Flat White

Manufacturing climate consensus

9 January 2018

12:06 PM

9 January 2018

12:06 PM

Just out, the first book to be published by the US-based Global Warming Foundation is by the Australian writer/researcher Bernie Lewin, a detailed – and damning – historical deconstruction of the origins of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), titled Searching For The Catastrophe Signal. Acclaimed climate scientist Dr Judith Curry calls it an “important new book” and goes on to provide targeted commentary “in context of the theme of ‘detection and attribution’, ‘policy cart in front of the scientific horse’ and ‘manufacturing consensus’.”

Dr Curry begins by noting that “In a connection that I hadn’t previously made, Lewin provides historical context for the focus on CO2 research in the 1970s, motivated by the ‘oil crisis’ and concerns about energy security. There was an important debate surrounding whether coal or nuclear power should be the replacement for oil.”

As she points out, this seeded what became the focus on carbon dioxide, but the focus was not driven by atmospheric scientists. This point helps us understand how things went so horribly wrong as the science and the politics mixed to become a stinking cocktail – and CO2 became its evil emission.


Lewin, a Melbourne based writer, blogger and an environmental activist since the early 1980s, was amazed at how the global warming scare had come to overwhelm all other environmental campaigns. In 2008 he started to investigate how there came to be such a widespread belief that it had a firm foundation in the authority of science.

His book provides ample detail of the (sorry) history of the IPCC and the policies that were based on its reports – the world over. In Chapter 8, he identifies just how things worked in this pseudo-scientific world. Comments Dr Curry: “The key scientific issue at the time (the mid-1990s) was detection and attribution”:

In 1995, the IPCC was stuck between its science and its politics. The only way it could save itself from the real danger of political oblivion would be if its scientific diagnosis could shift in a positive direction and bring it into alignment with policy action.  

The writing of Chapter 8 (the chapter concerned with detection and attribution) got off to a delayed start due to the late assignment of its coordinating lead author. It was not until April that someone agreed to take on the role. This was Ben Santer, a young climate modeller at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.

The chapter that Santer began to draft was greatly influenced by a paper principally written by Tim Barnett, but it also listed Santer as an author. It was this paper that held, in a nutshell, all the troubles for the ‘detection’ quest. It was a new attempt to get beyond the old stumbling block of ‘first detection’ research: to properly establish the ‘yardstick’ of natural climate variability. The paper describes how this project failed to do so, and fabulously so. 

The detection chapter that Santer drafted for the IPCC makes many references to this study. More than anything else cited in Chapter 8, it is the spoiler of all attribution claims, whether from pattern studies, or from the analysis of the global mean. It is the principal basis for the Chapter 8 conclusion that . . . .no study to date has both detected a significant climate change and positively attributed all or part of that change to anthropogenic causes.”

But by the time the draft report had gone through the process, “a final version of a ‘bottom line’ detection claim was decided”:

The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.

Frederick Seitz was furious and wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal:

In my more than 60 years as a member of the American scientific community, including service as president of both the NAS and the American Physical Society, I have never witnessed a more disturbing corruption of the peer-review process than the events that led to this IPCC report.

Searching for the Catastrophe Signal: The Origins of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, available in paperback and Kindle 

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