Friday, May 16, 2014

L'Affaire Bengtsson

L’Affaire Bengtsson is all over the Climate Blog world and even has penetrated into the real media. What Eli and the bunnies need is perspective. While this flood appears to have come from nowhere, it came from Sweden, and has been percolating there for a few years, but, of course, in Swedish. While Eli cannot read Swedish, he gets a few words here and there, and has both Google translate and a few Swedish friends who will look over and correct the mistakes.

Here is the first article, by Olle Häggström, originally published at the Uppsalainitiativet and Häggström hävdar on 11 May 2014.  It describes how Bengtsson has been working with the Swedish equivalent of the GWPF for some time, unnoticed, because, of course, he did so in Sweden, well, unnoticed by all but the Swedes.  The latest theater should have been no surprise if all the bunnies spoke Swedish..

Meteorologist and Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien KVA) member Lennart Bengtsson, born in 1935, is one of Sweden's most qualified climate scientists.1 However, a substantial scientific CV is no guarantee of good judgment, and Bengtsson has in recent years made himself known through a series of startling assertions meant to trivialize the threat of climate change. He has moved close to the denialist camp, and it has been a dismal trip to behold.

Last week he took a step that can hardly be perceived as other than that his official coming out as a climate denier,2 by joining the Academic Advisory Council, of the British climate change denial organization, the Global Warming Policy Foundation 3 (GWPF), where he enjoys the company of notorious climate deniers such as Ian Plimer, Richard Lindzen, Bob Carter and Freeman Dyson .

The first time I came in contact with Lennart Bengtsson was in a climate seminar in Rosenbad 2009, when we were both employed to discuss a report by Markku Rummukainen and Erland Kallen. I willingly admit that I at that time was quite impressed by his authority and his person, and little did I know his tendencies towards climate change denial. From what I have seen, his recent contributions to the debate have been very much in the tradition of Dr-Jekyll-and-Mr-Hyde. He occasionally has (for example in a guest post he helped with for the Uppsalainitiativet [Uppsala Initiative]) addressed very sharp criticism against the simple minded rhetoric of  those who don’t believe in climate change, associated with the Stockholm Initiative and their fellow travelers, while in other moments he found it necessary to emit such rhetoric himself (an article UNT in 2009 entitled Greenhouse gas impact is minor is an early example).

I do not know if we in the Uppsalainitiativet could have been able to stop Bengtssons drift over towards the denialist camp by nurturing our relationship with him even a little bit better,4 but he began eventually to comment more and more frequently on the Stockholm Initiative blog, formerly known as The Climate Scam but which now carries the Orwellian-sounding name of  Klimatupplysnigen (Climate Enlightenment). It is obvious that he is very happy with the crude anti-intellectual tone with a hint of hate speech found in Internet comments that predominates there, and he has smoothly inserted himself into the discourse that prevails.

A typical example is the following comment that he made on January 23 of this year:
It's a shame that the GDR disappeared otherwise would have been able to offer one-way tickets there for these socialists. Now there's unfortunately not many orthodox countries left soon and I surely do not imagine our romantic green Communists want a one-way ticket to North Korea. But if interested I'd gladly contribute to the trip as long as it is for a one way ticket. Perhaps you could arrange a Gallup study, since it can not be ruled out that I underestimated rush to the exit5
He happily mixes that kind of grotesqueness with posts that appear to be almost entirely sensible, as last year's high toned article in Dagens Nyheter (DN), although even there there emerges a somewhat tendentious overemphasis of results pointing to a slightly lower climate sensitivity, at the expense research results in the opposite direction.

