Latest chapter in one man’s journey into climate obscurity

This piece ran in Village magazine in mid-October, tracking the latest moves by Ireland’s climate denier-in-chief in his continuing mission to spread doubt on the science of climate change and the help stymie effective climate action.

OVER FOUR decades ago, famed meteorologist, Jule Charney wrote a report for the US government which sought to answer the key questions of how sensitive the global atmosphere is to increased levels of the heat-trapping gas, CO2.

Charney’s 1979 estimate was that a doubling of global CO2 levels would lead to a temperature increase in the range of 2-4ºC. This summer, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its latest major report calculated that a doubling of CO2 would lead to temperature rises in the range of 2.6-4.1ºC.

This underlines just how accurate Charney’s earlier work had been. According to the IPCC, there is a less than 5% chance that a doubling of CO2 could lead to temperature rises below 2ºC. One of Charney’s PhD students was meteorologist, and long-time climate contrarian, Ray Bates.

Bates has just been appointed to the “Academic Advisory Council” of the secretly funded London-based climate denial think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). This council is a who’s who of climate denial, from coalmine-owning Matt Ridley to Richard Lindzen, Ian Plimer and William Happer – all regular fixtures on the climate disinformation circuit for years.

The GWPF describes Bates, who retired 17 years ago, as “one of Europe’s most eminent climate scientists”. This description irked actual climatologist, Prof Peter Thorne of NUIM, who told DeSmog: “touting that appointment as being of a climate expert and resting that in part upon his having been a reviewer of IPCC reports is at very best misleading”.

Bates’ claim to have “served as an Expert Reviewer of the IPCC’s Fifth and Sixth Assessment Reports” cleverly ignores the fact that the IPCC allows almost anyone to self-declare as an “expert” and to submit comments to the IPCC reviewers.

The IPCC notes that since it is a self-declaration process, “having been a registered expert reviewer does not by itself serve as a qualification of the expert or support their credibility in a different context”. This claim to expertise and credibility by association with the IPCC is exactly what the GWPF press release announcing Bates’s appointment attempts to do.

Misrepresentation is central to Bates’s entire pitch. In late 2018, he published a risible document on behalf of the GWPF grandly titled “Deficiencies in the IPCC’s Report on 1.5 Degrees”. His error-strewn and deceptive “report” was publicly shredded by senior climatologists, including Dr Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Space Institute (Prof Thorne described his report as “wilful misrepresentation”.)

Schmidt summarised Bates’s opus as “basically a dialled-in work-for-hire. It’s incoherent, inconsistent, a little bit funny and adds nothing to our understanding of the science behind the SR15 report, or indeed any aspect of the attribution issue”.

Through his enthusiastic lobbying work on behalf of emissions-intensive Irish livestock expansion in recent years, Bates has shown repeatedly that the arguments he makes, while cloaked in the language of science, are essentially political.

In 2017, a series of complaints taken by Bates against this reporter and Village magazine for identifying him as a “climate contrarian” were all rejected by the Press Ombudsman. On appeal, the Press Council upheld this decision in full.

Speculating on Bates’s possible motivation for producing this misleading material, Prof Andrew Dessler of the University of Texas noted online: “If you wonder why ‘gone emeritus’ scientists become sceptics … Ray Bates is a retired guy that the scientific community long ago moved past. But, as a sceptic, he’s suddenly the centre of the debate, taken seriously by people who want to undermine policy”.

By his own admission, Bates’s critique of the IPCC’s SR15 report was “rejected unilaterally” by peer-reviewed scientific journals, but the GWPF, whose agenda is of climate denial and obstructing climate action, published and promoted Bates’s piece, as it dove-tails with the organisation’s objectives.

Prof Kevin Anderson of the University of Manchester, told DeSmog that by appointing Bates, “the GWPF slides further into scientific obscurity”. His appointment also poses awkward questions for the Royal Irish Academy, as Bates is a member of its Climate Change & Environmental Sciences Committee.

As if to underline that continuing slide into obscurity, Bates recently took part in a video interview for a fringe far-right Irish website, in which he rehashed his standard “the science is not settled” palaver to an audience eager to lap up misinformation.

While he retired in 2004, Bates is still described as an “Adjunct Professor of Meteorology” at UCD, an association made increasingly problematic for UCD by his drift into outright climate denial.

Quite how the late Jule Charney might feel about the egregious attempts by his one-time student to misrepresent and downplay the very climate risks Charney so presciently described in 1979 is something we can never know.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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