Who is behind the viral document stating that “there is no climate emergency”?

Who is behind the viral document stating that “there is no climate emergency"?

Català | Castellano

A document published in late June is currently making the rounds on social media: the document is signed by 1,107 scientists and expert members of the Climate Intelligence Foundation (Clintel), based in the Netherlands, who insist that “there is no climate emergency”. To make their case, they state that “warming is far slower than predicted”, that “climate policy relies on inadequate models”, that CO2 is “plant food”, and that global warming “has not increased natural disasters” (p. 3), among other false or misleading claims which have been thoroughly debunked by climate experts on numerous occasions.

For example, with regard to the reliability of models on which climate predictions are based, after consulting the available scientific literature, we conclude that the models have been very precise in their global warming predictions. Here we show that certain extreme phenomena, such as heat waves, have intensified in half a century.

What’s more, most of scientists who appear in the document have not been formally educated in the field of climate or meteorology. Rather, according to the document by Clintel, there are numerous engineers, biologists, chemists or physicists – signatories also include a commercial fisherman, a cardiologist, an air conditioning engineer and numerous retired geologists. There is also a Nobel laureate in Physics, Ivar Giaever, who received the award in the 1970s for his contributions to knowledge on the superconductivity of materials, which is unrelated to climate studies.

Furthermore, a thousand experts are not representative of the entire scientific community, of which thousands upon thousands of people all over the world are part. According to data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE), there are more than 145,000 researchers in Spain alone. And, what’s more, the studies regularly used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading scientific body in evaluating climate change, in their reports indicate that climate change is real and caused by an excess of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere as a result of human activity.

Finally, Clintel, which describes itself as “an independent foundation that operates in the fields of climate change and climate policy”, has proven ties to the Forum for Democracy (FVD), a Dutch nationalist party – the ninth most powerful in the House of Representatives, with 5 of the 150 representatives­ – given that its leader, who has denied or relativised climate change on various occasions, has cited documents from this organisation as a valid source on the subject, according to an investigation carried out by Dutch media outlets.

Its co-founders and ambassadors are also linked to groups such as the Heartland Institute, which in turn denies that there is any evidence of global warming.

A lobby that denies the climate emergency

The history of Clintel began in the year 2019, when it was founded by Guus Berkhout and Marcel Crok. The former is a retired professor of geophysics; the latter says he is a “science journalist” and defines himself as a climate optimist on Twitter.

From its founding to the present, the foundation has published dozens of reports, letters and statements denying the existence of the climate emergency, with documents that were published on its website and, occasionally, sent to the European Parliament, the United Nations (UN) and the European Commission, so that they would be taken into account.

An investigation carried out by Follow the Money and Platform Authentic Journalism, two Dutch investigative journalism websites, together with the data journalism platform Pointer (KRO–NCRV), revealed that Clintel and its co-founder Berkhout have links to influential think tanks, such as the Heartland Institute, a group of experts or a think tank (as they call themselves) that sews doubts about global warming and climate change.

The investigation of the Dutch media outlets also shows that Clintel has grown so much that, its documents have even been cited by Thierry Baudet, the leader of the Forum for Democracy (FVD) party who, in recent years, has been considered the most predominant representative of the far right in the Netherlands. In this way, the organisation has managed to be part of the climate debate in the House of Representatives of the Netherlands. This party is the ninth most powerful in the House of Representatives, with 5 of the 150 representatives.

What’s more, its political presence has reached the European Parliament. In 2019, Clintel members were invited by the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, of which is VOX is currently a member.

The 1,100 “experts”

The vast majority of the self-described experts who signed the document are professionals in various branches of engineering, geology and the business world, and, what’s more, many of them are retired. In other words, the document is signed by people who, judging by their supposed education, have not completed the studies necessary for properly evaluating climate analyses.

