The Politicization of Climate Science Is NOT a Recent Phenomenon — Watts Up With That?

Group advocates for Climate finance in Nigeria

There’s lots of yacking around the blogosphere and mainstream media about President-elect Donald Trump politicizing climate science. But it’s nothing new. Climate science became a tool for pushing political agendas almost 3 decades ago.

In 1988, the United Nations, a political body, founded the global-warming-report-writing entity called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC was created to support political agendas. And in 1995, politics corrupted climate science, when politicians changed the language of the IPCC’s second assessment report, eliminating the scientists’ statements of uncertainties. To this day, the climate science community still cannot truly differentiate between natural and anthropogenic global warming. Why? The climate models used in attribution studies still cannot simulate modes of natural variability that can cause global warming over multidecadal timeframes.


President Elect Donald Trump’s skepticism of human-induced global warming/climate change had been one of the focuses of the mainstream media during the U.S. elections and remains so in the minds of many environmentalists and their associates in the media. A plethora of articles and talking-head clips have been published and broadcast, bringing the political nature of climate science to the public eye once again.

But how long ago did climate science become politicized?

I was reminded of the answer to that question while reading Dr. Roy Spencer’s recent blog post Global Warming: Policy Hoax versus Dodgy Science. (Great title!) There Dr. Spencer begins:

In the early 1990s I was visiting the White House Science Advisor, Sir Prof. Dr. Robert Watson, who was pontificating on how we had successfully regulated Freon to solve the ozone depletion problem, and now the next goal was to regulate carbon dioxide, which at that time was believed to be the sole cause of global warming.

I was a little amazed at this cart-before-the-horse approach. It really seemed to me that the policy goal was being set in stone, and now the newly-formed United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had the rather shady task of generating the science that would support the policy.


To reinforce Dr. Spencer’s cart-before-the-horse statement, I’m going to reproduce a portion of the Introduction to my free ebook, a 700+ page reference work, On Global Warming and the Illusion of Control – Part 1. This portion provides quotations from the United Nations and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, along with links to the referenced webpages. Under the heading of YOU’D BE WRONG IF YOU THOUGHT THE IPCC WAS A SCIENTIFIC BODY, I wrote in part:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a political entity, not a scientific one. The IPCC begins the opening paragraphs of its History webpage (my boldface):

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created in 1988. It was set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to prepare, based on available scientific information, assessments on all aspects of climate change and its impacts, with a view of formulating realistic response strategies. The initial task for the IPCC as outlined in UN General Assembly Resolution 43/53 of 6 December 1988 was to prepare a comprehensive review and recommendations with respect to the state of knowledge of the science of climate change; the social and economic impact of climate change, and possible response strategies and elements for inclusion in a possible future international convention on climate.

Thus, the IPCC was founded to write reports. Granted, they are very detailed reports, so burdensome that few persons read them in their entirety. Of the few people who read them, most only read the Summaries for Policymakers. But are you aware that the language of the IPCC Summary for Policymakers is agreed to by politicians during week-long meetings? A draft is written by the scientists for the politicians, but the politicians debate how each sentence is phrased and whether it is to be included in the summary. And those week-long political debates about the Summary for Policymakers are closed to the public.

Also from that quote above, we can see that the content of IPCC’s reports was intended to support an international climate-change treaty. That 1992 treaty is known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A copy of the UNFCCC is available here. Under the heading of Article 2 – Objective, the UNFCCC identifies its goal as limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases (my boldface):

The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Because the objective of the UNFCCC treaty is to limit the emissions of man-made greenhouse gases, and because the goal of the IPCC is to prepare reports that supported the treaty, it safe to say the IPCC’s sole role is simply to write scientific reports that support the assumed need to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Hmmm. Do you think that focus might limit scientific investigation and understandings?

Later in the opening paragraph of the IPCC’s History webpage, they state (my boldface and caps):

Today the IPCC’s role is as defined in Principles Governing IPCC Work, “…to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of HUMAN-INDUCED climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.

