Of Toast, Porkies, Amazongate and Denialist Donkey Braying

So, we had climategate, which in my estimation — and that of others — amounted to a hill of beans. Even Chylek admits that nothing in the emails destroys the main pillar in the AGW paradigm — the globally averaged temperature record.  AGW, which is not premised on the hockey stick, or solely on model projections, is still intact despite the braying of the denialist donkeys around the blogosphere.

Then we had glaciergate, which was admittedly embarrassing, but not a mistake of the pillar-toppling variety that is enough to bring down the AGW house.

The next Denialist-created “gate” making the rounds is “Amazongate”.  As I write this, google shows 27,300 results for “amazongate” — amazing how fast dreck flows. Speaking of dreck, I wonder when FOX News (fair and balanced) will pick this up and run with it?

According to Delingpole, who in turn is citing Richard North, and I quote,

AGW theory is toast. So’s Dr Rajendra Pachauri. So’s the Stern Review. So’s the credibility of the IPCC. But if you think I’m cheered by this you’re very much mistaken. I’m trying to write a Climategate book but the way things are going by the time I’m finished there won’t be anything left to say: the battle will already have been won and the only people left who still believe in Man Made Global Warming will be the eco-loon equivalents of those wartime Japanese soldiers left abandoned and forgotten on remote Pacific atolls.

Here’s the latest development, courtesy of Dr Richard North – and it’s a cracker. It seems that, not content with having lied to us about shrinking glaciers, increasing hurricanes, and rising sea levels, the IPCC’s latest assessment report also told us a complete load of porkies about the danger posed by climate change to the Amazon rainforest. [my emphasis]

Apparently, another reference has been found to a WWF report in the IPCC AR4.  

According to Delingpole :

The two expert authors of the WWF report so casually cited by the IPCC as part of its, ahem, “robust” “peer-reviewed” process weren’t even Amazon specialists. One, Dr PF Moore, is a policy analyst. [OMG a policy analyst. Like, I’m a policy analyst and even the Great Puzzler himself was once one]

Of course, one should always read the comments section, to get a sense of Delingpole’s readership:

So not only do we have more proof that the IPCC report was packed with flawed evidence, but the clowns who put it together turn out to be unqualified ‘experts’ and chippy journos with a track record in cheerleading for organisation who regard the solution for every problem to be a bigger state, higher taxes, more rules and less freedom.

I suppose we should be grateful that the idiots responsible for this piece of Soviet-style propaganda were so arrogant, and in such a hurry to come up with a mandate for their Leftist agenda, that they failed to make it less susceptible to the infuriating forces of reality.

Incidentally, that Rowell character sounds like a hoot, what with his passions for environmentalism, animal rights and anti-smoking. I must invite him round for a dinner party some time.

Here’s Watt:

James Delingpole of the Telegraph says this better than I ever could, so I’ll provide his summary here. Note that there are plenty more cases of unsubstantiated non peer reviewed references in the IPCC report, a list of which you can see here. For those wondering what “Load of porkies” means, see this.

Here’s North:

The IPCC also made false predictions on the Amazon rain forests, referenced to a non peer-reviewed paper produced by an advocacy group working with the WWF. This time though, the claim made is not even supported by the report and seems to be a complete fabrication

Thus, following on from “Glaciergate”, where the IPCC grossly exaggerated the effects of global warming on Himalayan glaciers – backed by a reference to a WWF report – we now have “Amazongate”, where the IPCC has grossly exaggerated the effects of global warming on the Amazon rain forest.

Here is the evol quote from the IPCC AR4:

Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state, not necessarily producing gradual changes between the current and the future situation (Rowell and Moore, 2000). It is more probable that forests will be replaced by ecosystems that have more resistance to multiple stresses caused by temperature increase, droughts and fires, such as tropical savannas.

