EU Referendum

Climate change: a belief system at work


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Of the English national newspapers, only two appear to have thought yesterday's IPCC media event important enough to have put it on their front pages: the low circulation Independent and the loss-making Guardian. That, perhaps more than anything else, tells you how far "climate change" has slid down the table of priorities.

Another reflection of how times have changed is that, of the two papers carrying front page stories, the Guardian does not offer news but instead prints an opinion piece from George Monbiot. He is thus allowed to lament that, "a thousand blogs and columns insist the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's new report is a rabid concoction of scare stories whose purpose is to destroy the global economy".

And in that single sentence, without going any further, Monbiot vividly demonstrates the nature of the beast we are dealing with. This is not science, but a belief system, and a politically motivated one at that.

The point is – and no amount of wriggling will change it – is that we have not yet seen the IPCC report. All we have is a summary for policymakers covering Working Group I (of three).

Perhaps this needs repeating: there is no IPCC report. We have only a summary of one of three parts – 36 pages of unsupported assertions made up from "a series of overarching highlighted conclusions" taken from the Working Group I report.

Monbiot can write all he likes about the report, and its treatment, but we know from the last such report (AR4), that it was error-strewn, contained many questionable assertions and comprised much work from partisan NGOs of dubious provenance. We also know that, with a work of such magnitude, it took many months of labour to dissect, analyse and comment on the claims made.

Thus, for Monbiot so unequivocally to come out in support of the "report", sight unseen, tells us that this is a man in the grip of a belief system. He talks of "evidence", but there is no evidence on offer. We do not get to see that until Monday, a whole weekend after the media have picked over the assertions, relying (believing) that they truly represent the state of the art.

We could possibly allow that the media are right to believe that the summary is an honest and faithful representation of the science, although on past form that would be a rash assumption. But that still means that all the stories published are founded on belief, not evidence.

Furthermore, to complain of the absence of the report – the absence of evidence – is no mere pedantry. This is quite obvious, quite naked media manipulation. It is an attempt to get a head-start over the critics, by lodging in the public mind the conclusions of the report, before the evidence can be picked over.

This is a process which its advocates like to call scientific, yet it is the antithesis of science. In science, you present your evidence, show your working out, and then offer your conclusions for debate. You do not deliver your conclusions and withhold your evidence, self-evidently in an attempt to rig the debate.

Sadly, though, too many of the commentators fall into the trap of taking the summary at its own valuation. A disciplined response to the IPCC's attempt at media manipulation would be to treat it with disdain, and to wait until the actual report is produced.

We can, nevertheless point out that an organisation which feels the need to indulge in media manipulation should be treated with caution. That cannot be repeated often enough.

After all, if you or I told the media we had a detailed report, with earth-shaking findings, they would expect the evidence. If we simply gave them the findings on the Friday and promised the evidence the following Monday, how do you think the media would treat us? And why should the IPCC be treated any differently?