The fact that the IPCC has focused all of their efforts on “understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change” is very important. The IPCC has never realistically tried to determine if natural factors could have caused most of the warming the Earth has experienced over the past century. For decades, they’ve worn blinders that blocked their views of everything other than the hypothetical impacts of carbon dioxide. The role of the IPCC has always been to prepare reports that support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, that’s where all of the research money goes. The decision to only study human-induced global warming is a political choice, not a scientific one. And it’s a horrible choice.

As a result of that political choice, there is little scientific research that attempts to realistically determine how much of the warming we’ve experienced is attributable to natural factors. We know this is fact because the current generation of climate models—the most complex climate models to date—still cannot simulate naturally occurring ocean-atmosphere processes that can cause Earth’s surfaces (and the oceans to depth) to warm for multidecadal periods or stop that warming. Skeptics have confirmed those failings a number of times in blog posts. I even wrote a book about those failings, appropriately titled Climate Models Fail.

[End Reprint]


Were you aware that politicians revised the text of the IPCC’s second assessment report, drastically changing the draft written by the scientists? Once again, I’m reproducing a portion of my free ebook On Global Warming and the Illusion of Control – Part 1. It’s from the heading of THE EVOLUTION OF THE CATASTROPHIC ANTHROPOGENIC GLOBAL WARMING MOVEMENT:

While there were early scientific studies that pointed to possible increases in surface temperatures associated with the emissions of man-made greenhouse gases, let’s begin this discussion with the formation of the report-writing wing of the United Nations called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As discussed above, the primary task of the IPCC was to create reports that supported the politicians’ agendas. Limiting global warming was likely one of those focuses, but most assuredly there were many others.

The politicians found scientists to write those reports—so began the mutually beneficial relationship between climate scientists and politicians. The politicians wanted scientific support for their agendas and the scientists were more than willing to oblige because the politicians held the purse strings for climate research.

The first IPCC report in 1991 was inconclusive, inasmuch as the scientists could not differentiate between man-made and natural warming…

Note for this post: The Policymakers Summary for the IPCC’s first assessment report is here. There they write:

The size of this warming is broadly consistent with predictions of climate models, but it is also of the same magnitude as natural climate variability. Thus the observed increase could be largely due to this natural variability, alternatively this variability and other human factors could have offset a still larger human-induced greenhouse warming. The unequivocal detection of the enhanced greenhouse effect from observations is not likely for a decade or more.

So in 1991 the science community was not expecting to be able to differentiate between natural and anthropogenic global warming until 2001 at the earliest.

[End note.]

In spite of those uncertain findings, a year later [in 1992] the politicians prepared a treaty called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change with the intent of limiting global temperatures to 2 deg C above pre-industrial values—a limit that was first proposed in the mid-1970s by an economist, not a climate scientist.

In the article Two degrees: The history of climate change’s ‘speed limit’ at TheCarbonBrief, authors Mat Hope & Rosamund Pearce write:

Perhaps surprisingly, the idea that temperature could be used to guide society’s response to climate change was first proposed by an economist.

In the 1970s, Yale professor William Nordhaus alluded to the danger of passing a threshold of two degrees in a pair of now famous papers, suggesting that warming of more than two degrees would push the climate beyond the limits humans were familiar with:

“According to most sources the range of variation between distinct climatic regimes is on the order of ±5°C, and at present time the global climate is at the high end of this range. If there were global temperatures more than 2° of [sic] 3° above the current average temperature, this would take the climate outside of the range of observations which have been made over the last several hundred thousand years.”

In the early 1990s, the politicians continued to fling funds at scientists with hope the next report would provide support for their agendas. Much to the politicians’ astonishment, the scientists’ initial draft of the 1995 Summary for Policymakers for the 2nd Assessment Report from the IPCC was still inconclusive.

