The EPA flubs Amazongate
The US Environmental Protection Agency says its authority to regulate environmental CO2 rests on the scientific veracity of the Nobel-prize winning IPCC reports. As a federal agency, the EPA can be fully expected to preserve its own right to regulate the environment. However, getting the science right, is as important for this very science-driven policy-making agency. This is because the EPA claims so steadfastly that it is the science that lends weight to its own authority.
Now, the question is: if there is a conflict between getting the science right and preserving its own regulatory authority, which path will the EPA take?
The answer is evident from its ‘defense’ (page 21 – PDF document) of the IPCC’s Amazon statement.
EPA Argument 1: Use self-defeating point in main body of argument
The EPA first cites a press release by Dan C Nepstad of the Woods Hole Research Center, supporting the IPCC statement about the Amazon. Nepstad, whom your correspondent has encountered at fair length at WUWT, said the following in his press release”
The IPCC statement on the Amazon is correct, but the citations listed in the Rowell and Moore report were incomplete. (The authors of this report interviewed several researchers, including the author of this note, and had originally cited the IPAM website where the statement was made that 30 to 40% of the forests of the Amazon were susceptible to small changes in rainfall).
We hereby note (with some irony) that the EPA has quoted Nepstad himself, identifying the origin of the IPCC Amazon statement from a Brazilian IPAM educational cartoon web page about forest fires. The fact that Amazongate originally consisted of bringing to light, the IPCC referring to environmental pressure group literature, which has further only degenerated to the IPCC’s claim being traced in its verbatim origins to defunct web pages, is lost on the EPA.
EPA Argument 2: Use vulnerability to fire in a computer model to step in for real-world IPCC evidence
For once, the EPA then steps into the science (and once only). Taking its cue from Nepstad, the EPA writes:
Specifically, we note that the Nepstad et al. (2004) study states: “Increases in ET [evapo-transpiration] of only 15% or similar reductions in rainfall can lead to severe soil moisture deficits over roughly half of the Amazon.” This statement certainly is consistent with the statement “Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation” in the IPCC AR4.
Nepstad et al 2004 is a paper which reports on a computer model of forst flammability – not a ‘study’ of real-world physical evidence of savannization or dieback, which the IPCC Amazon statement is about. The drastic change, referred to in the IPCC report, involves changes to the “hydrology, tropical vegetation and climate system of the entire Amazon”, not just moisture in the soil which Nepstad et al, 2004 models.
In fact, the Netherlands environmental agency, in its assessment of the IPCC AR4, which the US EPA likes to quote, is of the opinion that papers such as this ought not to be used to infer climate change effects as their “focus” is primarily on the effect of fires on the Amazon.
In our opinion, both documents were not the most obvious choice of reference in this case, as their focus is on forest fires (and logging).
– PBL 2010, referring to Rowell and Moore, 2000 WWF report and Nepstad et al, 1999
One does not substantiate scientific statements by first making a claim and then casting around for statements “consistent” with the claim. Especially when real-world physical findings that are considerably inconsistent with the IPCC Amazon statement continue to emerge. Taking just one illustrative example, Nepstad and co-authors, from the very same IPAM write in their recently published paper in PNAS:
The thresholds at which drought starts to reduce productivity (as opposed to increasing it) still are not well known. (Brando et al, 2010)
EPA Argument 3: Say the IPCC Amazon mistake does not matter.
The EPA then quotes the PBL Netherlands (2010) report (page 74). The quote reads:
More adequate peer-reviewed, scientific journal literature would have been available to support this statement, such as Cox et al. (2000; 2004) (C6). This minor comment has no consequences for the IPCC conclusions in the various Summaries for Policymakers [SPM].
By quoting this passage, the EPA, in effect admits that there is an error in the IPCC Amazon statement, only an error that does not matter for the sole reason that it is not in the SPM.
While noting that anyone would look down upon such defense in sound science, we have to partially agree with the EPA. The error, is not in the SPM – it is confined to the Working Group II report.
Other miscellaneous EPA arguments
The EPA also makes some embarrassing arguments that probably do not even deserve examination. The EPA writes:
Furthermore, as this finding is specific to the Amazon region, petitioners’ claims are not relevant to the Endangerment Finding.
We need to remind the EPA, that it was the IPCC’s claim that increasing CO2 would cause rainfall reduction in the Amazon and change it drastically, that is one of the ‘dangers’ from CO2. The IPCC’s greenhouse theory predicts ‘danger’ to life and limb of everyone in the world, caused, among other things, by CO2 produced in the US, over which the EPA seeks jurisdiction in the first place.
It is obvious the EPA thinks that a mindless defense of the IPCC is what it needs to do, even at the cost of its own credibility. The EPA flub on Amazongate is glaring, —even as the EPA says the IPCC statement on the Amazon is not in error, it claims that the error in question, does not matter.
- The US EPA ‘Response on Issues raised by IPCC’
( http://epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment/downloads/response-volume2.pdf )
- Assessing an IPCC Assessment. Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 2010
( http://www.pbl.nl/images/500216002_tcm61-48119.pdf )
- Nepstad, D., P. Lefebvre, U. Lopes da Silva, J. Tomasella, P. Schlesinger, L. Solórzano, P. Moutinho, D. Ray, and J. Guerreira Benito. 2004. Amazon drought and its implications for forest flammability and tree growth: a basin-wide analysis. Global Change Biology 10(5):704-717.
( http://www.whrc.org/resources/publications/pdf/NepstadetalGCB.04.pdf )
- Brando et al, 2010. Seasonal and interannual variability of climate and vegetation indices across the Amazon. PNAS
( http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0908741107 )