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Czech daily grills Rahmstorf during interview

A full translation has been added...

People's Newspapers (Peopers) - or Lidové noviny (Lidovky) in Czech - is a leading, liberal conservative Czech daily whose circulation is 75,000. It was founded in 1893, banned by the Stalin-Gottwald leftists in 1952, and resuscitated by the dissent in 1987. Two years later, it would become legal again.

On Saturday, they printed a long interview with Stefan Rahmstorf of RealClimate.ORG and the Potsdam Fearmongering Institute (PFI). The title is somewhat ambiguous:

Climatology is under attack by interest groups (autom. transl. from Czech)
But yes, aside from the IPCC, only the WWF and other NGOs are groups that are individually mentioned in the interview so perhaps the title is not really ambiguous. ;-)

Here is the full quick translation [by LM].

Climatology is under attack by interest groups
December 4th, 2010

We have interviewed one of the main world's climatologists, Stefan Rahmstorf, about the summit in Cancún, green Greeland, AmazonGate, ClimateGate, and the money for lobbying.

In Cancún, Mexico, a climate conference is just taking place.

LN is speaking with one of the lead authors of the U.N. climate reports, Stefan Rahmstorf.

LN: Why is the buzz around Cancún weaker than what we saw in Copenhagen a year ago?

Because Cancún is guaranteed to lead to no big treaty about the protection of the climate - a similar treaty that many were hoping for during the Copenhagen summit. However, let's hope that something will be put through: for example, some rules about the protection of forests or a mandatory determination of the steps to protect the climate that several governments declared informally after Copenhagen.

LN: You're an expert in sea levels. How would you use your specialization to demonstrate that it's time to find an agreement?

During the recent 120 years, the sea level increased by 20 centimeters or so. That's the global figure which exhibits regional differences. A part of this figure is caused by the thermal expansion of water, another part is from melting glaciers. Between 2003 and 2008, about 20 percent came from the expansion and 80 percent came from the melting of ice.

LN: What is so special about it? Didn't the sea level move throughout the history?

It's true that throughout the Earth's history, the climate change has always been accompanied by big changes of the sea level. For example, when the most recent ice age peaked, the sea level was 120 meters below the current sea level. As the ice age ended, the climate warmed up by 5 °C during the 5,000 years and about two thirds of the ice melted away. This ice is what added those 120 meters to the sea level. If the remaining one third of the ice melted as well, the oceans could have increased an extra 60 meters.

Stefan Rahmstorf and spouse

LN: How did the sea level evolve in recent centuries?

In the last 2,000 years, it was relatively stable. The sea level increased a bit during the Medieval Warm Period, by approximately 20 centimeters during 500 years. However, then it stabilized until the end of the 19th century when the anthropogenic i.e. man-made warming-induced modern sea level rise began.

LN: What do you expect to happen before the end of this century?

Our studies elaborate upon various scenarios that depend on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Even in the most optimistic scenario, the sea level will increase 75 centimeters; the most pessimistic one produces 1.9 meters. [The world's most accurate estimate about the sea level rise by 2100 is 10+-10 centimeters, note by LM.] This is our study. The research by others uses different methods and ends up with slightly different results. However, all the studies published after the 2007 IPCC report by the U.N. panel are calculating significantly higher numbers than the IPCC itself - often twice or thrice. That's because they include various types of acceleration of outflow of ice streams in the Greenland and Antarctica which the IPCC report didn't dare to quantify yet.

LM: You often refer to Greenland. When will its melting become irreversible?

It's not irreversible yet but I would choose to be cautious here. When the point will be surpassed, we don't know. The last IPCC report concluded that the Greenland could melt uncontrollably when the global climate heats up by 1.9 °C or more. We are still separated from that state - we still have some time to stop it. However, new research suggests that the critical point could be lower. If it were crossed, the Greenland wouldn't be lost yet. However, we would have to quickly cool the climate again. The problem is that it would no longer be enough to reduce the emissions to zero - because the temperature could be prevented from increasing but it would still fail to decrease. That's because most of the CO2 emissions remains in the atmosphere for thousand of years.

[The glaciation cycle average is 800 years - it's the lag after which the CO2 arranges to the equilibrium value dictated by temperature. In the modern warm era, the decrease of CO2 would be much faster. The Earth's sinks consume 2 ppm per year - the difference between our emissions 4 ppm and the observed increase of CO2, 1.8 ppm, so it would take less than a century for most of the CO2 to be reabsorbed by the oceans and biosphere. Note by LM.]