Imagine that. In 1992, the United Nations had convinced many countries around the globe to enter into a treaty to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, when a year before the IPCC could not find mankind’s fingerprint on global warming. Then, by 1995, the politicians’ scientific report-writing body, the IPCC, still could not differentiate between man-made and natural warming, and the climate scientists had stated that fact in the draft of the second IPCC assessment report. The politicians were between the rock and the hard place. They’d had a treaty in place for 3 years but their report-writing scientists could not find evidence to support it.

So, after most of the scientists had left the meeting, the politicians and a lone scientist changed the language of the second IPCC assessment report in a very subtle but meaningful way. Voila! The politicians and one scientist initiated what is now called the consensus. (See the 3-part, very detailed analysis by Bernie Lewin about the 1995 IPCC conference in Madrid. Part one is here.)

[End Reprint]

The three parts of the series by Bernie Lewin about the 1995 IPCC conference in Madrid are appropriately titled:

Madrid 1995: Was this the Tipping Point in the Corruption of Climate Science? (archived here.)

Madrid 1995 and The Quest for the Mirror in the Sky (archived here.)

Madrid 1995: The Last Day of Climate Science (archived here.)

Bernie Levin writes about the draft of the IPCC’s second assessment report in Part 1 of his series (My boldface):

Alas, by the early autumn of 1995 the signs were not good. Although a draft leaked in September managed to say that the warming is unlikely to be entirely due to natural causes, this was hardly in dispute, and this was not exactly announcing imminent catastrophe. Moreover, there remained extraordinary strong caveats, especially in Chapter 8, to every positive conclusion. The draft that was circulated to the participants at the Madrid conference, and the only one available when the Report was finally ‘accepted’ by the meeting (see explanation in a following post), also stated in its introduction that results of recent studies point towards a human influence. This was the strongest statement yet, but the body of the document and the concluding summary were not so confident. Some of the boldest retractions were as follows:

Of Studies of Changes in Global Mean Variables (8.4.1): ‘While none of these studies has specifically considered the attribution issue, they often draw some attribution conclusions, for which there is little justification.’

Of the greenhouse signal in studies of modelled and observed spatial and temporal patterns of change ( ‘none of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can attribute the observed changes to the specific cause of increases in greenhouse gases.’

Of pattern studies ‘fingerprinting’ the global warming (see discussion in later post): While some of the pattern-base studies discussed have claimed detection of a significant climate change, no study to date has positively attributed all or part [of the climate change observed] to [anthropogenic ] causes. Nor has any study quantified the magnitude of a greenhouse gas effect or aerosol effect in the observed data—an issue of primary relevance to policy makers.

Of the overall level of uncertainty: Any claims of positive detection and attribution of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced.

Of the question: When will an anthropogenic effect on climate be identified? (8.6): It is not surprising that the best answer to this question is, `We do not know.’

[A copy of the 9Oct95 draft of Ch 8 has not been obtained. UPDATE 29June12: 9Oct draft obtained and changes have been verified]

The politicians didn’t like the uncertainties expressed in those statements, so they deleted them. Amazing! Were you aware that politicians had dictated climate science?

Important note: Keep in mind that Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, temporarily driving global surface temperatures downward. While temperatures rebounded by 1995 to a level that was slightly higher than in 1991, the volcanic aerosols spewed into the stratosphere by Mount Pinatubo had produced a noticeable drop in the warming rate since the mid-1970s start of the recent warming period. See Figure 1. That is, the global warming rate from 1975 to 1995 is noticeably lower than the trend from 1975 to 1991, as one would expect. (I’ve used the GISS dTs data in the top graph of Figure 1, because GISS did not begin to use sea surface temperature data in their global temperature data until 1995. I’ve included the GISS Land-Ocean Temperature Index in the lower graph as a reference. Both are current versions of the data).

Source: The Politicization of Climate Science Is NOT a Recent Phenomenon — Watts Up With That?

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