The study of climate-induced changes in key ecosystem processes (Scholze et al., 2005) considers the distribution of outcomes within three sets of model runs grouped according to the amount of global warming they simulate: <2°C, 2-3°C and >3°C. A high risk of forest loss is shown for Central America and Amazonia, more frequent wildfire in Amazonia, more runoff in north-western South America, and less runoff in Central America. More frequent wildfires are likely (an increase in frequency of 60% for a temperature increase of 3°C) in much of South America. Extant forests are destroyed with lower probability in Central America and Amazonia. The risks of forest losses in some parts of Amazonia exceed 40% for temperature increases of more than 3°C (see Figure 13.3).

The section quotes Rowell and Moore and the next paragraph quotes Scholze et al.

Here is the quote from the 2000 WWF report by Rowell and Moore:

Up to 40% of the Brazilian forest is extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall. In the 1998 dry season, some 270,000 sq. km of forest became vulnerable to fire, due to completely depleted plant-available water stored in the upper five metres of soil. A further 360,000 sq. km of forest had only 250 mm of plant-available soil water left.  Scientists from Woods Hole Research Centre (WHRC) and IPAM (Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia) who have undertaken ground-breaking work on fires in the Amazon, conclude that “in a scenario of increasingly frequent El Niño events, Amazonia is poised to experience catastrophic forest fire events that dwarf the fires of Roraima in early 1998 and of deforestation activity in scale”.  The implications are severe, because if the normally fire-resistant Amazon forest dries out, this could change the hydrologic cycle and hence the whole climate of the region, which has global implications, not least for global climate.

They cite two studies by Nepstad et.al.:

45 D. C. Nepstad, A. G .Moreira, & A. A. Alencar, Flames in the Rain Forest: Origins, Impacts and Alternatives to Amazonian Fire, Pilot Program to Conserve the Brazilian Rain Forest. Ministry of Environment, Secretariat for the Co-ordination of the Amazon, 1999

46 D. C. Nepstad, A. Veríssimo, A. A l e n c a r, C. Nobre, E. Lima, P. Lefebvre, P. S c h l e s i n g e r, C. Potter, P. Mountinho, E. Mendoza, M. Cochrane, V. Brooks, Large-scale Impoverishment of Amazonian Forests by Logging and Fire, Nature, 1999, Vo l 398, 8 April, pp505

Here’s one of the Nepstad et. al. references:

“we find that surface fires burn additional large areas of standing forest, the destruction of which is normally not documented. Forest impoverishment due to such fires may increase dramatically when severe droughts provoke forest leaf-shedding and greater flammability; our regional water-balance model indicates that an estimated 270,000km2 of forest became vulnerable to fire in the 1998 dry season. Overall, we find that present estimates of annual deforestation for Brazilian Amazonia capture less than half of the forest area that is impoverished each year, and even less during years of severe drought. Both logging and fire increase forest vulnerability to future burning 6,7 and release forest carbon stocks to the atmosphere, potentially doubling net carbon emissions from regional land-use during severe El Nino episodes. If this forest impoverishment is to be controlled, then logging activities need to be restricted or replaced with low-impact timber harvest techniques, and more effective strategies to prevent accidental forest fires need to be implemented.

Large-scale burning of tropical forest during severe ENSO episodes may impoverish vast areas of these species -and carbon-rich ecosystems; such episodes are increasing in frequency, possibly in response to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere 26. These considerations point to the need to either restrict the logging industry in Amazonia, or to replace conventional logging practices in moist tropical forest regions with low-impact harvest techniques 17,27. Cost-effective investments in the prevention of accidental forest tres by Amazonian farmers and ranchers are also needed 28. Both of these changes are unlikely to occur unless access to these forest lands provided by expanding road networks, electrical grids and water transport systems is sharply curtailed 28.
Here’s Scholze:

