Now that the full debunking of the “Amazongate” episode has hit the mainstream, it has been instructive to see how the story’s originator has been responding. The wild claims of blogger, climate denier and sometime collaborator with Christopher Booker Richard North originally found their way onto the pages of the Times – after a brief stopover on far-right conspiracy theorist James Delingpole’s Telegraph-hosted blog. North claimed that the scientists behind the IPCC’s second 2007 report had made unfounded statements about the Amazon – in particular on its sensitivity to declining rainfall and potentially grim outlook – an accusation that was debunked by experts in the relevant field almost as soon as it was published. Following a complaint by Dr Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds, who was quoted in the Times’ article, the paper has been forced to publish a retraction.
Yet now that this fake scandal has been exposed, including in an important account by the Guardian’s George Monbiot, North has – perhaps unsurprisingly – been pouring scorn all over that paper’s comment pages. More significantly, after Monbiot noted North’s well-deserved reputation as an “egregious fabulist” “nearly all of” whose “concocted” “stories” (and Booker’s) “fall apart on the briefest examination”, North proceeded to threaten Monbiot and the Guardian with libel action. North referred to “all references to myself” in Monbiot’s blog post “as being libellous and highly damaging”. Read more
Anyone following the recent string of articles in the mainstream press attacking the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may have entertained a sneaking suspicion that the hidden hand of the climate denial lobby was at work behind many of them. That suspicion, it turns out, is exactly right – the fingerprints of the deniers are all over several of the key stories.
This latest feeding frenzy kicked off when one erroneous claim – that Himalayan glaciers were “very likely” to disappear by 2035 – was found to have slipped through the net, the IPCC’s extensive review process having failed to weed it out prior to publication. The claim was included on page 493 of the IPCC’s second 1000-page Working Group report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” (WGII). The reference given was to a WWF report – part of the non-peer-reviewed “grey literature” that makes up a periphery of the material in the second Working Group’s report.
Marginal as it may have been, for the media this isolated error appears to have opened the floodgates. A hysterical flurry of activity followed, as the denial lobby began trawling through the IPCC report for anything else that might look bad – particularly anything referencing the grey literature. The results of this search were then fed to elements of the press, who eagerly snatched them up – uncritically repeating many of their claims in the process.
This year, the modern environmental movement turns 40. Earth Day in 1970 marked the first mass environmental protest, and whilst some ecological ideas have a much older pedigree, it is only during the past four decades that they have attracted mainstream attention. As the disappointment of the Copenhagen climate talks sinks in, it is easy to be pessimistic about the future of environmentalism. But I would argue that, taking the longer-term perspective, it is still very much in the ascendant.