U.N. Climate Experts Admit Glacial Mistakes


News Analysis by Harry Hunter

(Jan. 21, 2010)  — In a report from Geneva on January 20, the Associated Press revealed that United Nations climate experts misled the world about the melting of Himalayan glaciers.

A computer generated image of the Earth is like climate science: when it's science it reflects reality; but when politics enters it, it can be used to manipulate our perception of the planet.

It turns out that there are “five glaring errors” in one paragraph of a 2007 report by Working Group II of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  This is the kind of generally accepted scientific source that is favored – one might say adored – by proponents of Cap and Trade legislation for the United States and a Climate Change Treaty for the whole planet.

In its apology, the climate panel implicitly tells us not to worry because the mistakes were not intentional and are not significant compared to the whole report.  But the question here is credibility, a question that is heightened by recent news suggesting that climate scientists in the UK systematically suppressed evidence and points of view that disagreed with their preferred theory of global warming.

The factual errors were pointed out by a Canadian geography professor named J. Graham Cogley in a January 20 letter to the online Science Magazine.  Interestingly, the AP story quotes Professor Cogley as saying that the faulty section “wasn’t copy-edited properly,” but that excusatory judgment does not appear in Cogley’s letter to Science.  Perhaps it came  from AP’s telephone contact with Cogley.  The assessment in Cogley’s letter is not so generous to the experts:  “These errors could have been avoided had the norms of scientific publication, including peer review and concentration upon peer-reviewed work, been respected,” Cogley wrote.

Let us examine the specific errors, and let us ask ourselves if such egregious errors are likely to be introduced by a copy editor or by an expert responsible for writing and reviewing content.  Here is what Cogley wrote in his letter:

The Working Group writes that “[g]laciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world” and that “the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km2 by the year 2035.” . . . “its” cannot refer to Himalayan glaciers [area about 33,000 km2 (7)], and may refer to the world total area of glaciers and ice caps.

. . . the first WG-II sentence above derives from a World Wildlife Fund report (3), which cites a news story (4) about an unpublished study (5) that neither compares Himalayan glaciers with other rates of recession nor estimates a date for disappearance of Himalayan glaciers. Himalayan rates of recession in the WG-II report (1) are not exceptional.

The North Face of Mt. Everest, the highest point of the Himalayas

Now would copy editors likely be changing the scientists’ dates and measurements without the knowledge or consent of the scientists?  Doubtful.   Might at least one of the U.N. experts be expected to catch and correct the errors in the review process?  Seems like.  And why is a World Wildlife Fund report cited as an objective primary source?  Of a news story in the popular press about an unpublished study?  Would a copy editor insert all that in a scientific report without the approval of the authors?

Public policies of great consequence for our nation have been advanced on the premise that the general public must trust the arguments of global-warming advocates because their arguments are sanctified by factual, reliable science.  But some skeptics have detected a political agenda behind the science of global warming.   In political terms, the weather, of all things, is used as a weapon in the fight to advance a big-government agenda.

The AP story delves deeper into the matter, noting that “A table says that between 1845 and 1965, the Pindari Glacier shrank by 2,840 meters. Then comes a math mistake: It says that’s a rate of 135.2 meters a year, when it really is only 23.5 meters a year.”   What copy editor is likely to do the scientists’ math for them?

And consider the IPCC’s claim that “the likelihood of them [Himalayan glaciers] disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate.” Professor Cogley speaks plainly to this claim in his letter to Science:  “It conflicts with knowledge of glacier-climate relationships, and is wrong. Nevertheless it has captured the global imagination and has been repeated in good faith often, including recently by the IPCC’s chairman.”   Falsehood widely believed and parroted by the chairman?   It must have been the copy editor’s fault, eh?

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