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April 01st 2012 print

Michael Kile

Nobel Rot

Noble rot: A grey fungus, Botrytis cinerea, affecting wine grapes. Infestation requires moist conditions, in which “grey rot” can develop and destroy crops. 

The whole of my remaining realisable estate shall be disposed of in the following way … and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.
                                                                                     —from Alfred Nobel’s will 

Alfred Bernhard Nobel would have reached for the nitroglycerin (again), when on October 12, 2007, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the winner of his annual Peace Prize. Shared between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr., it was awarded “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”. The Committee was 

seeking to contribute to a sharper focus on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world’s future climate, and thereby to reduce the threat to the security of mankind. Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control. [emphasis added] 

The Swedish chemist, inventor of dynamite and armaments manufacturer would have been surprised—as others were and still are—by this choice. He, like them, would have struggled in vain to find any link between “climate change” and his three qualifying criteria.

Has Al Gore done anything to reduce the US military’s—or his carbon (dioxide)—footprint, in or out of office? Has the IPCC encouraged fraternity between nations, or the spread of peace—instead of climate change—congresses? Will the United Nations’ insistence on “climate reparations” from the developed world—and less coal-fired power for the developing world—contribute to international harmony? (No, no and no.) And what is “peace”? How did Nobel’s conception of it become mixed up with environmental evangelism?

The committee struggled to justify its choice: 

With the [pseudoscientific] precautionary principle uppermost in our minds, indications of changes in the Earth’s future climate had to be treated with the utmost seriousness. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world’s most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states. [emphasis added] 

Why is Nobel’s Peace Prize more controversial than his other awards? Its judges are politicians (and lawyers), not scientists. Unlike the scientific Nobel Prizes, usually issued in retrospect two or three decades after the awarded achievement, the Peace Prize is often awarded to individuals for more recent achievements—or unusually in 2007, also for future hypothetical “achievements”.

While Nobel stipulated it should be selected by a committee appointed by the Norwegian Storting—a decade before Norway and Sweden became separate countries on June 7, 1905—he did not specify it should be a solely Norwegian group, nor that political experience was mandatory for membership.

The committee’s name was changed to “The Norwegian Nobel Committee”, from “The Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting” in 1997. From that year, members of the Storting have not been appointed to the committee. Nevertheless, as noted by Øyvind Tønnesson, Nobelprize.org Peace Editor, 1998–2000: “the formal rules governing the appointment of committee members were not changed, the committee has not become international, and most members continue to be former parliamentarians with a long record of political activity.”

The five members of the Nobel (Peace Prize) Committee, 2006–08, were all former Norwegian politicians. Inger-Marie Ytterhorn is a senior political adviser to the Progress Party’s parliamentary group, a member of the Storting from 1989 to 1993 and the Election Law Ad Hoc Committee from 1998 to 2001. She has been a Nobel (Peace Prize) Committee member since 2000. With her recent re-appointment for another five years, she will spend almost two decades on the committee. Kaci Kullmann Five is now the Deputy Chair. She has been a member since 2003 and was reappointed for the 2009–14 period. A Member of the Storting from 1981 to 1997, she was a cabinet minister for trade, shipping and European affairs in 1989–90 and Chairman of the Conservative Party from 1991 to 1994. The current Chair is Thorbjørn Jagland, who is also Secretary-General for the Council of Europe. He was President of the Storting from 2005 to 2009 and Prime Minister from 1996 to 1997. A member of the Nobel Committee since 2009, he has been appointed for a five-year term.

No surprise, then, that critics continue to argue that many of its decisions are dubious and driven more by Norwegian politics than by peace. Was the 2007 choice influenced by a desire to encourage renewable energy usage by its neighbours, and to increase exports of hydro-power to Denmark and other EU members? Perhaps Norway was keen to promote its green credentials, two years before the 2009 UN “Hopenhagen” climate conference?

The 2007 committee passed over Irena Sendler (1910–2008), a social worker who worked to save Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust. Although nominations are supposed to be confidential, Polish President Lech Kaczynski stated publicly that she “can justly be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize”.

According to one critic, the committee formulates its own prize for “peace”. It ignores Nobel’s use of the expression “champions of peace” (fredsförfäktare) to describe the recipients, meaning those involved with strengthening international law and institutions or dismantling national military forces.

