I’m not defending actual mistakes — I will do a separate post on the IPCC and floods issue later, once I’ve done a bit of sleuthing myself. But there are lies and obfuscation circulating now that I would like to track, including about the Amazongate issue.
Amazongate is gaining traction in the blogospew. Now, there are 30,900 results for a google of “amazongate” so it has doubled since yesterday. Many appear to be simple parroting of the Delingpole article and North article, with little if any further insight.
There are many ordinary blogs posting about this, quoting the North and Delingpole articles, and there are too many to track, but I would like to track official media coverage and any mention on news blogs, as noted below:
Now after Climate-gate, Glacier-gate and Hurricane-gate — how many “gates” can one report contain? — comes Amazon-gate. The IPCC claimed that up to 40% of the Amazonian forests were risk from global warming and would likely be replaced by “tropical savannas” if temperatures continued to rise. This claim is backed up by a scientific-looking reference but on closer investigation turns out to be yet another non-peer reviewed piece of work from the WWF. Indeed the two authors are not even scientists or specialists on the Amazon: one is an Australian policy analyst, the other a freelance journalist for the Guardian and a green activist. The WWF has yet to provide any scientific evidence that 40% of the Amazon is threatened by climate change — as opposed to the relentless work of loggers and expansion of farms. [my emphasis]
Of course, as we know now, while it was wrong for the IPCC lead authors to base claims on the WWF report , it was not misleading anyone in doing so, just being sloppy. That’s bad, make no mistake. However, the claim it inadequately sourced is backed by peer-reviewed literature.
ETA: actually, a mea culpa. I’ve heard this repeated so many times, I assumed it was true, but you know what “assume” is — when you assume something it makes an “ass” of “u” and “me”.
Here, thanks to Climateprogress, are the facts:
Interestingly, I thought that was true, too, but I decided to check with two top IPCC scientists, and they both confirmed to me that in fact, the IPCC does allow gray literature reports. And the IPCC explains this here (see Annex 2).
Lal told me:
“We were allowed to cite gray literature provided that it looked to us to be good science.” [my emphasis]
So the IPCC is able to use gray literature as long as it looked to be “good science”.
Apparently only non-journalist folks — like me — bother to check facts.
ETA: Here’s another one, from the Times of India, who I take it like to mention Pachauri, possibly to play up on popular sentiment against him, in order to sell more copy:
An article in Britian’s daily ‘Telegraph’ has made another damning case against Pachauri’s IPCC on the effects of climate change on the Amazon.
The report suggests the IPCC did not research the claims themselves. It says the claims were lifted off a report done by the WWF, an advocacy group.
Amazongate follows an embarrassing IPCC admission of false predictions on the Himalayan glacier meltdown.
What this take on Amazongate uses is the term “lifted off a report done by the WWF, an advocacy group“. A semiotic analysis of this would point out that the term “lifted” connotates “theft” or even “plagiarism” when of course, nothing of the sort took place as the report was referenced. The overall word choice does reflect an intent to suggest some kind of illegal or unethical activity, rather than just sloppy or lazy behavior on the part of the lead authors. The other code word is “advocacy group” which suggests “bias”, which then questions the veracity of the claims. Yes, WWF is an advocacy group and yes, the report is not peer-reviewed, but it does refer to peer-review literature to back its claims.
But that’s far too much nuance for a short journalistic piece.
Delingpole is at it again. When some of his commenters pointed out that the 40% number was in fact backed up in peer-reviewed literature, he considered correcting but found a convenient reason not to.
Here is a quote from his webpage:
Before I rushed to correct, I thought I’d do a bit of checking with the great and supremely thorough Dr Richard North whose original post on Amazongate I had quite shamelessly plagiarised. And guess what? The IPCC 4th Assessment report emerges EVEN LESS CREDITABLY from the tale than we had originally suggested.
Here’s what that referenced Nature article said:
Up to 40% of the Brazilian forest is extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall. In the 1998 dry season, some 270,000 sq. km of forest became vulnerable to fire, due to completely depleted plant-available water stored in the upper five metres of soil. A further 360,000 sq. km of forest had only 250 mm of plant-available soil water left.
Yes. Hands up. We did miss the 40 per cent reference. But what we weren’t doing, by any means, was exaggerating the skullduggery and scientific dishonesty involved – as Maurizio Morabito has noticed.
North, as ever, has the full details.
