Jonathan Leake recently wrote a story alleging that the statement in the IPCC AR4 WG2 that up to 40% of the Amazon forest could vanish due to climate change was “bogus”. Deltoid can now reveal that Leake deliberately concealed the fact that Dan Nepstad, the author of the 1999 Nature paper cited as evidence for the claim about the vulnerability of the Amazon had replied to Leake’s query and informed him the claim was basically correct:
At the time of the IPCC [report], there was ample evidence that a large portion of the Amazon forest is very close to the lower limit of rainfall that is necessary to sustain dense forest. We published an article in 1994 in Nature in which we estimated that approximately half of the forests of the Brazilian Amazon were periodically exposed to severe drought and soil moisture depletion, especially during El Nino events.
Nepstad told me the same thing in response to my query after Leake’s story was published. He included copies of his relevant papers which confirmed what he told me. Nepstad goes into more detail here:
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). Our 1999 article (Nepstad et al. 1999) estimated that 630,000 km2 of forests were severely drought stressed in 1998, as Rowell and Moore correctly state, but this forest area is only 15% of the total area of forest in the Brazilian Amazon. In another article published in Nature, in 1994, we used less conservative assumptions to estimate that approximately half of the forests of the Amazon depleted large portions of their available soil moisture during seasonal or episodic drought (Nepstad et al. 1994). After the Rowell and Moore report was released in 2000, and prior to the publication of the IPCC AR4, new evidence of the full extent of severe drought in the Amazon was available. In 2004, we estimated that half of the forest area of the Amazon Basin had either fallen below, or was very close to, the critical level of soil moisture below which trees begin to die in 1998. This estimate incorporated new rainfall data and results from an experimental reduction of rainfall in an Amazon forest that we had conducted with funding from the US National Science Foundation (Nepstad et al. 2004). Field evidence of the soil moisture critical threshold is presented in Nepstad et al. 2007.
It is always a worry when reporters distort and mislead in order to sell a story. They get more readers and inflame them with slanted reporting. Yellow journalism has more than once sent nations to war. If lying helps them sell papers, then they lie.
It seems as though something similar might have happened here. And, given, the libel laws in Britain have already found one man guilty when using the term bogus for something that actually was bogus, I wonder if the paper will also be charged with using the term for something that is “basically correct.” The headline declares something as bogus which is not.