A recurrent feature of Lennart Bengtsson's rhetoric is his complaint on the politicization of climate issues, as in a DN interview with him in 2013 . This position, combined with his actions in general, verges on incomprehensible if one does not realize that Bengtsson on politicization of climate policy, refers only to politicization in a different direction than the one he wants. A clear example of how he happily mixes climate policy and climate science is the following exchange between him and me from a Summit on Climate Change at the KVA in May 2012; I quote from what I wrote to some friends later that day:
Today, he [Bengtsson] presided over a discussion session in which he (in spite of the very qualified panel) perceived his function as chair to be that he must be sure to talk at least half the time and explain the whys and wherefores. He ranted about how feedbacks operate on very different time scales, and that we need to be practical and focus on the time scales that are relevant to our policy decisions, namely "a couple of decades" - When I requested the floor and asked, "You said Lennart, That the practically relevant timescale for climate politics is a couple of decades. Do you REALLY mean that?? Do you really mean that whatever happens after 2050 is unimportant?" He replied that he regretted its obscurity, and that he certainly would find it serious if it turned out that we risk climate disaster in 2100, but if that was the case then we have plenty of time to put things right, and therefore there is nothing that has any bearing on the decisions we make today.
Yes, so he actually said. I was completely speechless. In the silence that occurred, he said "Do not you agree with me? ... I Can Tell That You Do Not Agree ...".
It is increasingly clear to me that Lennart Bengtsson in recent years has brought great confusion and great harm to the Swedish climate debate. In the KVA, he is undoubtedly a major reason the 2009 Academy statement on climate change was so weak and watered down. He also seems to be a driving force on the KVA's energy committee that is so hostile towards wind energy.  His influence there comes by virtue of his great scientific prestige, but I hope that now, after the blatant statement he made upon his joining the climate deniers organization, the GWPF, he will be treated with somewhat greater skepticism in both the KVA and media.6


1) I am publishing this blog post Simultaneously at the Uppsalainitiativet and on my personal blog Häggström hävdar.

2) See this blog post for an explanation of why I use the term climate denier and not climate skeptics or some other euphemism.

3) Anyone who perchance has doubts about whether the GWPF deserve the designation "Climate Change Denial Organization" is asked to browse on their website, where you can quickly find a range of typical Climate Change Denial products, such as this and this. Take a look also at the Guardian on the latest controversy surrounding the GWPF.

4) I could have chosen to refrain from the small heated E-mail exchange I had with Bengtsson shortly after he in January 2013 poured out a filthy personal attack on my good friend and Chalmers colleague Christian Azar.

5) I do not really want to provide more links to the so-called Klimatupplysningen, but can not resist but reproduce another Bengtsson quotes from there, showing that he is not afraid to use the reckless "Sweden is still so small "-argument:
Europe is currently around 10% of global emissions and little Sweden who always wants to take the lead stands where 0.2-0.0% depending on inclusion of net uptake in the Swedish vegetation or not. Sometimes I think I'm in an enchanted forest and not in reality when I read and listen to what politicians say they want to do. Surely in heaven's name are more pressing concerns such as providing meaningful jobs for young people and integrating immigrants into Swedish society! This, especially, is a huge challenge.
(If, just for fun, we pretend that we are buying the "Sweden is still so small" concept, it is not difficult to see that Bengtsson's counterproposal fall on his own trap: Why in heaven's name would he invest resources such an idiotic trifle like "get meaningful jobs for young people and integrating immigrants into Swedish society"? Sweden has, of course, only about a thousandth of the world's population and the specific groups that Bengtsson mentions are yet less. So even if we made a huge investment in the social integration of the groups he mentions, then it's not reasonably upsetting the global unemployment by more than (at the most) 0.01 percentage points. Absolutely negligible and wasted money!)

6) Let me, for clarity, emphasize that in saying this I do not encourage anyone to excommunicate him or his opinions, or suggest that his writings be burned at the stake. What I call for is only a slightly higher level of critical thinking (and correspondingly lower degree of naivety) in facing him, now that we have such clear information on what kind of agenda drives him.

That this is so must surely be obvious to most of this blog's readers, but perhaps not for Bengtsson himself, who is quick to see ghosts in the form of restrictions on his freedom of expression. See for example, what he wrote about only yesterday (and now unfortunately I have to link to yet another quotation from the so-called Klimatupplysningen):
The next step will be well to banish the false thought or banish, or even burn unsuitable books as the eminent Belgian energy expert Samuele Furfaris new book: "Vive les énergies fossils" with the subtitle "La contre-révolution énergétique" The only hopeful thing is that these unter subscriber or rather their climate warring students do not normally read books in French. In the final stage, we expect to also various unsuitable people being banned in this Modern Swedish inverse of Enlightenment.[...]
A lot of what has been achieved in the Academy of the energy group at risk now will also be banned.
As an individual you must now also consider the risk of being banned or, at best, even critical thinking will be banned. I read enough about the 1930's intellectual atmosphere in Europe to give me real discomfort.
Update 14 May 2014: Lennart Bengtsson now announces that he is leaving GWPF.