Risks of changes in fire frequency are also widespread. Fire frequency partly depends on fuel type and availability, and its relationship to runoff is not straightforward. Reduced fire frequency, reflecting wetter conditions, is indicated for parts of the boreal region, but increased tree cover in some other parts (especially eastern Canada) promotes fire. Reduced fire frequency accompanies increased runoff in tropical Africa. Most semiarid regions, including the Sahel, central Australia, central Asia, southern Africa, and the western U.S., show a high probability of increased wildfires, especially for >3°C, reflecting increased biomass growth. Increased fire risk is also apparent in the southeastern U.S. and at high elevations (notably the Tibetan plateau). More frequent wildfires are likely (>60% for >3°C) in much of South America. Fire is a major factor in structuring vegetation (20), and some biome shifts follow these changes in fire regime, whereas others are forced directly by climate. Forests extend with high probability into the Arctic and into semiarid savannas. Extant forests are destroyed with high probability in parts of the southern boreal zone (especially southern Siberia, the Russian Far East, and the western interior of Canada) and with lower probability in eastern China, Central America, Amazonia, and the Gulf Coast of the U.S. The risks of forest losses in some parts of Eurasia, Amazonia, and Canada are >40% for >3°C. [my emphasis]

Delingpole/North go on to state:
But the IPCC’s shamelessness did not end there. Dr North has searched the WWF’s reports high and low but can find no evidence of a statement to support the IPCC’s claim that “40 per cent” of the Amazon is threatened by climate change. (Logging and farm expansion are a much more plausible threat).
What’s shameless is that no one seems able to do a bit of googling — except me. 😉


About Policy Lass

Exploring skeptic tales.

26 Responses to “Of Toast, Porkies, Amazongate and Denialist Donkey Braying”

  1. susann, while I think you are off base on many of your posts, I have to acknowledge what appears to be good digging here on your part.

    • This wasn’t good digging — it was just a few moments of digging — nothing I don’t do on a regular basis for anything I’m interested in on the net. So, thanks, but anyone (even the lead authors) could do this digging if they were truly interested in the facts vs the spin, and that’s what p’s me off the most about this, not only about the IPCC’s stupid error, but also how this will be covered in the blogosphere and press.

      In the end, the main point — the risk posed to rainforests like the Amazon from global warming — gets lost.

      ETA: In all fairness, I should take back the slam to the IPCC lead authors since they were within the IPCC procedures to use the WWF document. However, they should have and could have referenced the peer review literature since it was easily found — by me and others, I imagine after a few moments googling.

  2. Susann,
    I see you are trying to defend the IPCC during these trying times. Let’s look at the facts regarding the Amazon rainforest. The IPCC relied on a non-peer-reviewed publication written by Rowell and Moore and published by WWF. Not good.

    Rowell and Moore cited two papers by Nepstad dating from 1999, the year after the 1998 El Nino. One of them appears to be peer-reviewed but also appears to suffer from recentism. I doubt very much their fears have been realized.

    You also found a paper by Scholze, approved for publication in July, 2006, which I believe is after the cutoff date to be cited in AR4. The Scholze paper is prediction based on models, not based on observations.

    It is possible the IPCC authors knew the Scholze paper had been submitted and were hoping it would be approved for publication. Perhaps that is why they made the claim but could not cite Scholze. Not exactly the way the IPCC process is supposed to work.

    Where is the evidence the Amazon has suffered because of AGW? Perhaps I am wrong, but I think the rainforest is doing quite well.

    • There is peer-reviewed science out there that backs up the claim that global warming poses a threat to large portions of various biomes and the rainforests are one example, since they are susceptible to drought induced stress, etc. People on the skeptic side focus on process and ignore the content, and I think that’s a tactic, part of an overarching strategy to discredit through attacks on process or focus on small errors, etc. While i do not condone sloppy process, and agree that more should have been done to back up this claim, the claim is still valid.

      That’s what I’m ultimately interested in and so should everyone who truly honestly cares about the facts. Yes — this reveals sloppy work. I could have done a better job and I’m just a policy analyst. 😉

      But the claim is valid and backed up in peer review science. I doubt Fox news and the like will bring that up when they start bleating.