Another intriguing award was the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama. Obama, possibly reflecting on his country’s long war in Afghanistan, said he did not deserve it. The New York Times called it a “stunning surprise”. The most controversial award, however, was made in 1973 to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho for negotiating a ceasefire between their countries. For many, Kissinger was a war-monger, not a peace-maker. Two committee members resigned in protest.

A feature in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten last year made major criticisms of the award, suggesting the committee ought to recruit members from professional and international backgrounds, rather than retired members of parliament. There was too little openness about the committee’s selection criteria, it said, and adherence to the terms of Nobel’s will should be stricter.

In another Aftenposten opinion piece, the grandson of one of Nobel’s two brothers, Dr Michael Nobel, also criticised the award’s politicisation. The committee, he wrote, had not always acted in accordance with Alfred Nobel’s will. (Dr Nobel obtained his doctorate in psycho-pedagogy at the University of Lausanne in 1979 with a thesis on the effectiveness of substance abuse prevention programs in Switzerland. He was awarded the Albert Einstein Medal for Outstanding Achievements in Life Sciences and Technology in 2005.) 

Why was the 2007 award in “two equal parts”? What did a United Nations agency and an Democrat ex-Vice-President of the United States—“one of the world’s leading environmentalist politicians”—have in common, except enthusiasm for today’s cause celebre, “the struggle against (the evils of) climate change”—or in United Nations rhetoric: “protecting the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” (UNFCCC, 1992)? To justify such a grandiose endeavour, the public had to be persuaded not only to accept controversial prognostications, but also that international bureaucrats could manipulate Earth’s elusive thermostat by monetising, securitising and (profiting from) trading carbon dioxide emissions. The dollar—and reputational—stakes are high. No wonder the IPCC has expended a lot of energy—and many millions of UN dollars—putting its arguments.

For sceptics, the outcome was—unlike the planet’s climate future—predictable. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change had the ideological cart before the scientific horse from the beginning. Its collective mind was made up two decades ago, when “dangerous” climate change, “climate debt” and “precautionary” action were codified at the 1992 Rio Summit.

As for politician-lawyer-activist and carbon-capitalist Al Gore, he has been in the eco-alarmist game for a long time too. His contributions include a 1992 call-to-arms, Earth in the Balance—Forging a New Common Purpose, and the controversial 2006 documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth. According to Gore’s eco-gospel, humankind has to reconnect with religion; discover a new faith in the future; and develop “environmentalism of the spirit”. Only then would it be possible “to re-sanctify the Earth, identify it as God’s creation, and accept our responsibility to protect and defend it”—and profit from the exercise by promoting (with others) global governance and an international carbon (dioxide) “credit” market. 

The 2007 choice is controversial for another reason too: the Trenberth Tendency.

Trenberth Tendency: 1. Psychology: An inclination, predisposition, or propensity observed mainly (but not exclusively) in the climate science establishment, to omit the word “peace” in oral or written references to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. 2. Origin: First identified in a poem celebrating the award. Written by a group at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research’s 2007 Christmas party, it was circulated to colleagues by Kevin Trenberth, a Distinguished Senior Scientist in the NCAR Climate Analysis Sectionand lead author of the 1995, 2001 and 2007 Scientific Assessment of Climate Change reports. The poem can be sung to the tune of “The First Nowell”.

“Season’s greetings to all my fellow Nobel Laureates, even if we did not get to go to Oslo,” wrote Kevin Trenberth in an e-mail to colleagues on December 14, 2007. “I just want to wish you and your families all the best for the holiday season, and Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate that festival.” The poem followed: 

Our First Nobel 

Our First Nobel for the IPCC
Goes to Beth, Bette, Bill, Jerry, Kathy and Guy.
Kevin, Linda, Paty, Re-to and so many more,
And we’re sharing the honor with Mister Al Gore.
Nobel, Nobel, a story to tell,
We hope our co-workers’ egos don’t swell. 

The First Working Group said to sound the alarm,
Rising CO2 levels are causing great harm.
Temperatures and greenhouse gases are racing up neck and neck,
Soon the whole Earth will be hotter than heck.
Nobel, Nobel, the planet’s unwell,
This is the future the models foretell. 

The Second Working Group said that change is assured,
From the melting of glaciers to migration of birds.
From loss of land and crops to habitats,
How can they make it much clearer than that?
Nobel, Nobel, the oceans swell,
Polar bears search for new places to dwell.