It is true that some of the signatories have an impressive track record and relevance, such as Ivar Giaever, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics with another scientist in 1973 (and who, like him, is a Clintel ambassador). They were awarded the prize for their discoveries regarding tunnelling phenomena in superconductors – i.e. in a field that has nothing to do with climate science. What’s more, their statements denying global warming have been disproven by fact-checking agencies that belong to the International Fact-Checking Network such as EFE Verifica, Snopes and Verificat.

In addition, there are millions of scientists in the world: 1,100 is an irrelevant proportion of them and it is not a representative sample of the scientific community’s opinion. What’s more, the way they defend this idea is by citing a signed document. Typically, however, in the scientific and academic world, when it comes to defending certain ideas, it is done by publishing analyses based on scientific studies that are carried out with a standard, very concrete methodology, and are also published in scientific journals and that, before being published, are subjected to a series of filters or reviews. An unreviewed document that does not have references to studies backing its arguments and that has not even been published in a scientific review lacks any sort of credibility in the academic field. 

There are, in fact, studies with a more representative sample of the consensus on climate change and its anthropogenic origin: an article published in 2021 points out, after analysing more than 90,000 studies on climate change, that 99% of climate experts agreed that burning fossil fuels like carbon, gas and petroleum is the cause of the warming of the planet and that we need to realise that the climate will be an increasingly extreme.

The arguments, broken down 

The document that is currently making the rounds is one of many that the organisation has published in recent years. Each of them repeats that “there is no climate emergency” and, to justify their affirmation, uses arguments that the scientific community that studies climate has repeatedly debunked with evidence.

Warming is far slower than predicted

This is FALSE. Climate model predictions indicate that the temperature has increased in proportion to the amount of greenhouse gases. And, contrary to what the Clintel document says, one of the most recent IPCC reviews from February 2022 shows that “climate change is hitting the planet much faster than scientists originally thought”.

Climate policy relies on inadequate models

For Clintel and its 1,107 signatories, the models “exaggerate the effects of the greenhouse effect”.

This is FALSE. In this article, we analyse how climate models have been very accurate in calculating the effect of increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the 1970s. “In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, if you told a climate model that CO2 was going to increase, the model responded with an increase in temperature, which is more or less what has happened”, Juan Jesús González Alemán, physicist and meteorologist at Spain’s State Meteorological Agency (Aemet) and climate modelling expert explains to Verificat. He recognises that, even though “it is true that there is variability from year to year”, what we need to focus on is “the long-term trends”.

And the trend is for these models to be increasingly accurate, just as meteorological models have become more accurate: “The models get better and better, and there are better computers to simulate the models, so they’ve been improving”, adds the physicist.

CO₂ is plant food, the basis of all life on Earth

Here Clintel proffers the MISLEADING argument of showing the virtues of CO2 as a naturally occurring chemical element on our planet. In this article, we showed that, although the excess of CO2 does not affect people’s health (at least not immediately) and plants need it to perform photosynthesis, it does not mean that it does not have direct repercussions on the ecosystem, even in very small quantities.

As environmental scientist Andreu Escrivá points out in his book “¿Y ahora yo qué hago?” (Capitán Swing, 2020), “to go from 280 ppm [in 1958, when records started being kept] to 410 ppm [or “parts per million”, the measurement used to estimate the concentration of this gas in the atmosphere, i.e. how many units of a certain substance there are per million of units of the whole], the [atmospheric] concentration reached in 2019 might seem like an insignificant increase”. The expert compares it to “doling out a tablespoonful of water among 920 wine glasses”: in his opinion, nobody would notice the difference if they tried the wine, but with the climate, this tiny variation will be felt by “every single one of us”.

Global warming has not increased natural disasters

This is another recurring FALSE claim of climate change denial. The Clintel document does not provide any links to studies that go in this direction. By contrast, however, the systematic reviews performed by the IPCC repeatedly show that there has been an increase of extreme weather events. On page 1,517 there is a list of the studies they reference and on which they base their arguments. In this article, we already analysed the tropical nights phenomenon; in this one, heat waves. Each of them has intensified in the past few decades. Other events, such as fires, are also intensifying due to the droughts and extreme temperatures, phenomena which are, in turn, linked to global warming.

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