  3. There has inevitably been an overreaction of course, but it’s still depressingly sloppy on the part of the WGII lead authors. Why didn’t they simply reference the original source rather than the tabloid WWF version? As you’ve found out, it would’ve taken a few minutes at most.

    • I agree with you on this.

      The lead authors failed in their duty to follow IPCC process. They should have done the due diligence and searched out the various sources of this claim and used them instead — because they are there.

      While WWF was accurate about the risks to the Amazon posed by global warming and increase in drought frequency due to increase in ENSO, WWF articles are not peer reviewed science, although they may summarize it. I probably could have turned up a lot more peer-reviewed science to back up this claim, but, like, I have a life and this is done purely for the pleasure of it.

      ETA — but what’s more important to me is that the underlying claim is valid – large sections of the Amazon and other similar ecosystems around the world are put at risk due to global warming induced increases in stresses on them, like ENSO etc. That claim is still valid whether the IPCC lead authors for this section followed proper process and cited WWF instead of Scholze and Nepstad and other peer reviewed science.

  4. You need to stop using the term “denialist”, you’re branding yourself as either a rube or a tool.

  5. Susann,

    It comments a comment of mine was blocked, probably because of a URL I cited. I will try to make the same point without the URL.

    How many papers on the Amazon rainforests did the IPCC ignore in order to push their alarmist agenda?

    Have you read the paper “Amazon rainforests green-up with sunlight during the dry season” by Huete et al and published in GRL? It was published March 22, 2006 in time to meet the deadline for AR4, but I do not believe it was cited.

    It is not based on models but actual observations after 30 years of global warming. But it obviously didn’t send the “right” message, so they ignored it.

    • ETA: Yes, actually Ron, I have read it . Have you?

      Here is the link BTW to the cached version of the paper:

      Amazon rainforests green-up with sunlight during the dry season”.

      Here is their conclusion:

      Both climatic and human drivers, as well as ecological conditions may alter the balance of moisture and sunlight controls on rainforest metabolism with global implications to climate, carbon, and water dynamics. Our observations do not extend through an El Nino cycle and so our conclusions on dry season greening are limited to typical rainfall years. During the stronger drought of an El Nino period, green-up may be prevented if even deep rootsare insufficient to overcome dry-season rainfall deficits, apossibility supported by a drought-simulation experiment[Nepstad et al., 2002] and AVHRR observations throughprevious El Nin˜o years [Asner et al., 2000]. Deforestationand land use pressures may also shift sunlight and moisturecontrols on Amazon phenology with important consequences to sustainable land use in Amazonia.

      [my emphasis]

      ETA: Here is a link to the article referenced in the above quote:

      “Satellite observations of el Nino effects on Amazon forest phenology and productivity”

      One of the conclusions of that paper is that ENSO events lead to significant changes in plant phenology, including the release of CO2. I am not qualified to judge this but it appears to support what the article you quoted claimed about the effects of ENSO.

      ETA – obviously, as this paper cites, it does not apply to El Nino years and so this does not in any way counter the research used to support the IPCC report. In fact, they actually cite Nepstad.

      This I wrote before a 3 minute google turned up the cached version of the original paper.

      Is there a difference between the canopy greening up (increased canopy photosynthesis as measured by spectroscopy) in the dry season and the forest itself being threatened by drought, such that it is more susceptible to fires? That is the subject of the research in the IPCC section on impacts. This paper you are quoting seems to be about something entirely different — the question of whether photosynthesis increases in the canopy during the dry season.

      I think the two could be both true and the one be irrelevant to the other, but that would require more research on my part to explore the implications of both sets of research.

      In other words, perhaps this paper bears no real relation to the issue raised in the IPCC AR4 section — is Amazonia put at risk due to drought stress caused by global warming?