It turns out that the Nature article HAD been misrepresented. There’s a clue in the title “Large-scale Impoverishment of Amazonian Forests by Logging and Fire”. It wasn’t about the effects of climate change at all. Yet from this irrelevant article, the IPCC had decided to cherry-pick a paragraph which seemed to chime nicely with its urge to co-opt the mighty Amazon rainforest to its cause. After all, it’s not as though anyone was likely to notice, was it?
I have a couple of responses:
1. Fire, if I understand it, is a problem when forests get dried out.
2. Climate change can lead to increased ENSO events.
3. Increased ENSO events lead to drying out of forests.
4. When forests get dried out, they are more susceptible to fire.
Let me repeat what the Nepstad et al article concluded, for the reading and thinking impaired:
Large-scale burning of tropical forest during severe ENSO episodes may impoverish vast areas of these species -and carbon-rich ecosystems; such episodes are increasing in frequency, possibly in response to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere 26. These considerations point to the need to either restrict the logging industry in Amazonia, or to replace conventional logging practices in moist tropical forest regions with low-impact harvest techniques 17,27. Cost-effective investments in the prevention of accidental forest tres by Amazonian farmers and ranchers are also needed 28. Both of these changes are unlikely to occur unless access to these forest lands provided by expanding road networks, electrical grids and water transport systems is sharply curtailed
Once again, a denialist misrepresents the evidence. Yes, the paper is about logging and fire, and their effects on the health of rainforests, but they clearly cite GHG emissions and climate change as contributing to the threat to the Amazon and other rainforests. But I guess, because OMGGLOBALWARMING was not in the title, it doesn’t count as being a paper relevant to the issue of global warming and the health of rainforests.
Next, we have Dr. North spinning a bit more and providing Watt with the idea that the paper is not about climate change after all, but logging and fire.
Here is a quote:
Answering our own question as to why the IPCC authors did not use the peer-reviewed Nature reference rather than the secondary source, the reason now becomes clear. The paper simply did not support the assertion they wished to make.
Here, context is everything. In the Nature paper, the authors are writing about the effects of logging on the rain forest. They describe how selective harvesting (as for mahogany, which is specifically identified) damages the forests so harvested, rendering the remaining trees more prone to effects of drought. Thus, increased sensitivity to reduced precipitation – should it occur – is a secondary effect, applicable only to already damaged forests.
More misrepresentation — the article’s title is “Large-scale impoverishment of Amazonian forests by logging and fire” but it clearly indicts global warming and increases in ENSO for leading to the threat of fire to large portions of Amazonia.
North then goes on to discuss the 40%.
In that context, the 40 percent on which Rowell & Moore and then the IPCC rely relates not to an area of the Amazon rain forests but to the proportion of trees damaged in individual forest tracts, which have been harvested (and the top range of the estimate at that). It cannot be taken to refer to the totality of the Amazonian forest area…
Three points emerge from this. Firstly, these combined areas relate to a total forest area of between 4-6 million square kilometres, and thus represent perhaps as little as ten percent of the total area. Secondly, the effects are observed in relation to severe drought effects arising from an unusually strong El Nino episode, unrelated to climate change. And thirdly, the drought effect is localised. In other areas of the forest, the El Nino brings increased rainfall.
By any measure, and by any possible construction, the Nature paper cannot be taken to support the assertions made either by Rowell & Moore or the IPCC.
Dr. North failed to find the Scholze article, from which the 40% comes — not the Nepstad article.
Risks of changes in fire frequency are also widespread. Fire frequency partly depends on fuel type and availability, and its relationship to runoff is not straightforward. Reduced fire frequency, reflecting wetter conditions, is indicated for parts of the boreal region, but increased tree cover in some other parts (especially eastern Canada) promotes fire. Reduced fire frequency accompanies increased runoff in tropical Africa. Most semiarid regions, including the Sahel, central Australia, central Asia, southern Africa, and the western U.S., show a high probability of increased wildfires, especially for >3°C, reflecting increased biomass growth. Increased fire risk is also apparent in the southeastern U.S. and at high elevations (notably the Tibetan plateau). More frequent wildfires are likely (>60% for >3°C) in much of South America. Fire is a major factor in structuring vegetation (20), and some biome shifts follow these changes in fire regime, whereas others are forced directly by climate. Forests extend with high probability into the Arctic and into semiarid savannas. Extant forests are destroyed with high probability in parts of the southern boreal zone (especially southern Siberia, the Russian Far East, and the western interior of Canada) and with lower probability in eastern China, Central America, Amazonia, and the Gulf Coast of the U.S. The risks of forest losses in some parts of Eurasia, Amazonia, and Canada are >40% for >3°C.
