The Global Humanitarian Forum — former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s personal, Geneva-based NGO — will next week convene a conference devoted to “the significant and rapidly growing human impact of climate change.” We may be sure that Prof. Roger Pielke of the University of Colorado will not be among the invitees. That’s because he dubbed the alarmist report on which the conference is based “a methodological embarrassment and poster child for how to lie with statistics.”
The GHF report and conference are part of the relentless diplomatic push ahead of the Copenhagen meetings in December at which a successor to Kyoto is meant to be hatched. Mr. Annan predicted “mass starvation, mass migration and mass sickness” unless there is agreement.
The GHF’s report, titled “The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis,” claims that predominantly man-made climate change is already killing 300,000 people a year, and causing suffering to hundreds of millions, at an annual cost of US$125-billion. The impact is projected to get much worse, killing half a million annually by 2030.
These claims have no basis in fact or science.
Prof. Pielke pointed out that the report’s assertions fly in the face of even those meant to support it. He noted that the Geo-Risks group at Munich Re insurance (on some of whose projections the GHF report is based) earlier this year acknowledged that human-caused impact on natural disasters simply could not be seen. Moreover, no clear link was likely to be observed in the near future. The GHF report meanwhile itself acknowledges that “there is not yet any widely accepted global estimate of the share of weather-related disasters that are attributable to climate change.”
So make one up. And emotionalize the issue with lots of colour pictures of poor people. Also, claim validation in the fact that “The frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters is often associated with climate change in public debate and common perceptions.” Even if those “perceptions” are entirely based on the type of alarmist junk peddled by the GHF.
The figure of 300,000 is arrived at, according to Prof. Pielke by “an approach that is grounded in neither logic, science or common sense.”
The report relies for most of its death projections on material from the World Health Organization (which has also admitted deep in the footnotes that the impact of anthropogenic climate change can’t be accurately measured). Nevertheless, using the WHO’s pick-a-number modelling approach, the GHF attributes 4%-5% of diarrhea deaths, 4% of malaria deaths and 4%-5% of dengue fever deaths (in 2010) to greenhouse-gas emissions. These percentages render absolute numbers that, more than suspiciously, exactly double the number of deaths projected in a 2003 WHO report.
The remainder of deaths are attributed to bad weather, but again the figures are misleading. The report compares the number of “loss events” reported from earthquakes vs. weather disasters from 1980 through 2005 (the year of Hurricane Katrina). Then it draws nice straight trend lines (see graphic), notes that weather disaster loss events have increased relative to those due to earthquakes, and attributes the difference to climate change (since earthquakes obviously have nothing to do with climate change).
But how much of the increased losses relate to increased insurance, and to increased building in weather-prone regions vs. earthquake-prone ones? More fundamentally, why should there be any correlation at all between earthquakes and the weather? Obviously, the notion that there are three times as many floods (as opposed to flood-related “loss events”) today than in 1980 is ridiculous, but that is the impression created by the report.
The report also relies (almost inevitably) on the widely criticized Stern Review for its mammoth economic loss projections. However, not content with Lord Stern’s grossly doctored estimates of doom, the GHF report takes his assumptions about the adverse impact of a rise of 2.5C on GDP and doubles it!
Prof. Pielke concludes that you can’t counter the GHF’s claims “because there is no data on which to adjudicate them. We can rely on hunches, feelings, divine inspiration, goat entrails or whatever, but you cannot appeal to the actual data record to differentiate these claims. So when people argue about them they are instead arguing about feelings and wishes, which does not make for a good basis for science.”
That, nevertheless, is a very human way to look at things. For many people, climate change is a moral issue and thus the facts and the science are beyond question. Man-made climate change is unquestionably real, unquestionably bad and will hurt poor people most. That is all the platform needed by those motivated to posture on the side of the angels (and receive massive government funding, along with high personal status and power, for doing so).
This alleged moral imperative ensures a drumbeat of worst-case scenarios, such as those presented yesterday in yet another — even more dangerous — report from the Obama White House, which is designed to influence Congress as it debates climate-change legislation.
This moralistic approach ignores not merely the enormous uncertainty surrounding the science but the undoubted damage that will be caused by growth-destroying climate-change policies of the kind being cooked up for Copenhagen, and in the U.S. Congress.
For many True Believers, the important part is to ship funds to developing countries under whatever pretext. Others, such as President Obama, appear to actually believe that there will be economic benefits from massive “green” restrictions and subsidies. But promoting further huge transfers when development-promoting aid has already proved to be such a failure, and adopting fantasies of industrial strategy despite manifests historical evidence of its non-viability, further threatens an already severely weakened global economy. They amount to piling junk political economy atop junk climate science.
The GHF study received respectful coverage all the way from New Scientist to al-Jazeera (which in this case may not be such a great distance), along with much thumb-sucking about Third World victims of First World greed. Nevertheless, The New York Times, to its credit, covered Prof. Pielke’s harsh critique, as, less surprisingly, did The Wall Street Journal.
Two prominent climate skeptics, Prof. David Henderson, former chief economist for the OECD, and Dr. Benny Peiser, who puts together the excellent CCNet climate news service, wrote to the Financial Times complaining of the paper’s coverage, and noting that well-founded criticism was likely to disappear without trace. “This chronic bias,” they wrote, “is characteristic of all too many newspapers.”
The Financial Times printed their letter under the headline “Climate study is open to criticism.” But this missed the point that the letter was not about the GHF study’s manifest flaws but the FT’s all-too-typically credulous coverage. Thus does junk science run rampant, embedding itself in “public debate and common perceptions.”