Sooner or later someone on the orthodox side will call out that ‘all the world’s scientific academies agree that the warming is real, due to humans and a threat’. That is supposed to be a discussion-stopper. There is plenty of support for the cry if you go to the web. Here is the beginning of a very recent NASA statement on ‘climate change’:
Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 per cent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.
I dealt with the 97 per cent absurdity in a recent essay, and note this is not an encouraging start to an essay on anything to do with global warming. The NASA site lists a lot of the American organisations that have followed its example, but not from elsewhere in the world. Now NASA sounds as though it is a scientific organisation of undoubted quality, and to a degree it is. It is also an arm of the US government — its website is nasa.gov etc. The particular essay I have linked to is not a scientific paper but a political statement, and one that is in accord with the position of the Obama Administration.
Not every scientific academy has come out with a ringing endorsement of the IPCC position. The conspicuous exceptions are the Russian, the Chinese and the Indian academies, all of which seem to be somewhat undecided, with official pronouncements that seem to support the orthodoxy, and statements by leading scientists that are not supportive of the orthodoxy at all*. Since Russia and China are highly controlled societies, the ambiguity of their positions points to a conflict of approach. Global warming would undoubtedly be a great boon to Russia, a large proportion of whose land is tundra, The same is true to a smaller extent with respect to China. As for India, my own guess is that the Indian Government, whichever party is in power, is intent on rapid industrialisation, which is far more important to the nation than statements about global warming or ‘climate change’. Nonetheless, if there is money about, then India will define itself as a poor nation and stick its hand out. That is, I am reasonably sure, the motive behind the unanimous support of the African association of scientific organisations, and of other such bodies in developing countries..
Australian scientific bodies have been to the forefront in adding their own convictions, the only exception of which I am aware being the Australian Geological Society, which consulted its members and decided against having any statement: there was too little agreement among the members about the direction and wording of any such document. The two scientific Academies, Science, and Technological Sciences and Engineering, are independent bodies that derive some of their income from Federal Government grants. How much of their position is related to that income stream I do not know.
The AAS, the more important of them, has issued two such statements, one in 2010 and a later one in 2014. First, the AAS in context. It is a wealthy body, as such organisations go, with total assets of around $52 million, and an annual revenue of about $14 million. In 2014 it received a special grant-in-aid from the Commonwealth of $1.7 million, received another $3.5 million in other grants (mostly Federal), and collected $2 million in donations, mostly from Fellows and deceased Fellows, plus another $2 million in publication income. It is the go-to institution when important matters of science are being considered by governments in our country, and its President is taken seriously as a scientific leader and spokesperson.
Its 2010 statement was a robust account of how dangerous global warming was. But it was not exactly a reassuring beginning to discover at once that the Academy had thanked ‘the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency for providing financial support to prepare this document’. That was when Mr Rudd was in charge of things, and Mr Rudd, as we all know, thought that ‘climate change’ was ‘the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time’. But if you looked hard at the document, the robustness was at odds with the very frequent references to ‘uncertainty’.
Try this long-winded account: There are uncertainties in climate science. For example, a precise value cannot be given for the likely range of warming because of uncertainties in climate sensitivity to small disturbances, although climate models and evidence from past climate change provide a plausible range of values. Climate changes over small regions and changes in rainfall patterns are very hard to estimate. Tipping points or rapid climate transitions associated with overall global warming are possible but cannot yet be predicted with confidence. These uncertainties work in both directions: there is a chance that climate change will be less severe than the current estimates of climate science, but there is also a chance that it will be more severe.
Your ordinary reader, having read that disclaimer, must have been puzzled about the high confidence with which the writers then pictured a future hotter, drier, more extreme Australia prone to droughts and floods. All in all, the whole Statement was a conflict between scientific caution and the global warming agenda. It didn’t matter. The ABC and every other media outlet fastened onto the scare, and said nothing about the uncertainty.
The revised statement, which came out in 2014, was not much better. Back came the uncertainties, but readers were told, nevertheless, that Despite these uncertainties, there is near-unanimous agreement among climate scientists that human-caused global warming is real. Well, I would agree that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere will, other things being equal, tend to increase temperature, and human activity has indeed been sending more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But when I go to the three references that support the claim of ‘near-unanimous agreement’, I find them to be Doran et al, Anderegg et al, and Cook et al, each of them hopelessly weak as a basis for such a statement. And this from the premier scientific Academy in our country. What was it thinking of?
The fact that there had been no significant warming for more than a decade was disposed of with some hand-waving about the oceans. The fact that the models greatly overstated the role of greenhouse gas emissions was not mentioned. The fact that the models used to forecast the future have neither been verified nor validated was not mentioned. The fact that the models’ projections are nowhere near the observations, was likewise not mentioned.
In short, there was nothing even-handed in the Academy’s statement — and it was drafted by a committee consisting of the AGW orthodoxy, some of whom were not Fellows. Were the Academy’s own Fellows consulted? Was there a vote? The answer is no to both questions. What is the point of such a Statement? It is political, not scientific. As far as I know, none of these organisational statements across the world has ever been put to a vote of the members or fellows. They have been decisions of the executive, and pushed by passionate supporters of the orthodoxy. If any reader knows of an exception, I would be glad to know of it.
The Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) seems to have avoided a carte blanche endorsement, but has carried out a number of studies that accept the IPCC position and go on from there — what should be done about urban infrastructure, coastal management, and the like. I am told, by a Fellow of that body, that his Academy was pushed hard to make a global statement like that of the AAS.
Wikipedia, in this domain an arm of the orthodoxy itself, will give you a summary of scientific support for the orthodoxy, and I don’t think anyone has made a proper study of those statements. On the face of it, they endorse what governments were saying at the time the statements were made. Most of them, it seems to me, were made around the time of the Copenhagen conference of the parties in 2009. Maybe they all need revision, but these statements tend not to be revised; quiet forgetfulness is the preferred mode. The Royal Society made two statements of its own, apparently ignoring its own motto (nullius in verba, or ‘take no-0ne’s word for it’), and the revision is not much better than the original.
In my view, all these statements are political, and intended to keep the organisation respectable in the eyes of the relevant governments. They are of no scientific worth at all, because they do not consider the issue even-handedly, and are, alas, a demonstration of how far ‘organised science’ has departed from its own scientific method.
Next: When is it ‘weather’ and when is it ‘climate’?
- Only a few minutes after publishing this essay I came across an account of a Russian conference on climate change held in Moscow in 2004 that helps to explain the Russian position, and you can read it here.