This paper uses models to examine the effects of temperature increases on forests, and clearly indicts global warming as increasing the risks to forests from drought stress and dryness — that is where the 40% risk comes from.
Both the Nepstad and Scholze papers are about threats to the rainforests and both cite fire and climate change and increased ENSO events.
ETA: Over at “The Unbearable Nakedness of Climate Change”, Maurizio plays the telephone game:
Here are his criticisms, for what they’re worth:
First of all it should not be up to the reader to dig down in the IPCC references until anything peer-reviewed is finally found. If Nepstad et al 1999 were the primary source for the “Up to 40%” claim, that article should have been used, stated and referenced as such, no matter what Rowell and Moore understood of it.
The IPCC should have used the peer-reviewed literature instead of relying on the Rowell and Moore, yes. However, they were within their rights according to IPCC process in doing so. It would have been stronger if they had used it and we would have had none of this braying about using gray literature.
Secondly, the IPCC AR4 WG-II Chapter 13 makes no mention of Nepstad et al 1999. As far as I can see, the Nepstad et al 1999 article is only used in AR4 in the IPCC AR4 WG-II Chapter 4:
That’s not really a good point. They cited the Rowell and Moore article as they were required. They also cited the Scholze et al article. that also mentions that up to 40% of Amazonia could be at risk at temp increase of > 3 deg.
You may note that in both cases Nepstad et al 1999 is used to mention deforestation (something one might expect out of an article titled Large-scale Impoverishment of Amazonian Forests by Logging and Fire).
It is hard not to notice that Nepstad et al 1999 were concerned about deforestation and fires possibly exarcebated by severe droughts, whilst Rowell and Moore, and the IPCC authors and reviewers, completely turned the cards around, pushing hard on the climatic side first.
That is not the first time I have seen “Chinese whispers” at play in the IPCC AR4…
I’m not impressed.
There is a lot of research that is relevant to issues of climate change that doesn’t directly focus on climate change alone or primarily. Both Nepstad and Scholze do mention climate change and see its role in putting rainforests at greater risk of fire damage.
It’s not chinese whispers — it’s the fact that many of these climate and environmental variables are interrelated and so changes in one will impact others. That’s a basic fact of biology and ecology, at least as I learned both. This is so simple and self-apparent, it must be deliberate on the part of those who make such claims, or else pure ignorance.
So far, what I have seen is that given they have been called on overstatement about so-called “amazongate”, and that:
1. The lead authors were in their rights to use gray literature
2. The WWF authors did cite peer reviewed literature that bears on the issue they discussed
3. The IPCC in CH 13 did reference other peer reviewed literature (Scholze et al)
4. The 40% was backed up in several works of peer reviewed research.
Given these points, these denialist/contrarians — I hesitate to call them “skeptics” as that should be an honorable term, are left with complaining about relevance and how hard if was for them to find the 40% reference. Geeze, it took me all of 3 minutes…
So far, not many media outlets have picked up on Amazongate, but there are people busy trying to push the porkie, as MrTipster, in a comment over at the Telegraph, in a post on the IPCC quips:
The IPCC has always claimed that every paper quoted in its reports for policy makers has been subjected to ‘robust peer review.’ The glacier melt fiasco is not the only case where non peer reviewed work has been formally quoted. Yesterday we had the business of the sloppy hurricane alarmism exposed by Dr Richard North and supported by the Telegraph’s own James Dellingpole. Now Richard North has exposed yet another IPCC claim about the Amazon rain forests, based on non peer reviewed work, by non scientists working for the same pressure group, namely the WWF. See: http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2010/01/and-now-for-amazongate.html. Furthermore, I suggest this will not be the last case of such dishonesty.
Telegraph’s view suggests that the IPCC reports include papers by scientists sceptical of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). But as things stand this is impossible because the charter of the Panel restricts it to studying the effects of man’s actions on climate. In other words, no AGW no IPCC.
There is only one way to resolve this issue. Abolish the IPCC and set up an international panel to support the study of climate and climate change both natural and manmade.
Of course, the refrain is “abolish the IPCC”.
Look, I admit these past few revelations about the IPCC using gray literature rather than peer-reviewed literature is embarrassing and does raise questions about IPCC process being properly followed.
I know deniers and skeptics would be delighted if this would all go away by dismantling the IPCC.
The answer seems to be to make sure it follows its processes properly. More oversight, in other words. I’m not defending this poor behavior on the part of IPCC reviewers. They should be held responsible and further processes should be put in place to ensure this does not happen in the future.