GUEST Editorial by Edward Carr. July 9, 2010. “Apparently, we have learned nothing . . .”

Written by M. Glantz. Posted in All Fragilecologies

Published on July 09, 2010 with 4 Comments

GUEST Editorial by Edward Carr (University of South Carolina) July 9, 2010

“Apparently, we have learned nothing . . .”

I am part of Working Group II of the 5th Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As some of you might know, Working Group II of the previous Assessment Report (AR4) was the one that caught a lot of flak for problematic conclusions and references regarding Himalayan Glacier melt and whatnot. On one hand, these were stupid errors that should have been corrected in the review process (which will be part of my job in AR5).  On the other, they really did not affect the overall conclusions or quality of the report – they just gave those who continue to have an issue with the idea of climate change an opening to attack the report.

Part of the problem for the IPCC is a perceived lack of openness – that something is going on behind closed doors that cannot be trusted.  This, in the end, was at the heart of the “climategate” circus – a recent report has exonerated all of the scientists implicated, but some people still believe that there is something sinister going on.

There is an easy solution to this – complete openness.  I’ve worked on global assessments before, and the science is sound.  I’ve been quite critical of the way in which one of the reports was framed (download “Applying DPSIR to Sustainable Development” here), but the science is solid and the conclusions are more refined than ever.  Showing people how this process works, and what we do exactly, would go a long way toward getting everyone on the same page with regard to global environmental change, and how we might best address it.

So I was dismayed this morning to receive a letter, quite formally titled “Letter No.7004-10/IPCC/AR5 from Dr Pachauri, Chaiman of the IPCC”, that might set such transparency back.  While the majority of the letter is a very nice congratulations on being selected as part of the IPCC, the third paragraph is completely misguided:

“I would also like to emphasize that enhanced media interest in the work of the IPCC would probably subject you to queries about your work and the IPCC. My sincere advice would be that you keep a distance from the media and should any questions be asked about the Working Group with which you are associated, please direct such media questions to the Co-chairs of your Working Group and for any questions regarding the IPCC to the secretariat of the IPCC.”

This “bunker mentality” will do nothing for the public image of the IPCC.  The members of my working group are among the finest minds in the world.  We are capable of speaking to the press about what we do without the help of minders or gatekeepers. I hope my colleagues feel the same way, and the IPCC sees the light . . .


There are currently 4 Comments on GUEST Editorial by Edward Carr. July 9, 2010. “Apparently, we have learned nothing . . .”. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. So now the IPCC is involved in implied censorship of the scientists who volunteer their time to try to improve the IPCC? To “keep a distance from the media” is exactly the wrong approach to take. Instead, an appropriate response is to politely consider, and then to politely decline to adhere to, the IPCC’s polite request. Instead, actively seek out the media to ensure that your views about and work with the IPCC and its science receive coverage.

    • thanks for your view. i was censored and asked by the then-head of the IPCC NOT to say anything to the Venezuelan government that he did not approve beforehand, during an ipcc visit to the country’s leaders in 1990 to explain the findings of first IPCC assessment. He told me to shut up and not offer comments, following a session in which i answered honestly queries from government ministers and the then-President about the scientific certainties as well as who was responsible to take first steps to control CO2 emissions ( i said that the developed countries were responsible for saturating the atmosphere and therefore had the responsibility to take first steps). it was then i decided never to work directly on ipcc reports, though colleagues did ask for my comments on their drafts.

    • Andrew Revkin, formerly of the New York Times wrote for the NYT today the following article about the IPCC attempt to control comments of ipcc related scientists.
      Dot Earth: “Climate Panel Struggles With Media Plan
      Researchers are warned to keep their distance.”

      well, there is an expression that Dr. Pachauri knows: the ship of state leaks from the top {no real secrets in government]. BY ANALOGY, IT WILL NO LONGER BE POSSIBLE TO KEEP ANY SECRETS IN THE IPCC, A SIDE EFFECT OF THE SO-CALLED “E-MAILGATE AND CLIMATEGATE”. MICKEY

  2. As disillusioning as the reality of E. Carr’s editorial is – on the “bunker mentality”, I find that putting it forward is commendable, and also very encouraging.
    I wonder what would happen if the same amount of energy invested in safekeeping “public image” was used towards educating people, what would it be like; could we impact the continuous hindrances caused by ignorance? And build a society with the ability to think critically and draw lessons?
    I agree that showing people how the process works will go along way… A greater degree of transparency is a must! Especially for agencies and individuals that conduct public services. At the individual level we could center efforts in building capacities that heighten our self awareness, so as to constantly evaluate lessons learned and ways in which can make a difference…
    Strangely though , we have developed the ability to keep ever so busy, that we are constantly occupied, multitasking, plugged in and so forth… we no longer find the time to stop, breath, and reflect, so as to draw lessons from both past and present… and to top it all, it seems as though by default we can waste even more time and energy trying to cover up our tracks.

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