We must work to mitigate, tells us Working Group Three,
Change from fossil consumption to clean energy.
If we all do our share in reversing the trend,
Our children might have a clean Earth in the end.
Nobel, Nobel, sound the warning bell,
Let’s make a future where all can live well.
Nobel, Nobel, we are stars for a day,
Can an Oscar be far away?

Spot the word peace anywhere? The NCAR folk were celebrating as if they had just a won a Nobel Prize for science. To have mentioned “peace” in this context would have spoiled the party. Can an Oscar be far away? 

Inflation, n. 1. Economics: A persistent, substantial rise in the general level of prices related to an increase in the volume of money in circulation, causing a decline in the value of currency. 2. The act of inflating. 3. The state of being inflated. 4. Psychology: In Jungian analysis, ego-inflation is a form of hubris, an irrational feeling of immense power and uniqueness; creating what Jung described as “a puffed-up attitude, loss of free will, delusion and enthusiasm for good and evil alike”.

Another consequence of giving the 2007 Peace Prize to an organisation, and not a person, has been a phenomenon almost as intriguing as climate change itself—award (and ego) inflation.

According to the “White Hat Guide to Australian Nobel Prize Winners”, “currently, Sir John Cornforth, Peter Doherty, Rolf Zinkernagel, Barry Marshall, Robin Warren and Elizabeth Blackburn are Australia’s only living Nobel Prize Winners”. The Guide adds: 

A number of Australians have shared in Nobel Prizes that have been presented to groups or organisations. For instance, in 2007 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded [equally] to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [and Al Gore]. Thus Professor Neville Nichols as a lead author, together with a number of other Australian scientists involved in the work, shared in [the IPCC’s half of] this Nobel [Peace] Prize. [my additions in square brackets] 

However, in recent years there has been a proliferation of researchers—presumably all on the IPCC’s payroll as consultants or employees—publicly claiming individual “Nobel Prize winner” status. The news media is a serial offender here, uncritically accepting and perpetuating this half-truth. Academic and government research institutions—and quite a few prominent members of the climate science establishment—are not far behind. Here are four examples, taken from the many now in cyberspace, drifting towards digital eternity.

Exhibit A: This quote from the Sydney Morning Herald appeared in the article “Environment shock”, by Marian Wilkinson and Stephanie Peatling, of November 19, 2007: 

Much of Australia will lose its ability to farm successfully, and there will be a large loss of species from the Great Barrier Reef and the tropics if the growth of polluting energy from coal, oil and gas is not halted within seven years, a dire report from the United Nations peak scientific body (IPCC) warns. “Today, the time for doubt has passed,” said Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the panel of scientists, which recently won the Nobel Prize for its work. [emphasis added] 

Exhibit B: Melbourne University’s Alumni Relations team “trialled some communications to alumni based on indicated interests” in its Alumni Preferences Survey 2008. “Those passionate about climate change were invited to a lecture by Nobel Prize winner Professor David Karoly.” (Karoly was not named personally by the Nobel Prize committee—he was simply one of the authors of the IPCC report.)

Exhibit C: More recently, on February 10, 2011, ABC News again described (incorrectly) Professor Karoly as a “Nobel Prize-winning scientist”, who “says Australia’s current extreme weather is strong evidence of climate change”. (Karoly did not win a Nobel Prize for his contribution to climate science. The IPCC and Al Gore jointly won a controversial award—for peace.)

Exhibit D: Consider the case of the Indian Ocean Climate Initiative, a $4 million four-year research partnership between the government of Western Australia, the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, a group “applauded for its independence and objectivity”. This statement appears in its November 2011 Update (briefing notes, page 5), under the sub-heading “IOCI Perception and Influence—How do IOCI stakeholders and others regard its research?”: “IOCI’s work also fed into International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) work. This eventually led to Bryson Bates, one of IOCI’s chief researchers, sharing the Nobel Prize awarded to the IPCC.

After receiving a complaint, the group’s Communications Adviser corrected this misleading sentence last month by inserting the word peace. Other groups should be specific too and ensure the Nobel Prize they refer to is for “peace”, and not for climate science research.

Award inflation (and misrepresentation) is arguably as damaging to credibility and integrity in the scientific space, as monetary inflation is to health and wealth in the economic space. The new Chief Scientist surely should ask—or insist—that they stop it. It’s an ugly business, Watson. The more I see of it, the less I like it.

 

Michael Kile is author of No Room at Nature’s Mighty Feast: Reflections on the Growth of Humankind. His latest project is The Devil’s Dictionary of Climate Change.