The only thing groups such as Greenpeace have to do all day is lobby for their point-of-view. Those groups are capable of making a lot of noise whenever a politician steps out of line, so to speak. Far too often these days, environmentalists behave like bullies, as though their particular point-of-view is the only one worth considering. We need to start standing up to them. We need to point out that they aren’t elected by – or accountable – to anyone. Like anyone else they have a right to be heard, but they have no right to choose our path for us.
RJI: The Canadian government has said it is pulling out of Kyoto but signed on to the Durban document. What is the situation in Canada which, given its heavy resource base, has an awful lot to lose in the wholly decarbonized future contemplated by Denmark?
Donna Laframboise: At the national/federal level Canada is now ruled by the Conservative Party, which enjoys a majority of members/votes in Parliament and won’t be required to call an election for another four years. The announcement that Canada will withdraw from Kyoto was a welcome one, in my view. But, by and large, this is a government that continues to pay lip-service to the idea that human-induced climate change is a serious threat even though this belief relies on reports written by the scandal-ridden IPCC. Canada is a large country with a small population. Given our harsh winters and the long distances between our communities there is no way Canadians can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to the levels that may be achievable by geographically tiny, high-population density, temperate-climate-zone European countries. Our situation is totally different and it’s time everyone admitted this. When all is said and done Canadians are sensible and practical. Yes, we like to think of ourselves as environmentally responsible. But we aren’t going to let our children freeze to death in their beds because someone over in Europe thinks our emissions are too high.
RJI: When people hear about the science backing up the warnings of unimaginable disaster if global warming is not halted, most do not realize that the warnings are not based on science, but on computer modeling. Could you expand on this a little?
Donna Laframboise: We all know there are no crystal balls, that the future cannot be predicted. The fact that we currently have access to large, powerful computers doesn’t change that. The IPCC is a sneaky organization. On the one hand, it points to the results of computer modeling and says such modeling reveals that horrible things will happen if the greenhouse gas content in the atmosphere climbs marginally higher over the coming decades. Ergo, we should all be alarmed. Ergo, drastic action must be taken now that will fundamentally disrupt our economic and social lives. On the other hand, the IPCC’s own climate modelers insist that none of their results should be regarded as “predictions.” These results, they caution us, are merely “projections,” merely “story lines,” merely expressions of possible outcomes.
At the beginning of my book there’s a quote from a Y2K skeptic. In mid-1999, when many of his colleagues were predicting dire consequences at the end of the year since computers wouldn’t be able to calculate the date correctly, a man named Danny Hillis wrote an opinion piece in Newsweek that contained theses lines: “There are no real experts. Only people who understand their own little pieces of the puzzle. The big picture is a mystery…” In my view, that is how we should think of climate modeling.
RJI: You make what seems to me a very important point in your book: we have been told the “science is settled” and the “debate is over,” before there was any debate. The debate is only now getting started. Given the huge importance of this issue for everyone–going forward, will we have abundant energy at an affordable price?–what can our readers do, apart from reading your book so as to be better informed, if they want to be part of the debate and have an impact on it?
Donna Laframboise: We all have busy lives. Most of us don’t have time to delve deeply into topics that are in the news. We simply assume the media is reporting on them reasonably accurately. But when it comes to environmental issues, that is not a safe assumption. Far too many journalists cease being hard-nosed reporters and instead behave like PR flaks for green groups. They routinely interview only activists – as if no other perspectives were worth exploring. It’s therefore important to be skeptical about any environmental news story, to remember that we’ve been told a long list of environmental tall tales over the years. Global cooling, over-population, acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer – all of those things were supposed to end in catastrophe unless (according to the activists) we fundamentally changed our lifestyles and adopted a fundamentally different value system. But the catastrophes didn’t materialize – nor will you find any activist who will agree that we’ve already made the lifestyle changes they said were absolutely necessary to save the planet. In other words, some people are drama queens. For them, the glass is always half empty. For them, everything is a crisis rather than a problem to be managed.
I’d encourage people to seek out alternative points-of-view regarding environmental questions. On my own blog, on the right-hand side of the page, I link to a long list of moderate voices. The people who write those blogs represent a diversity of perspectives. They don’t all agree with one another – and that is a healthy state of affairs. I think the drama queens need to be challenged. I think each of us needs to ask, quietly and politely during the course of our daily lives, why we should believe the current environmental doom story when so many of the others turned out to be wildly exaggerated.