George Will's torrent of global warming misinformation continues with distortion of glacier data

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

In a Washington Post column, serial global warming misinformer George Will said that the "menace of global warming" is "elusive" and claimed that an acknowledged error about Himalayan glaciers in a report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) constituted "another dollop of evidence of the seepage of dubious science into policy debate." In fact, scientists routinely present strong evidence of long-term global warming and its consequences, including evidence of "[w]idespread mass loss from glaciers."

Will cites glaciers to claim evidence of global warming is "elusive"

Citing WSJ article on IPCC glacier error, Will mentions "elusive menace of global warming." In a column for the January 24 print edition of The Washington Post, Will wrote:

This complex and costly carbon-rationing plan supposedly would combat the elusive menace of global warming. Serendipitously, on Tuesday, as Massachusetts voters were telling Obama to pause regarding health-care reform, the Wall Street Journal was reporting: "An influential United Nations panel is facing growing criticism about its practices after acknowledging doubts about a 2007 statement that Himalayan glaciers were retreating faster than those anywhere else and would entirely disappear by 2035, if not sooner."

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- co-winner with Al Gore of another absurd Nobel Peace Prize -- issued the questionable 2007 report, which was based on a 2005 report from an environmental advocacy group that relied on a 1999 article quoting an Indian scientist who actually did not mention 2035. Another day, another dollop of evidence of the seepage of dubious science into policy debate, and another reason to proceed cautiously.

Scientists say glaciers are melting

WSJ article Will quotes itself says that the IPCC error is unlikely to "overturn the scientific consensus on glacial retreat." The January 19 Journal article Will quotes stated (emphasis added):

An influential United Nations panel is facing growing criticism about its practices after acknowledging doubts about a 2007 statement that Himalayan glaciers were retreating faster than those anywhere else and would entirely disappear by 2035, if not sooner.

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, said Monday that the U.N. body was studying how the 2007 report "derived" the information about glacier retreat, according to a spokesman at the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, where Dr. Pachauri is the director. Dr. Pachauri said glaciers were melting, but the 2035 date was in question, the spokesman said.

It was unlikely that these revelations about the IPCC report would overturn the scientific consensus on glacial retreat, but they raised questions for the IPCC about how the data on Himalayan glaciers were collected and reviewed. [Wall Street Journal, 1/19/10]

IPCC: Report's conclusion of accelerated glacier loss is "is robust, appropriate, and entirely consistent with the underlying science and the broader IPCC assessment." Following reports of the error, the IPCC issued a statement that said it "regret[s] the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance," but that the broad conclusion about glacier loss in the report "is robust, appropriate, and entirely consistent with the underlying science and the broader IPCC assessment." From the statement:

The Synthesis Report, the concluding document of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (page 49) stated: "Climate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land-use change, including urbanisation. On a regional scale, mountain snow pack, glaciers and small ice caps play a crucial role in freshwater availability. Widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges (e.g. Hindu-Kush, Himalaya, Andes), where more than one-sixth of the world population currently lives."

This conclusion is robust, appropriate, and entirely consistent with the underlying science and the broader IPCC assessment.

It has, however, recently come to our attention that a paragraph in the 938-page Working Group II contribution to the underlying assessment refers to poorly substantiated estimates of rate of recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers. In drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly.

The Chair, Vice-Chairs, and Co-chairs of the IPCC regret the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance. This episode demonstrates that the quality of the assessment depends on absolute adherence to the IPCC standards, including thorough review of "the quality and validity of each source before incorporating results from the source into an IPCC Report" 3. We reaffirm our strong commitment to ensuring this level of performance.

U.N.'s Yvo de Boer: Error "does not alter the inevitable consequences, unless rigorous action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is taken." In a January 20 Associated Press article, Yvo de Boer, the head of the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, said of the error: "What is happening now is comparable with the Titanic sinking more slowly than expected," adding, "But that does not alter the inevitable consequences, unless rigorous action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is taken." The AP further reported: "The climate panel and even the scientist who publicized the errors said they are not significant in comparison to the entire report, nor were they intentional. And they do not negate the fact that worldwide, glaciers are melting faster than ever."

"Glacier expert" Michael Zemp: "Glaciers are the best proof that climate change is happening." From a January 20 CNN.com article:

A glacier expert interviewed by CNN explained that the data published was flawed.

Michael Zemp from the World Glacier Monitoring Service said: "There are simply no observations available to make these sorts of statements."

Zemp says that the figures quoted in the report are not possible because 500,000 square kilometers is estimated to be the total surface area of all mountain glaciers worldwide.

"The other thing is that the report says the glaciers are receding faster than anywhere else in the world. We simply do not have the glacier change measurements. The Himalayas are among those regions with the fewest available data," Zemp said.

In defense of the IPCC, Zemp says "you can take any report and find a mistake in it but it's up to the next IPCC report to correct it."

Zemp also believes that the errors shouldn't shake people's belief in climate science.

"Glaciers are the best proof that climate change is happening. This is happening on a global scale. They can translate very small changes in the climate into a visible signal," he said.

Ohio State glaciologist Lonnie Thompson: "The issues under discussion are very specific ones, but do not detract from the overall conclusions of the IPCC, which are backed by many lines of evidence." A USA Today blog post quoted Ohio State glaciologist Lonnie Thompson defending the 2007 IPCC report: "[W]e're good at what we do, but we're human beings. The issues under discussion are very specific ones, but do not detract from the overall conclusions of the IPCC, which are backed by many lines of evidence."

Scientists routinely present evidence that global warming is real

Will previously distorted U.N. report to claim: "Warnings about cataclysmic warming increase in stridency as evidence of warming becomes more elusive." In an October 1, 2009, Washington Post column, Will wrote: "Warnings about cataclysmic warming increase in stridency as evidence of warming becomes more elusive. A recent report from the United Nations Environment Program predicts an enormous 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit increase by the end of the century even if nations fulfill their most ambitious pledges concerning reduction of carbon emissions" [italics in original].

U.N. report Will previously cited actually provides evidence for warming and its consequences. In that October 1, 2009, Post column, Will cited a September 2009 United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report as evidence that "[w]arnings about cataclysmic warming increase in stridency as evidence of warming becomes more elusive." But Will ignored actual evidence in the report that undermines his claim. Indeed, in presenting the findings -- which were "based on the wealth of peer reviewed research published by researchers and institutions since 2006" -- Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director, stated, "The findings indicate that ever more rapid environmental change is underway with the pace and the scale of climate change accelerating along with the confidence among researchers in their forecasts." Will also falsely cited the U.N. report for the 6.3-degree figure he cited. In fact, the U.N. report did not make that prediction.

Other scientific organizations agree that evidence shows that global warming is real. In addition to the UNEP report and the IPCC 2007 Synthesis Report -- which concluded that "[m]ost of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [human-caused] GHG [greenhouse gas] concentrations" -- other scientific organizations, including NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the United Kingdom's Met Office, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also conclude that human-caused global warming is occurring.

Will is a serial global warming misinformer

In the Post and elsewhere, Will has repeatedly distorted data and climate science reports. In his Washington Post columns, Will has repeatedly misrepresented arctic sea ice data. In the Post and in Newsweek, Will has also forwarded the fallacy that there has been "no global warming since 1998."

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
George F. Will
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