Organisation - February 17, 2010

Climate researchers lose credibility

Politicians are indignant now that mistakes have been found in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Bad news for climate scientists. Have they lost their credibility?

Glacier on Mount Everest in the Himalayas. According to a summary in an IPCC report, this would have melted in 2035, instead of 2350.
Pier Vellinga, professor of earth sciences and climate change:
'The minister and the Members of Parliament have quite over-reacted to the mistakes in the IPPC report. I am shocked at the intensity and the hyped-up responses, in which even specific people have been named. It's disturbing that politicians are now questioning policy matters about issues which have been through thirty years of research. This is an example of doubts taking hold of society when climate control measures are going to tug at the purse strings.
 As scientists, we do need to examine our own fallacies. The mistakes shouldn't have been made at all; we have to work even harder and be more careful. But the discussion has taken an aggressive turn when certain interests are at stake. How will this affect future research? Much would depend on the melting of the ice caps. It's a crazy notion when our credibility has to depend on the short term whims of the regional climate. Despite the fact that the gist of our message is about the risks for the world's climate over a period of thirty to a hundred years. Have we lost out just because ice is found on the Ijsselmeer now? I think that scientists will retreat further into their shell. Yet, this is the time when it's important for us to come forward with a clearer explanation of what we know. Debating on the quality of our research is not a bad thing, but this mustn't be done at the expense of the debate about CO 2 reduction.'

Salomon Kroonenberg, Emeritus Professor of Geology at TU Delft:
'The mistakes in the IPCC reports make the issues seem generally more serious than they are. This makes me think that malice and wilful exaggeration are involved. Those who have compiled the report have been too creative with scientific facts. There are many quotes from grey literature without scientific verifications. Subsequently, a summary is written for the policy makers, on which politicians took turns to comment on. However, I am most disturbed by the scientific world itself. 'Climate gate' has shown that prominent scientists have intentionally left out and stood in the way of criticisms about the CO 2 hypothesis.
We are incapable of carrying out a climate policy since we simply don't know enough how it works. I'm convinced that the sun plays a major role, but here too, we don't understand why. I think we should attend to problems which we can handle, such as deforestation, which we know for sure is caused by human activities. Wageningen shouldn't go licking someone's boots and chasing climate money, but concentrate on relevant matters.'

Bert Holtslag, professor of Meteorology:
'There was a lot of fuss concerning parts of the IPCC report. This was then blown up by some press releases and heightened further by several politicians. I think this happens because particular groups would benefit from a discredited report. If humans have influenced the climate and if this influence has to be cut down, something would have to be done about it, and this would cost money. As an atmosphere researcher, I am convinced that the atmosphere is warming up and that humans have played a major role in this. This doesn't mean to say that we understand everything. The IPCC tries to put all of these in perspective. In compiling a report of this size, much has been sent to and fro among authors and reviewers, often under a lot of pressure. It's a pity that the text has signs of carelessness, but this is understandable. The mistakes shouldn't be the reason to bring down the entire report. The mistakes are upsetting, though. My father-in-law asked me recently: Bert, is global warming real? It gives us, the climate researchers, a bad image. It appears that something is fundamentally wrong with the credibility of science. That's why I have also signed the open letter of the Dutch climate researchers. It's about time that a rebuttal is issued against the nonsense which is being propagated.
Gatze Lettinga, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Technology:
'The mistakes in the IPPC report have been over emphasized. To err is inevitable. Yet, I very much question the claim that the main conclusions of the IPPC report are right. IPCC people think that they monopolize the truth, but many scientists outside this group have reasonable grounds to question the conclusions in the report. IPCC has suggested that we can control climate change by a CO 2 -reduction. I find this preposterous and very pretentious. No mortal can even understand such a complex system as the climate, let alone say that 'we' can control it easily.
Alarmists and sceptics have to meet and discuss more often. The alarmists don't really dare to, it seems; they brush (often arrogantly) the critics aside. They should bear the blame for this.
Things have to change urgently, and I feel that a turning point now exists, thanks to 'climate gate'. People suddenly realize that something doesn't seem quite right. But this mustn't swing to the other extreme. I fully agree with the IPPC that we should work towards sustainability, but not via the use of climate hysterics. Wageningen could focus more on real global problems, such as the disastrous shortage of social security and the hopeless poverty of billions. We have, for example, to bring about human-, animal- and environment-friendly modern agriculture and concern for the environment.'