      Let me do some more sleuthing. I have a vacation day today and have some time…

      • So, what you have found is that the rainforest may become dried out during El Nino years and therefore more of a fire hazard, but in non-El Nino years, the rainforest is greened up and is less of a fire hazard. Over the long term, isn’t this a net zero? Is that what the IPCC said?

        • Ron — even your own source quoted my source and pointed out the limitations of their paper and pointed to other research that stated there are risks from ENSO events, including models used by Nepstad and actual measures during ENSO events by Asner et al.

          If global warming increases, and there are more ENSO events and more significant ENSO events, and there are more fires, do you really think the greening of the canopy during the normal dry season will offset it so there is a net zero effect? Is that just a hunch or do you have any scientific research to back it up?

          Not that I’m questioning your ability to reason, but do you figure you’re better able than the scientists we’ve quoted to determine what is relevant and significant scientific evidence and literature?

          I mean, I know that it’s not fashionable to respect scientists despite their years of study and work experience and all, but still I would think that one might give them some small bit of credit.

  6. Susann,
    Did you see this BBC blog? http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/dailypolitics/andrewneil/2010/01/the_dam_is_cracking.html?s_sync=1#comments

    I posted a comment similar to the one above pointing out the IPCC had to ignore peer-reviewed research showing the rainforests are doing quite well, thank you.

    Ron — I believe my post above responds to this.

  7. North has responded in a blog post:


    We are still left with a seemingly deliberate side stepping of process in order to make a blanket assertion – when only a qualified assertion was warrented if the proper sources been cited.

    In my mind this is a very serious matter wrt IPCC credibility.

    • I’ve already commented on his post in my newest post on the blog.

      Suffice it to say that I disagree with his spin.

      • So you think that the Amazon assertion could still stand alone if the proper references had been used?

        • I think the Amazon assertion could stay if it was properly backed up by peer-reviewed literature, but then, I’m not a scientist. I’m not really a peer, so how can I do peer review?

          Still, just basic logic would seems to support the claim that global warming might be a threat to rainforests. You can’t make the assumption that increased warmth is always good for forests, whether rainforests or others. Global warming, if it does lead to increased ENSO events and severe ENSO events which lead to drying of forests and increased fires, global warming could be seen as a threat to the forests. If you add in the larger threat — from human deforestation through logging and land use changes — the two together could threaten the Amazon and other rainforests on a larger scale. That human logging is more of a current threat than climate change doesn’t negate the threat from climate change. In fact, climate change could be the one-two punch that takes the whole out when combined with logging, etc.

          IMO, if the peer-reviewed literature supports this and if models suggest that this will increase in the future as climate warms, then it is worth mentioning in the assessment reports.

          Again, I prefer to see legitimate peers review this material and draw conclusions on whether it has merit and how much, rather than us policy types. Our forked tails and pitchforks get in the way of us being able to make valid conclusions. 😉

      • I find it hard to believe that this matter could have escaped reviewers, who undoubtedly traced the assertion through to the original sources. The comment should not have been allowed to stand alone without proper qualification.

        • I agree that the comment should have been backed up better.

          What is the sin here — is it sloppiness / laziness (which are perrenial human foibles) or is it an attempt to deceive?

          My motto has always been that entropy rules. That’s why there are so many couch potatoes. 😉

          I see sloppiness and laziness rather than an attempt to deceive since a very short google turns up a number of peer-reviewed papers that appear to support the claim.

  8. Dr. North searched the report high and low and found no such statement?

    I can only assume his research skills are extremely sub-par. Two minutes of following the breadcrumbs and I had the referenced report on screen, searched “40%”, found the statement, and the references, and ended up exactly where you are with this article. Great job by the way 🙂

    • Finding it was pretty simple, as you know. Of course, facts aren’t the issue to deniers. Spin is. When the facts were pointed out to skeptics here, they argued interpretation instead. Shifting position in order to find advantageous ground.

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