In that case, we would have to produce negative emissions - and only stars know whether something of this sort is doable.

LN: In the Middle Ages, Greenland was probably warmer than today. So what's the problem?

Yes, this argument is seen in several variations. The stupidest one - and, unfortunately, it could recently be articulated even on a German university - is that the Greenland didn't have any ice at all. Of course that the ice was present in the Greenland during the Middle Ages, too. It's a fact that the Greenland was green, as the name indicates - but only on the boundaries, just like today. In the early 20th ecntury, before the global warming, several harvests a year were gathered - strawberries etc. - at places settled by the Vikings. In a secondhand bookshop in Copenhagen, I once bought a book from the 1930s where the Greenland was still presented as a Swiss Alpine landscape with sappy meadows. Simply, it is not possible to deduce that the Vikings saw a greener Greenland than what we do out of the name of the island. We have to rely on the ice cores. Yes, they show that it could have been a bit warmer than today. However, when we talk about the Middle Ages when the Greenland could have been 0.1 or 0.2 °C warmer, it is a completely different story than if we admit that the future may see this place heat up by 10 or 20 degrees Celsius. [Huh!? LM]

LN: You are among the main authors of the 2007 IPCC report which has received several scars this year. What do you think about the report's quality?

I still endorse it. As far as I know, only two mistakes have appeared in the report. It incorrectly quantified the portion of the Netherlands that is below the sea level. However, this mistaken figure was given to us by the Dutch environment ministry itself. The biggest mistake was done by Group II - which is not the climatologists but those who estimate the effects of climate change. It was a mistake in the citation when the regional chapter on Asia quoted a wrong figure about the Himalayan glaciers, instead of taking the report of the Group I as the essentially correct source of information. Yes, such things shouldn't happen. But when hundreds of people are writing a report that has 3,000 pages, it can't quite be excluded that something will occasionally go awry. Moreover, lots of incorrect statements have been circulated: the IPCC was said to incorrectly evaluate the drought in Africa, threats looming over the Amazon rainforest... However, the IPCC in all these topics has provided the readers with the most correct description of the scientific knowledge. [It surely didn't. This has been discussed too many times. LM] The British Sunday Times that wrote about the AmazonGate as the pioneers, had to suspend the article after the British Journalistic Commission intervened. This is the way how one or two journalists ignite a world-wide wave by theit untrue articles and the world's newspapers are writing in the same spirit. This is not a scandal of climatologists but one of the media, please. None of the journalists has verified what his or her colleagues have brought.

LN: AmazonGate was about the IPCC's decision to refer to the green advocacy group, the World Wildlife Fund, instead of scientific literature. Or are WWF booklets scientific literature?

No, but the scientific literature was quoted by the WWF text - namely a study published in Nature. You can't get any higher in the expert literature. [Surely not true in top physics disciplines. In particle physics, Nature is just an average popular magazine. LM]

LN: Readers of the IPCC report assume that the authors refer to the scientific literature rather than laymen's distillates from scientific literature.

But this was not a text by the laymen: the WWF report was worked out by the respected forest expert Peter Morore - the Sunday Times had to apologize about this point. There exists the so-called grey literature, including e.g. the World Bank reports, documents of the International Agency for Energy or non-governmental organization. According to the internal IPCC regulations, they're totally legitimate sources.

LN: NGOs usually comprise of believers who have devoted their lives to the warming theory and they publish propaganda.

Propaganda, it's your word. Of course that the IPCC could have directly quoted the articles in Nature and not the WWF booklet. But it is beyond my understanding why someone would make a scandal about it when the WWF booklet correctly described the state of the scientific knowledge. [Well, correct according to radical environment activists. Obviously, there was a difference that has made the WWF reports more sexy than Nature for the WWF's soulmates in the IPCC. LM]

LN: Our ex-minister of the environment has appealed to the IPCC reports by mentioning that they were purely scientific works. And then we suddenly learned that five thousand notes were based on grey literature, NGOs' booklets, and student reports rather than the scientific literature.

I am suspicious about your figure. But even if it were right, in Group I which is dedicated to climatology itself, we don't have to use the grey literature. The Working Groups II and III would be more affected because they discuss various solutions, including those in energy policy. In those disciplines it is less usual to publish in expert journals than it is in natural sciences. Otherwise: the InterAcademy Council which is the highest scientific body in the world [Huh? LM], comprising of the national academies in most key countries, has published a certificate that it has a good level - by the way, in totally voluntary way and without any expected royalties - even though it recommended many gimmicks. The IPCC has a genuinely weak organizational toolkit: one office in Geneva with a couple of employees may turn out to be unable to respond to similar attacks and gossip. When the Himalayan blunder emerged, we found out that the IPCC didn't even have a mechanism to publish an erratum. It had no one who could decide about these things. The IPCC has simply never developed a professional structure. It worked beautifully until it came under attacks of organized groups and it contracted bruises on its nose.

