Monday, February 15, 2010

A Green Police Counterattack

A story on NPR today caught my ear. We learn that a sacred island is shrinking, displacing and worrying the locals.
The perimeter of the giant scattering of islands, mudflats and swampy jungle that make up the Sunderbans have been shifting around for centuries, partly because of silt and subsidence.

But scientists and locals say the rise in water levels began accelerating a few years ago.

"Since 2000, the trend is actually steeper, upwards, steeper," said Pranabes Sanyal of India's Coastal Zone Management Authority. "Day by day, the deterioration is going on. Day by day, more salinization is going on."

Sagar Island is less than 20 miles long. Sanyal estimates that in the past 40 years, its size has shrunk by nearly 10 square miles. Thousands of people have been displaced.

Oceanography professor Sugata Hazra agrees: "For the last 20 to 30 years, we are getting more cyclones and we are losing land to the sea. This is the reality."


Good reporting so far. Straightforward, factual, two sources: one (assuming the Coastal Zone Management Authority is) governmental, and a confirmation by an oceanography professor. But now the professor continues,

Hazra is worried by a recent surge in skepticism about climate change, fueled by widely publicized mistakes made by the U.N.'s climate change panel, including the prediction that the Himalayan glaciers could be gone in 25 years.

Hazra concedes that climate change scientists make mistakes and should correct them.

But he adds: "If they lose the battle to this lobby who are trying to discredit the science of climate change, who are trying to defame the scientists, the world loses the battle."

Hazra says sea levels in the Sundarbans are rising at a rate well above the global average. Several small inhabited islands have been completely submerged in the past few decades.

He stresses that the causes are many and complex. But he has no doubt that human beings are playing a part.

"Look, it is definitely a factor. It is not that it is just a possibility. One of the most important factors is man-made climate change."


Professor Hazra is worried about sceptics? Aren't scientists supposed to be sceptics? Isn't the peer review approach (supposed to be a form of) institutional scepticism? He admits that some scientists got it wrong, but then reframes the discussion as a battle between some "lobby who are trying to discredit the science of climate change...trying to defame the scientists" and finishes by declaring that if this lobby of sceptics wins, "...the world loses the battle."

It would appear the good professor Hazra is engaged in a little lobbying himself. Who is he?

It looks like the same "Professor Sugata Hazra who led an initiative to "arrest the rate of coastal erosion due to Global warming on these endangered islands," as reported in this Greenpeace article from October, 2007.

It looks like the same Professor Sugata Hazra listed as the Director of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavapur University. Now look who's listed as an "external advisor" to the school. The very same Pranabes Sanyal of the National Coastal Zone Management Authority.

So the government authority in the news report is an advisor to the independent scientist? How else are they connected?

Well a quick search shows that the two collaborated and edited an "A trainer's manual for integrated coastal management capacity development" in 2002. Sanyal and Hazra are both quoted in a 2006 article on the vanishing islands, and they presented at the same conference in 2007.

I'm not implying anything sinister here. The Sunderbans have been in trouble apparently for many years. This is obviously their life's work. It is very important to them. What I'm saying is simply that NPR should not have presented these two as disinterested parties, "worried by a recent surge in skepticism about climate change."

I have concerns with the timing of the article. Nothing new has happened recently regarding the islands, but the story provides a convenient vehicle for a counter punch against those concerned by the recent stories about bad science in the climate change community.

The sources clearly are not disinterested parties, the timing and content of the article serve to discredit sceptics rather than inform on an issue.

This is why we are sceptics.

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