Oh Noes!!11! Glacirs not meltin. Mak IPCC bad!

Posted on January 21, 2010


In case you haven’t heard, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is dead, done in by the nefarious failure to check a single reference in a 3000 page report. Or rather, that’s what climate disruption deniers want you to think. Here’s what’s really going on.

Back in 2007, Working Group 2 (WG2) of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) put together a large list of what climate disruption was likely to impact around the world. One of the impacts was reduced availability of fresh water due to rapidly melting glaciers around the world, and especially in the Himalayas. One of the specific claims was that all Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035, an amazingly and likely unrealistically fast rate of melting. After an Indian government minister questioned this claim, scientists looked into it and found that the date was incorrect and that internal procedures for vetting references weren’t followed in this particular case. As as result, the IPCC has issued a formal statement of apology for the error.

And if this were about any other topic except climate disruption, that would be the end of it.

But given the denial echo chamber, that’s not the end of it. Instead, we have <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/01/20/panels-glacier-disaster-claims-melting-away/?test=latestnews"Fox News calling this "the latest scandal in global warming science" and giving a platform to fossil fuel-funded deniers like Cato's Patrick J. Michaels. We have conservative columnist Lorne Gunter of the National Post essentially claiming that the IPCC has failed utterly due to this single error. We have Peter Foster, also of the National Post, claiming that this “is further evidence that the entire IPCC process has been corrupt from the start,” even as he acknowledges that the error represents a mere 300 words in a 3000 page document. Rick Moran of the libertarian blog American Thinker says this is “simply one more indication that the proponents of AGW don’t care about the science and are promoting a political agenda.” And that from a blog that starts with a complaint that climate activists want “to use this information to steal trillions from the world’s most productive nations.” Pot, meet kettle.

I’d like to see anyone write 3000 pages of scientific data and technical detail without messing up a few times. That this relatively minor point is being proclaimed loudly around the land as the a death blow to the IPCC’s AR4 conclusions means that all the other supposed death blows since 2007 have failed to take. Ben Webster of the Times Online makes a very good point when he says

Climate sceptics around the world have spent two years scrutinizing every claim made by the panel. So far they have identified one serious error; it seems unlikely that they will find many more.

So yes, the IPCC made an error here. But the general conclusion that glaciers are melting hasn’t moved a micrometer as a result. Tibet’s glaciers have still melted so much that scientists can’t detect the radiation from US and Soviet nuclear tests in the 1950s. Glaciers around Juneau, Alaska have still melted so much that the land is rebounding amazingly quickly. Glaciers in Switzerland are still melting fast enough that previously stored organic pollutants like DDT are being re-released into the environment at dangerously high concentrations.

This contrived scandal is fated to go the way of all the other climate scandals that have been created out of the ether – it’ll become just another “fatal blow” to anthropogenic climate disruption that is steamrollered by actual climate science and data. Soon, this too will become a “scandal” only in the minds of the truly reality-challenged climate disruption deniers.

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