LN: What mechanisms are needed in the IPCC when chairman Pachauri calls complaints against the paragraphs on Himalayan glaciers, without any hesitation, "voodoo science"?

He didn't use the term "voodoo science" for the criticism of the IPCC but one particular report that was published about the glaciers by the Indian environment minister. I wouldn't use this vocabulary but Pachauri was right about the content. [Huh! 2035 again? LM]

LN: Wait a minute: the voodoo science was more correct than the IPCC report. The Indian estimates when the glaciers could melt were much more restrained: they didn't talk about decades but rather centuries.

And where did you learn that it will take centuries? [It is a widely published fact that even if the fastest trends observed at any point in the recent past were blindly extrapolated, one would need many and many centuries. LM]

LN: The year 2350 was finally mentioned as the fixed date by the IPCC, too, wasn't it?

No, it was just an explanation where the year 2035 could have appeared in the report - it could have been a mistyped number 2350. But 2350 is not correct either. It is in no way the IPCC estimate. [Then Rahmstorf agrees that the whole chapter is meaningless gibberish. LM]

LN: Should Pachauri continue to lead the IPCC?

Pachauri wa certainly not the optimal choice. He was substituted under the pressure by George Bush as the permanent chairman because Pachauri's predecessor was too effective. [Hahaha, Pachauri is just a Bush artifact. LM] He is no climatologists. It would be the best decision if he completed the organizational reforms and handed his office over.

LN: How do you evaluate the ClimateGate one year later?

Also in this case, we see that it was a tempest in a teapot which was fabricated by various lobby groups. Meanwhile, the accusations were investigated by five different committees and were totally disproved. The scientists were even facing the absurd accusations that they were manipulating with the data by circumventing the peer review process in the journals. Nothing has been confirmed.

LN: Hmm. For example, Phil Jones advised some colleagues in the e-mails to erase some data so that they couldn't be obtained by the climate skeptics. But none of the committees has asked him the simple question whether he was actually deleting some of the data.

I am not fully familiar with the details: I haven't read the stolen e-mails at all. My work is the climate, not the private correspondence of some of my colleagues. The decisive point is that no scientific insight had to be corrected, not even in the wake of these released e-mails.

LN: But this has serious social repercussions that should be interesting for you. In the U.S. as well as the U.K., i.e. both countries where the ClimateGate took place, the public has changed its mind and it has stopped to support the fight against global warming.

I have been active in climatology for 20 years and the methods of the climate skeptics, who are denying the scientific knowledge, have become pretty well-known to me. Around the Copenhagen summit, they managed to penetrate into the journalist mainstream. I consider this fact to be a psychological phenomenon. Exactly because the Copenhagen summit collapsed, many people probably had a problem whose solutions seem unsuccessful and they wanted to shift the problem aside and play it down. It's because it is frustrating to be forced to helplessly watch the looming climate events. So if we are going to get excited by some e-mails between the scientists, we don't have to worry about the future of our children.

LN: Are you worried that the public support for your opinions and proposals is decreasing?

It's not so bad in Europe but in America, it is a serious problem. Only one of the Republicans who was running for Congress one month ago was endorsing the notion that the climate is changing under the influence of the humans. To approve a bill to protect the climate is virtually impossible in America these days. One study has estimated that the American companies have invested 500 million dollars to the lobbying against the climate legislation during the last 18 months. [Which would still be orders of magnitude below what has been paid to people such as Rahmstorf. LM] All of us will pay for that, after all. The later we start, the more expensive the policies will have to be.

We present: Stefan Rahmstorf belongs among the most famous representatives of the climate mainstream. He was born in 1960, he studied physics in his native Germany before he moved to British Wales and New Zealand where he added physical oceanography. Today, he works in Potsdam at the Potsdam Institute for Climatology (PIK) that is often referred to by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Rahmstorf was one of the main autors of the fourth U.N. IPCC report in 2007. In the same year, the IPCC shared the peace Nobel prize with American politician Al Gore. The report has come under a heavy criticism this year, however.

The well-informed journalist who was talking to Rahmstorf is called Daniel Kaiser.

If someone really wants to see a full translation, we may try to create it tomorrow.

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