Mark Lynas- who featured on last year’s channel 4 documentary What the Greens Got Wrong- has put the cat amongst the pigeons with his recent criticism of the IPCC report on renewable energy. I know something of what this feels like.
In classic IPCC style the Summary for Policymakers was released weeks before the actual report, which means that the conclusions- that 80% of the world’s energy could be met by renewables by 2050- went round the world’s media before the study itself could be scrutinized.
Here’s what happened. The 80% by 2050 figure was based on a scenario, so Chapter 10 of the full report reveals, called ER-2010, which does indeed project renewables supplying 77% of the globe’s primary energy by 2050. The lead author of the ER-2010 scenario, however, is a Sven Teske, who should have been identified (but is not) as a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace International. Even worse, Teske is a lead author of the IPCC report also – in effect meaning that this campaigner for Greenpeace was not only embedded in the IPCC itself, but was in effect allowed to review and promote his own campaigning work under the cover of the authoritative and trustworthy IPCC. A more scandalous conflict of interest can scarcely be imagined.
To hardened skeptics this is nothing new, in fact it’s par for the course; what is notable is that Mark Lynas has decided to call the IPCC out despite being a climate change activist himself and author of the truly alarmist book Six Degrees (2008).
The actual report itself qualifies for the yawn factor according to Revkin who says:
Of course, my issue with the report from the get-go was the yawn factor. It was yet another study implying that renewable energy choices — in theory, and in the face of high costs* and other daunting constraints — could be the dominant source of reductions in emissions by mid-century.” Yes, and we could all stop driving tomorrow, but we won’t.
Effectively a report looking at the theoretical possibility of replacing fossil fuels with renewables is academic unless it provides a full cost-benefit analysis of how to get there. You might as well say, theoretically if we could efficiently capture all the sun’s energy that falls on the planet we would be grand.
Lynas has now dug his heels in and upped the ante writing
if the ‘deniers’ are the only ones standing up for the integrity of the scientific process, and the independence of the IPCC, then I too am a ‘denier’
Lynas has now agreed even to read The Hockey Stick Illusion- which I find mildly surprising, that he has not read it already I mean, I know that I have only just read it, but I am not an A-list environmental campaigner (actually I’m about triple-Z rated.)
To show how serious this has become Curry writes:
I predict that your actually reading the Hockey Stick Illusion and mentioning it on your blog will get you removed from RealClimate’s blogroll.
Curry’s post is especially interesting as she writes a message to Lynas warning him of the vilification she experienced when she first started questioning the IPCC, and that he can expect more of the same.
What she writes about her own experience, and what Lynas is now going to be faced with, strike a chord in a very small way with my own very recent coming out as a climate skeptic. (Skeptical that is about the “consensus”, the IPCC and the proposed policy of decarbonisation.)
It started at the end of last summer after seeing the film Not Evil Just Wrong which pointed to a legal judgement pointing out scientific errors in Al Gore’s film. It was then that I started looking at some skeptics blogs and discovered to my surprise that they were not all written by extreme right-wing nutters, but were very serious and impressive in their analysis.
At first, I was to be quite honest too scared to speak openly about this. I was well used to controversy and had been embroiled in numerous heated debates this and other blogs, on a variety of topics from dowsing and homeopathy to organic food and genetic engineering. This last topic had lost me a couple of long-standing friends unwilling themselves to challenge or acknowledge their ideological stance on the subject.
Climate change felt like it was on another level again however. The scientific consensus was seen as too complete, and while I had not had any strong position on most of the other topics previously, I had of course myself been a vociferous proponent on climate change alarmism myself, even once calling Pat Kenny a denialist and calling for him to resign. (Sorry, Pat.)
Climate change felt like the last sacred cow of the environmental movement, and I was not going to jump that shark without careful consideration. There were however a couple of things that had already perhaps paved the way for me to do so: firstly, because of my Peak Oil doomerism I was suspicious of the policy response being advocated: I had had a good look into renewable energy and already understood that there was no easy way to replace fossil fuels with renewables, and that any alternative would mean effectively collapse of industrial society; for a peak oiler, this was may inevitable in any case, but why couldn’t the climate change activists see that? It didn’t make any sense to be calling for international treaties in a world already going down the tubes and reverting to localism.
Secondly, having closely examined the claims of the alternative health industry, the organic industry and the anti-GE lobby through our Skepteco podcasts, another curious contradiction, in an otherwise predominently anti-science milieu, man-made climate change appeared to be the only major activist cause that actually claimed to be supported by the science.
It felt daring but I decided to test my newly discovered arguments on a skeptics blog. I went to the Bad Science Forum and started posting on this discussion under the Avatar Deodar. I wanted to remain anonymous, I was not yet prepared to come out publicly with my concerns, and fully expected a reasoned and science-based discussion on such a forum.
I was bitterly disappointed. The very first response I got said
Lets face it, you don’t care about the science, rather about the percieved damage to your politics.
This seemed hilarious, but also disconcerting, and unfortunately I began to dig a hole for myself by protesting that
I have been an environmental campaigner and back-to-the-lander for over 20 years; I live an extremely low-impact semi-self-sufficient off-grid lifestyle, and have no political affiliations.
The “environmental campaigner” bit was a slight exaggeration: I had certainly campaigned for traditional things like anti-nuclear when at college, and CND before that even; and the past few years campaigned for climate change and peak oil awareness and action, but was not a serious “activist” in the conventional sense of the word beyond that. However, this was immediately seized upon as being a lie and I was compared to Lomborg who apparently was lying when he claimed he had been a Greenpeace supporter. So the climate change issues rather got lost as the debate degenerated into the other regular posters trying to “out” me when I had clearly stated that I wished to remain anonymous; I was accused of lying therefore without evidence- an attack which i ironically labelled “clairvoyance” in a nod towards the supposed skeptical nature of the forum.
Moral: don’t go onto unknown forums under an Avatar on highly controversial topics unless you know what you are getting yourself into. However, I learned a much more serious lesson about how the environmental movement behaves, and I was genuinely shocked at the response and ad hominem attacks: I had expected a lot better from skeptics who up until then I had admired.
It was only when I read Nonsense on Stilts, a supposedly skeptics book, and realized Piggliucci was just not being very skeptical about the rather obvious scientific flaws in AIT that I felt emboldened enough to write about climate change here, and ready enough for the inevitable flack that I would be receiving when I posted on Think or Swim.
What now seems to be happening in response to Lynas is that the IPCC defenders are circling the wagons and the backlash is beginning. I know something of what he will be going through.