Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fun with language and geoengineering

In the business section this morning's Globe and Mail, columnist Neil Reynolds describes with some excitement a new "paper" from the Copenhagen Consensus Center detailing how we can cheaply re-engineer the climate using sulphate aerosols.

To learn about the flaws in the science and the economic results reported in Reynolds' column, I recommend reading Alan Robock's fine piece on Real Climate. I won't offer more on the science here, other than to say that even if injecting sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere can affordably and safely counter CO2-induced climate warming, it would do nothing to combat CO2-induced changes in ocean chemistry and its effect on marine life.

The column is a window into the increasingly deceptive labeling and branding of reports on climate change. A lot of groups are co-opting academic ("paper"), IPCC / UN ("consensus") and Obama-era ("non-partisan") language in order to gain scientific legitimacy. The language leaks out into the press, and next thing you know, a un-reviewed piece of work prepared by non-scientists from a partisan think-tank is reported as a piece of new science. This particular example is rather tame, but still worth thinking about.

The "paper" of which Reynolds' writes is not a paper in the academic sense - research is done, submitted to a journal, reviewed by peers, edited in response to the reviewers' concerns, etc. - but a solicited report not subject to peer review. The report could have some value, but it is not the same as an academic paper.

The cleverly-named "Copenhagen Consensus Center" has nothing to do with the UN meetings in Copenhagen this fall, nor does work from the Center represent a consensus of the larger scientific or economic community. The reports from this Center, like the geoengineering report in question, are writings by people invited to the Center for meetings, not exhaustive reviews of the existing literature. Again, the reports may have some value - but they do not represent a "consensus" in the IPCC sense.

Finally, the "non-partisan" American Enterprise Institute, professional home of one of the report's authors, is committed to "expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening free enterprise", a mission that naturally leads to rather partisan support to right-leaning politicians, and is in fact populated almost entirely by Republicans. Once more, a report from the AEI may may some value, but labeling AEI work "non-partisan" is playing with words.

No comments: