The ICSF – Irish Contrarians Serving Farming?

When I first heard about the newly formed climate denier group, the self-styled Irish Climate Science Forum (ICSF), I tipped off my usual Dublin media outlets, but nobody was biting, so from there, I went to the London-based Desmog.uk, part of the influential Desmogblog network of websites specialising in countering climate denial and misinformation, or, to use their slogan: ‘Clearing the PR pollution that clouds climate science’.

Desmog.uk were both receptive and very thorough, with volleys of questions and clarifications sought prior to their deciding the piece was fit to publish. As a writer, it’s good to be robustly challenged at the editorial desk. Plus, this process can help winkle out any of the author’s own prejudices or preconceptions (yes, we all have plenty of both) and ensure they don’t unduly colour the final piece.

Anyhow, the article went live on the website as its main story on Friday evening, and remained in that position for a couple of days. And that, I assumed, was that. A number of people in the Irish media were tipped off about the piece, which got some modest traction on social media, but nothing appeared in print. Then, it fell under the gimlet eye of RTE’s Philip Boucher-Hayes.

He occupies a rare slot in radio journalism of having a roving brief to do in-depth reports on current events, including some from off the beaten path. This story clearly fell into this category, but Boucher-Hayes decided to follow-up, with a 12-minute piece that went out on ‘Drivetime’ on Tuesday 9th, crediting this writer with breaking the story.

He began the report by zeroing in on the guest speaker, Richard Lindzen, whom Boucher-Hayes introduced as “pretty much a full-blooded climate sceptic”. While no media (well, almost none) were allowed in the room, there is ample online footage available of Lindzen doing his climate denier routine. “Last June, it emerged that Lindzen had been funded by Peabody energy, the largest coal company in the United States; he has consistently disputed that public policy should take account of the predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)”, the report continued.

Lindzen wrote in March last to Denier-in-Chief, president Trump, claiming that since the science was wrong, the US should pull out of the UN’s convention on climate change (the Paris Accord). “By asking people to worry about whether the (global) temperature is going up or down, you’re immediately establishing dishonesty”, was another of Lindzen’s truly potty pronouncements aired on the RTE report.

“A lot of what (Lindzen) had to say on Thursday to the ISCF, this new group, was factually completely inaccurate”, said Boucher-Hayes. What really matters, he added, is what the audience made of it all, and what actions would arise as a result.

He then interviewed Matt Dempsey, former editor of the Irish Farmers Journal and former president of the RDS, who attended the meeting and addressed questions to Lindzen during the Q&A. Dempsey is a shrewd, well-respected operator. This was not, however, his finest hour.

Dempsey was about to publish his IFJ column this week under the headline: ‘A real climate change debate starts’. Dempsey’s most important take-home from the ICSF meeting “was the assertion, which I’d never heard before, that methane and nitrous oxide, both of which occur from bovines and from tillage operations, have in fact very little relevance in a greenhouse gas debate as regards global warming”. If true, this would indeed be a game-changer for agriculture. It isn’t.

When challenged with the fact that methane is more than 30 times more potent a GHG per molecule than CO2, Dempsey replied: “this is exactly where I’m coming from; I was absolutely dumbfounded, and the view that was expressed was that the IPCC were also re-doing this particular viewpoint as regards the difficulty with methane for the world’s bovine herds, and that in fact, the methane was dissipated extremely quickly in the atmosphere”. Good news indeed.

“I really feel from a Farmers Journal point of view, we have a real obligation to delve much more into this assertion and see how does it scientifically stack up”. When asked if it does, he admitted not to knowing, either way. “This is the first time I was exposed to that viewpoint”, he reiterated.

Journalist to journalist, Boucher-Hayes asked Dempsey if it was dangerous to commit unverified, completely novel assertions of uncertain provenance to print prior to having himself first established whether they held water. “We’re simply raising the question, which I think is part of our duty…it’s very clear that if what he says is right about methane, that has to be fed into the policy issues”. There is a very big ‘if’ in that last sentence.

Boucher-Hayes wondered aloud how Dempsey felt about the fact that the source for this radical reframing of our understanding of climate science emanates from a man who insists, in the face of mountains of evidence, that the link between lung disease and smoking is unconvincing. “I was utterly unaware of that linkage, real or implied”, Dempsey added.

Asked if he had concerns that Lindzen’s former colleagues at MIT have written to publicly disassociate themselves from his call to Trump to pull out of the Paris climate accord, Dempsey chuckled in recalling Lindzen’s response to this very point at the meeting: “the line he gave to that was interesting; Galileo was also an outlier when he suggested that maybe the Earth goes around the sun, rather than the other way round. There’s always room for outliers, and let’s see how their analysis stacks up”.

The great scientist and science communicator Carl Sagan had a word of caution for would-be Galileos: “the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown”.

Very unfortunately for Dempsey, his ‘rhetorical questions’ were next addressed not by a self-imagined Galileo, but by Ireland’s most eminent climate scientist, Prof John Sweeney of NUIM. Yes, he confirmed, the IPCC is indeed revising its opinion on methane, but it’s being revised upwards, as a greater danger than previously understood.

In other words, the exact opposite of Galileo Lindzen’s quite false assertion, an assertion which, sure enough, Dempsey duly uncritically stenographed into the Farmers Journal. “The IPCC now considers methane to be a much more damaging gas than it did 10 or 20 years ago, so far from being less important, methane is a much more significant gas in the view of the IPCC”, added Sweeney.

The reason Dempsey was “dumbfounded” by the stunning Lindzen assertions about methane, assertions he admitted to having never, ever, heard before, is that they are untrue. This may chime with the IFA’s climate denying narrative, but they remain completely and demonstrably without foundation. Had Dempsey carried out even the most rudimentary enquiry he would doubtless once have demanded of even cub reporters on the journal, and for instance popped the phrase “IPCC methane” into Google, he might have happened on the IPCC’s hefty WG1 report from 2013. It mentions the word ‘methane’ 382 times. That’s the first hint that well, methane is a very big deal indeed.

No reporter worth their press card could come away from reading WG1 without being struck by what a massive problem methane is, and how deeply concerned the IPCC is about it. As an aside, Lindzen busily dissed the IPCC’s WG2 and WG3 reports as not being “scientific”, and implicitly endorsed WG1 as being more credible. Which again makes a total nonsense of his statements dismissing methane. But then, this entire exercise was never about science to begin with.

For instance, Dempsey parroted the following into his column: “naturally occurring water vapour in the atmosphere is thousands of times more plentiful than these gases (methane and nitrous oxide) and its greenhouse effect vastly outweighs any additional effect it could have”. Dempsey may have no idea what he’s talking about here, but Lindzen assuredly does.

He knows well that water vapour is a powerful amplifier of atmospheric warming driven by GHGs such as CO2 and methane. The positive feedback loop from water vapour actually makes the impacts of CO2 and methane emissions worse. This technique is one in an extensive playbook used by serial deniers to befuddle the public and beguile the gullible or credulous. There’s a handy list of no fewer than 195 denier talking points – and their rebuttals – here, put together by the hard-working folks at Skeptical Science. Read on down the list and you’ll see the same set of techniques wheeled out over and over again by clever but deeply cynical people.

OK, that’s one more point. What about the rest of the lecture? “Much of what he said had very little scientific credibility to it; most people who were there who had any awareness of climatology would have realised a lot of what he said was simply balderdash”, Sweeney added. Ouch.

The ICSF was, he felt, clearly an attempt to set up a GWPF-style climate denier group in Ireland, presumably in the hope of spreading as much confusion and misinformation as possible, knowing (as Matt Dempsey and the IFJ illustrates so well) there is such a willing audience eager to be duped by this delusional nonsense.

Boucher-Hayes stated at the end of his report that he had asked the ICSF “to comment on this damaging disinformation they were providing a platform for; I would also have asked them if they agree with Prof Lindzen’s incorrect views, and do those views reflect the position of the ICSF, and were they in effect, trying to influence public policy with what John Sweeney called mistruths”.

Happily, we didn’t have to wait too long to hear from the ICSF, and even though his name never appeared on any of its literature, the man pulling the strings, Ray Bates, retired UCD meteorologist, was on Drivetime the following day to set the record straight, answer their critics, etc.

First question to Bates was an easy one: how many climate scientists are in the Climate Science Forum? “There are four, I’d say, at the moment”. Who are they? “No, I’m not giving any names. I’ll tell you Philip, in this area, if you put your head above the parapet and expose yourself to the NGOs and the campaigners in this area, you’ll be harassed and threatened, and not everybody wants to put themselves in this position”.

Nobody, that is, except our fearless Ray. He alone is man enough to stand up to these vicious thugs. I imagine he lives in a Safe House, under 24-hour Garda protection from this ruthless, baying mob; in much the same way that I imagine his good friend Lindzen really is a 21st century Galileo.

However, Bates, fumbling for someone to throw under the bus, came up with the name of Jim O’Brien. Boucher-Hayes intervened, in case he’d forgotten, to remind Bates that O’Brien is an engineering consultant, not a climate science. “But he has spent nine years studying climate science”, Bates retorted.

In so doing, he inadvertently confirmed that his definition of a climate expert is pretty much anyone who has read up on climate science – or at least, a version of climate science that appeals to contrarians like Bates. I’ve spent at least 10 years reading extensively on climate science, impacts and policy, but would never, for a moment, attempt to pass myself off as a climate expert or scientist, yet that’s exactly what Bates did with his friend O’Brien the retired engineer (not that I imagine O’Brien will thank him for the faux kudos).

Bates then explained why they deliberately barred the media from their soiree with Lindzen. Unfortunately, no one thought to ask how Matt Dempsey, an active IFJ columnist, happened to get a golden ticket to attend. But then, the more you read into this whole saga, the more you realise the whole gig was set up to re-energise the already energetic anti-climate IFA, by spoon-feeding a wide eyed and credulous Dempsey a complete load of hooey about methane, in the confident expectation he would uncritically dump this dross directly into his column. This in turn would magic into existence some useful factoids with which to impress the lads in Teagasc, the department, Bord Bia and anyone else who wants to fool themselves about climate change.

Meanwhile, back in the interview, Bates tried to distance himself from the more overtly loony aspects of Lindzen’s approach, by graciously stating, for example, that he is not in favour of Ireland pulling out of the Paris accord. But, wait for it: “I am in favour of Ireland looking after its vital national interests to the extent it can be done, while satisfying our EU obligations”.

To be clear, the ‘vital national interests’ Bates demands special protection for are what, exactly? Would it be preserving our bogs or biodiversity, or maybe protecting future generations from the ravages of climate change? Or perhaps developing local resilience and genuine community-based food security. No, nope and no again.

In the Batesean view of our vital national interests, these amount to defending Ireland’s massive and ever-expanding dairy and beef herd, and defending the patriotic right of Bord Bia to market powdered milk substitute to the mums of China, using produce imported from our four heavily fertilized green fields.

This sounds like a parody, but yes, this (apart from the mortal fear of being torn limb from limb by crazed eco-extremists) is what keeps the plucky retired meteorologist from his sleep. All that IPCC huff and puff in AR5 about “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people, species and ecosystems” cuts no melting ice when measured against having to possibly reduce our red meat and dairy output, as recommended on a global level by, um, the IPCC.

“We are not a group of climate skeptics or deniers”, he told Boucher-Hayes. So, after Galileo Lindzen, who else had the ICSF in mind to invite over to speak? The interviewer had to coax out the fact that the likely next person on the speaker roster is the uber-denier, William Happer, another young buck who got his PhD from Princeton the year after JFK was shot.

Happer, like Lindzen, is the lucky recipient of coal industry cash. Of all the batshit-crazy quotes I could choose to give you a true sense of the academic rigour you can expect from Happer, it’s this one: “If plants could vote, they would vote for coal.” Yee haw.

And should an actual practising climatologist make it along to a future Happer talk, here’s what he thinks about these low-life varmits: “There’s a whole area of climate so-called science that is really more like a cult. It’s like Hare Krishna or something like that. They’re glassy-eyed and they chant”. Indeed.

When it was pointed out to Bates that Happer is a noted climate skeptic/denier, his reply was priceless: “Is that so? I don’t know him personally but he is an expert in methane absorption…I don’t know what political conclusions he draws from that.” After all, how could you possibly expect Bates to know about Happer’s zany politics, open contempt for practising scientists and fondness for energy industry funding? It’s not as if this stuff is readily available at the click of a mouse. Oh wait…

Cutting to the chase, Bates explains what this whole cock-and-bullock show is really about: “we are concerned to get full scientific information about the radiative effects of methane in the atmosphere because it has very important implications for Irish agriculture in particular, and for our national interest”. Perhaps the ‘ICSF’ might be more accurately described as the ‘Irish Contrarians Serving Farming’.

As Bates concluded, the only real motive for the ICSF is “to seek honesty in climate science and to try to see that the public receive balanced information”.

By the end of that interview, Bates may well have had time to reflect on the maxim that sometimes it’s better to remain silent and be thought badly of than to submit to a one-to-one interview with a competent reporter and end up so horribly exposed.

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Below is the full text of my report on Desmog.uk from Friday, May 5th:

THE INAUGURAL meeting of a newly formed climate sceptic group, the Irish Climate Science Forum (ICSF), took place in Dublin on Thursday night, DeSmog UK can reveal.

The organisers described the meeting as a “strictly private event” and barred access to “politicians, media and NGOs”, according to organiser, Jim O’Brien, an energy consultant. There were roughly 50-60 guests in attendance.

Guest speaker for the meeting was noted US climate science denier, Richard Lindzen, retired MIT professor, whose lecture was entitled “The Science and Politics of Climate Change”. Lindzen is also an academic adviser to the UK climate denial group the Global Warming Policy Foundation and works at the Koch-founded U.S. conservative think tank the Cato Institute.

The ICSF describes itself as “a voluntary group of Irish scientists, engineers and other professionals, currently in a formative stage”. It plans to carry out what it says is “neutral, independent analysis of the latest climate research with the purpose of better informing climate and energy policies in Ireland”.

Funding for ICSF

The ICSF claims to be only funded by “modest personal donations from its members and has no vested interests other than seeking the most sustainable future for Ireland and its citizens.”

There was no entry fee to the evening meeting on 4 May, nor were attendees asked to make any donations, so it is unclear what the source was for the significant funding required to fly in a high-profile climate science denier and host a meeting in an upmarket hotel.

In chairing the meeting, O’Brien, an engineer, stated that: “People think our organisation is funded by fossil fuel interests, but we have no donations from fossil fuel sources, only from private sources”.

Speaking to DeSmog UK, O’Brien said Lindzen didn’t charge to give the talk and that they only paid for his expenses (he didn’t clarify who the “they” were). O’Brien repeated his line that ICSF is all self-funded and told DeSmog UK that their total funds are “only around €5,000”.

Lindzen opened his talk on Thursday night by condemning the “narrative of hysteria” that he claims surrounds the science of climate change. Carbon dioxide, he told the audience, is a plant fertilizer, and the Earth was lush 600 million years ago when atmospheric CO2 levels were far higher than today. He described any climate change that has occurred to date as “miniscule”, calling it all for the good.

Lindzen insisted that the warming experienced in the last two decades fell within the range of “natural variability”, and repeated the long-debunked argument that climate sensitivity to a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 levels was limited to just 1ºC. To hedge his bets, Lindzen added that, in any event, “warming would actually benefit the Earth”.

Among those attending the event, which mostly consisted of engineers and meteorologists, were a number of senior Met Éireann staff, as well as Dr Rory O’Donnell, director of Ireland’s National Social & Economic Council, and Matt Dempsey, CEO of the Irish Farmers Journal, a newspaper owned by the powerful lobby group, the Irish Farmers Association.

Lindzen reacted angrily to a question from an audience member asking about his prior involvement as a tobacco lobbyist, stating any such suggestion was “libellous”.

That was the only brief note of discord from an otherwise hand-picked audience, almost exclusively male and with an estimated average age of 65–70. A “vote of thanks” for Lindzen was led by engineer and former Siemens and Science Foundation Ireland chairman Brian Sweeney.

Who Is Behind the New Group?

Retired UCD meteorologist Dr Ray Bates is understood to be a key mover behind the development of the ICSF. In recent years he has become an active lobbyist for climate inaction in defence of Ireland’s greenhouse gas–intensive beef and dairy sectors.

Speaking with DeSmog UK, O’Brien refused to name any other members of the ICSF. When asked whether Bates was behind the project, O’Brien replied “you may make that assumption”.

Why a meteorologist with no expertise in agriculture chooses to publicly lobby in this area has never been fully explained. And, like Lindzen, Bates has been an enthusiastic promoter of the debunked “global warming hiatus” theory.

Last night’s meeting concluded without any direction from the organisers as to the next steps. However, the web domain ICSF.ie has been registered on its behalf by O’Brien, so it is expected that the secretive group will, at some point, launch a website to support its stated aim of “better informing climate and energy policies in Ireland”.

Judging by the choice of speaker for last night’s inaugural meeting, the ICSF appears intent on attacking and discrediting mainstream science and providing cover for further inaction.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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8 Responses to The ICSF – Irish Contrarians Serving Farming?

  1. Emily Humphreys says:

    I bet our Irish farmers are only delighted to finally have a present day ‘Galileo’ to defend their 2020 targets and self-righteous destruction of biodiversity; all in the name of our GDP.

  2. John Gibbons says:

    @Emily Alas, this seems to be the case. It’s pretty clear that the Farmers Journal desperately want to believe that climate change is not an issue for farmers, hence their willing suspension of all their critical faculties in lapping up this patent nonsense and publishing it as though it had a shred of credibility. The funny/sad thing is that few actual, ordinary farmers are served well by this. Teagasc recently confirmed only 17% of beef farmers are actually making any money at all. The meat factories are, if you’ll pardon the phrase, making a killing, as are the supermarket chains. And I imagine the IFA does OK too, collecting levies on every head of cattle killed is the definition of easy money. That’s how they ended up paying their CEO half a million quid a year till someone blew the whistle a year or two back.

  3. Paul Holden says:

    John, I think we can find some sympathy for those who are ignorant. We can even have sympathy for those who know what’s going on but who think that they personally can’t make a blind bit of difference, or that it’s too late, our fate is already decided.
    But those who know how bad things are, and who are deliberately trying to deceive others, to skew the debate, to distract policy makers from their responsibilities, they are just plain evil. These people’s agenda is to destroy the future for our children and our grandchildren, for short term, personal, gain.
    Thanks for exposing them.
    And well done to Philip Boucher Hayes and RTE, who in the past have been pretty dismal in the name of ‘balance’.

  4. John Gibbons says:

    @Paul I concur. In legal terms, what some of the folks we’re talking about here are engaged in is what would be termed ‘reckless endangerment’. Many lives are being put needlessly at risk as a result of the work of so-called contrarians. Knowing quite a few of them, I’m aware they would likely be aghast to be described in such terms, feeling it is yet another vicious assault from the eco-bullyboys. It’s hard to underestimate the power of self-delusion. People can and do convince themselves of just about anything, especially if it chimes with their politics, or if they feel it gains them esteem, credibility or acclaim from people or groups they wish to impress. I can’t begin to imagine what else could motivate scientists to hang around with Big Ag lobbyists and do their special pleading in public.

    As for PBH, he has done an excellent job helping to smoke out this nest of deniers. Most of his media peers appear completely at sea on this topic, so am grateful for his focus and professionalism.

  5. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    John, – That is the greatest piece of investigative journalism I have read so far on the climate change issue in Ireland. You have nailed it. Congratulations. You are brilliant.

    You have exposed these people as being in tune with fossil fuel interests (oil, gas, coal, peat) in Ireland and elsewhere, and shown how they are predisposed to blocking useful climate change mitigation efforts by the government, I presume simply to keep in with their probable supporters in the fossil fuel trans-national complex. That sector owns or controls most of the wealth on Earth, so that is what we are actually dealing with now: pervasive and never-ending propaganda from the powers that be. It even makes national broadcasters like RTE Radio shiver, and we can see the result in the likes of Mary Wilson’s Drivetime. Not when Philip Boucher Hayes is reporting, but at all other times. You know what I mean.

    We need to find out who are funding these people so their lies and propaganda are exposed. At the moment, they no doubt feel safe in their anonymity because the government of the day actually supports their lies and propaganda, seeing it as a good thing for planet Éire, and who gives a toss about Éire’s future, as they would have it?

    Certainly not Enda and FG, who have spent the last few years selling off Ireland’s biggest property assets to international vulture funds, never to be returned to Irish ownership. And for a quarter of the value of those properties.

    You might think, who pays the difference? Well, we do; it’s added to the government debt, already so huge we will be paying it back for centuries.

    But of course we will never pay it back, because the economy as we know it is approaching meltdown: when it happens all debts will be dishonoured. The entire world economy will grind to a halt and we will be back to a very simple market economy that no one really can imagine right now, except for students of history. All of the money we have put into pensions will disappear. We will have nothing but our land. We need to start looking after our land and making it good for the production of food for Irish people, not just for export. In the near future, there will be no export, it will all be for local consumption, so if we don’t start preparing for that, we will be screwed. Forestry, vegetables, fruit and grain, with a little bit of poultry, pigs, sheep, goats and cattle on the side.

    It is absolutely essential now that the government comes out strongly against any such lobbying efforts that will result in catastrophic damage to life on Earth.

  6. John Gibbons says:

    @Coilin Very generous comments appreciated, warranted or otherwise. As you say, the problem with denial is pretty pervasive. Smart people like Dempsey simply don’t want to have to deal with the fact that facing reality means, in essence, ‘the party is over’. And it certainly is for beef, whether they accept it or not. Excellent sources like Desmogblog.com will give you chapter-and-verse on who funds whom in the denier-o-sphere.

    RTE and other Irish media are waaaay behind the curve on this story, by years in fact. Not sure how to change that, other than chipping away at the edges. I’d like to think we’ll all get together in the nick of time to somehow unpaint our way out of this existential corner, but it’s hard to see that right now.

  7. Pingback: Right here, right now. Climate change impacts get real | Climate Change

  8. Pingback: Right here, right now. Climate change impacts get real | ThinkOrSwim (the Climatechange.ie Blog)

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