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    The Son of a Legendary Moral Philosopher Leaked the U.N.'s Next Climate Report in the Name of Bad Science

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    The already-small herd of people who deny the existence of global warming is thinning, thanks to observably hotter temps and climate change-fueled weather events. This process of attrition is leaving only the most fanatical and fringy folks to continue the great crusade of scientific denial, their only kindred spirits fossil fuels executives, Fox News pundits, and the Republican Party. They do so mostly on poorly-designed blogs and right-wing talk radio, and, for the most part, they are terrible at analytical thinking.

    Case in point: Alec Rawls, one of those fringy fanatics, was also a reviewer of the United Nation's latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which is slated for public release next year. But he just leaked the current draft of the report, which will cause major headaches to the scientists still working on it. 

    See, Rawls, a former economics student at Stanford and the son of the late, legendary moral philosopher John Rawls, found a single sentence that seemed to him to endorse the idea that "enhanced solar forcing" had more of a role in warming the planet than scientists had previously thought. Rawls wrote in a blog post announcing the leak (over at the undisputed king of the poorly-designed denier blogs) that "the addition of one single sentence demands the release of the whole. That sentence is an astounding bit of honesty, a killing admission that completely undercuts the main premise and the main conclusion of the full report, revealing the fundamental dishonesty of the whole."

    Here is the sentence (yes, one sentence, out of tens of thousands) that Rawls, who, it should be noted, thinks that the memorial to Flight 93 is a covert attempt to build a terrorist mosque (his words), believes undermines the entire effort to synthesize all of the latest climate science in the world:

    "The forcing from changes in total solar irradiance alone does not seem to account for these observations, implying the existence of an amplifying mechanism such as the hypothesized [galactic cosmic rays]-cloud link."

    That right there is the "game-changing admission of enhanced solar forcing" that Rawls thinks proves the entire report, as well as climate change in general, is hogwash.

    Skeptical Science rebuts this absurd notion by pointing to the vast amount of scientific literature that confirms that the sun has played a very minor role in the warming that has occurred in the last century. In its thorough takedown, SS wonders: "why would the latest IPCC report contradict these studies when its purpose is to summarize the latest and greatest scientific research? The answer is simple — it doesn't. Rawls has completely misrepresented the IPCC report.

    Philip Bump points us to one of the researchers whose work Rawls has "completely misrepresented": 

    Steve Sherwood, one of the report’s lead authors and a director of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales, explains: “You could go and read those paragraphs yourself and the summary of it and see that we conclude exactly the opposite, that this cosmic ray effect that the paragraph is discussing appears to be negligible.”

    The other effects described in the report are less negligible. The panel, which won a Nobel Prize in 1997, has found there is a more than 95 percent chance that human activities have caused "more than half" of the increase in global surface temperature since the 1950s, and there is "high confidence that this has caused large-scale changes" in snow, ice, and sea level since the second half of the 20th century.

    The panel "concluded that warming of the climate system is unequivocal," according to the report's summary. "New observations, longer data sets, and more paleoclimate information give further support for this conclusion. Confidence is stronger that many changes, that are observed consistently across components of the climate system, are significant, unusual or unprecedented on time scales of decades to many hundreds of thousands of years."

    All of which is to say, Rawls, who is also an aspiring sheriff of Santa Clara County, Calif., is either a) a poor reader of climate reports, b) an opportunistic publicity whore, or c) an agenda-driven crusader who's canny enough to know that just by pointing to a UN document about climate change and yelling about it loudly enough he will win his anti-climate science cause a slice of the news cycle.

    But all of this inanity raises yet another question: why is the IPCC process so hapless that a renowned climate change denier is trusted with access to supposedly confidential documents?

    Anybody can sign up to be one of the 800 reviewers of the IPCC report, and, because the U.N. is the product of utopian ideals, almost anyone can be accepted. Even if they are well-known and vociferous agenda-driven climate science deniers like Rawls. They will then be given a copy of the confidential report, and be politely asked not to share it with the world, because it is a work in progress and will be subject to misinterpretation until it is finalized. 

    Rawls' leak will lead to an agonizing and inane round of media sniping, baseless assaults on the IPCC, and general much-ado-about-nothingness. If the IPCC hopes to avoid this nonsense, it could do one of two things: make the process so transparent that "leak" stories become impossible, and quickly tire the press of nit-picking denier fanatics. Or clam the whole thing up by vetting participants better, so as to prevent ideological nincompoops from purposefully derailing the proceedings. 

    Either way, the fact that a worthwhile process can so easily be disrupted by delusional jerks might mean it's time not just for serious policy changes to protect the climate, but for an adjustment to the system that would make it happen.