Anonymous said...

So is he actually losing his mind, or something?


Steve Bloom said...

Well, he's pushing 80 hard. That may be a sufficient explanation, although he will have been incubating these ideas for a long time.

SCM said...

He'd hardly be the first to go emeritus!

Cugelmaus said...

Bengtsson was a young man when McCarthy was in his prime; one wonders what opinion (if any) Bengtsson had of McCarthyism back then.



"Notorious" ? Has Eli gotten into the horseradish patch -- those aren't dumb bunnies .

corey said...

Thank you for another very informative article!

Anonymous said...

"It is increasingly clear to me that Lennart Bengtsson in recent years has brought great confusion and great harm to the Swedish climate debate. In the KVA, he is undoubtedly a major reason the 2009 Academy statement on climate change was so weak and watered down."

I do not know what is going on with Lennart, but he has been a friend and colleague of mine for decades, and I happen to know from conversations with him at the time that he fought very hard for a stronger KVA statement, and this is the best he could do against the opposition of the likes of W. Karlen.

Very sad, from the country that gave us Arrhenius. And Bert Bolin, founder of IPCC. The KVA has a lot of the same problems as France's Academie.


Olle Häggström said...


Thanks for your comment. I was only peripherally part of the KVA process leading to the statement, and only saw my little corner of it. What you say about it sounds plausible, in which case it seems Bengtsson had to fight a two-front war. I can well understand that doing so is not an easy thing.

Bo Baron said...

You are so right Mr. Häggström. We have to get rid of anyone who is departing from the right course. There can be only one climate science and it must not be questioned. The science can't be wrong.

willard said...

Bo Baron is quite right: Lennart was fighting the Good Science (tm) fight all along. Witness this other comment:


Drömmar om bättre världar har alltid funnits. Jag minns alla bilder från längesedan på det lyckliga Schlaraffenland där prinskorvar och skinkor växte på träden. Det var drömmar som många fattiga hade i 1700-talets Tyskland. Att många fattiga i dag i den 3de världen kan ha liknande drömmar kan jag förstå men däremot inte drömmar till ett sämre liv och en sämre värld. Det är för mig ngt perverst och bidrar till min ytterst negativa uppfattningen om den grönröda ideologin.


Ja, men den grönröda ideologin, I suppose.

Victor Venema said...

John L just wrote a comment on my blog, that may be interesting to people able to read Swedish (and write in English :) ): Bengtsson has commented in length today at a swedish denialist blog:

willard said...


I think that:

> Jag känner mig nästan som en frihetskämpe.

translates into "I almost feel like a freedom fighter".

Bunnies might appreciate that Lennart also wonders why his scientific statements are not discussed instead of noticing that he compares thousands of scientists to Jesuits, which I believe is supposed to be somehow derogatory.

Victor Venema said...

Oh, my. No wonder he feels somewhat stressed and fears for his health.

EliRabett said...

Prof. Bengtsson has swallowed Lomborg whole, a dangerous meal.

Lars Karlsson said...

In that post in which he seeks (and receives) confirmation and encouragement from the denier crowd, he expresses his appreciation for English media ("Det är i alla fall härligt att möta engelska media med sin liberala och öppna tradition.")

So it seems he was happy with the way those articles turned out. That they contained serious errors doesn't bother him.

Anonymous said...

For those who might benefit from a translation of Lennart's quote given by willard, here goes:

"There have always been dreams of better worlds. I remember all the pictures from long ago of the happy Big Rock Candy Mountain, where little sausages and hams grew on trees. Those were dreams that many of the poor had in Germany of the 1700's. I can understand that many of the poor today in the third world can have similar dreams, but on the other hand I have a hard time understanding dreams of a worse life and a worse world. For me, that's rather perverse, and leads me to have an exceedingly negative impression of the green-red ideology."

I've taken some liberties in translating Schlaraffenland, but I couldn't resist. "Prinskorv" are what we would call "cocktail sausages" in American, basically little hot dogs about an inch long, much beloved of children.


a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Bo Baron sees fit to add his stupidity to the thread. Thank you for the entertainment. Now run along and let the adults discuss things. Imbecile.