The United Nations (UN) has found itself entangled in yet another climate scandal. First, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was involved in “Glaciergate,” where it claimed that Himalayan glaciers would melt in 25 years. (I guess the IPCC takes 2012 a little too seriously.) It turned out this claim was based on nothing more than an interview with an Indian scientist in 1999 and confusing the year 2035 with the year 2350. Then there was “Amazongate,” with the IPCC claiming that 40% of the Amazonian rainforest is at risk from climate change. But on closer investigation, this claim was based on the work of two World Wildlife Fund activists. Not only did these authors lack a background in Amazonian forestry, they weren’t even scientists! One analyzes policy in Australia and the other is a freelance writer for The Guardian. And, of course, who can forget Climategate, where thanks to leaked emails from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia, the public was able to learn about the suppression of dissenting papers on climate change. So much for rigorous peer-review.
Now, like many summer blockbusters, Climategate gets a sequel. Earlier this year, the IPCC made a provocative announcement: by 2050, 77% of the world’s energy needs could come from renewable energy sources. This news was all the more remarkable since renewables only provide 13% of the global energy supply today. Of course, this large increase in green energy could happen only “if backed by the right enabling public policies” (i.e. generous subsidies for wind and solar power).
Here’s where the scandal begins. Last week, Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit discovered that this prediction was based off of research conducted by Sven Teske, the Director of the Renewable Energy Campaign for Greenpeace. In other words, the supposedly impartial IPCC was using a paid employee of Greenpeace to give a fair and balanced analysis of renewable energy.
In addition, this study was just one of 164 different scenarios outlined in the IPCC’s report. Not only was there a severe conflict of interest involved with Teske, but his report was absurdly optimistic. As Babbage at The Economist notes, “the Greenpeace one was chosen for the spotlight because it had the highest renewable penetration; the median penetration in 2050 across all 164 scenarios was just 27%.” That’s a far cry from the 77% figure the IPCC touted.
The scientific process must not be politicized for partisan gain. Yet, there is a double standard when it comes to the green movement and transparent science. This issue would have had a lot more press if Teske worked for ExxonMobil, and not Greenpeace.
By now, environmental activists should know that hyperbole and sensationalistic headlines only undermine their efforts. Indeed, according to a recent Pew Research Poll, fewer Americans believe that climate change is a real threat than they did five years ago. When the IPCC shamelessly promotes Greenpeace agit-prop as “science,” is it any wonder climate skepticism is on the rise?
Nick Sibilla is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.