May 3, 2010

IPCC Snowed by Snowmobile Lobby

Thank goodness the climate bible can make us laugh as well as cry. We've been told the organization that produces it - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - has the highest standards. Its chairman has said that for information to even be considered for inclusion in the climate bible, it must first have undergone the rigours of a peer-review process and have been published in a scientific journal (see the last lines of this article).

I guess that's why, when the section dealing with how global warming could affect North American tourism got written, the IPCC chose to quote a dollar amount plucked from…drumroll please…a press release issued by an industry lobby group - in this case the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.

I'm certain the snowmobile folks are decent, hardworking people. They're just trying to make a living. But when one starts speaking of sums that begin with the letter "B" - in this case, $27 billion – it's a bit of a joke to accept at face value figures supplied by such an interested party. Nevertheless, peering into its crystal ball, the oh-so-scholarly climate bible reports:

The North American snowmobiling industry (valued at US$27 billion) (ISMA, 2006) is more vulnerable to climate change because it relies on natural snowfall. By the 2050s, a reliable snowmobile season disappears from most regions of eastern North America that currently have developed trail networks… [bold added]
This is what the full reference looks like:

ISMA, 2006: Facts and Figures about Snowmobiling. International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association. [Accessed 12.02.07: contente.htm] [see it in the list here]
The link the IPCC cites above in the first set of square brackets is dead. If you instead go to that website's home page you discover it belongs to the Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organizations. From there you can click over to a page titled "Facts and Statistics about Snowmobiling" (rather than the IPCC's slightly different wording: "facts and figures"). The page is dated June 2006.

Statement #6 declares that the "economic impact of snowmobiling" is worth $21 billion annually in the US and $6 billion annually in Canada. Who says so, and how they arrived at these numbers is not supplied. But this webpage does, indeed, appear to be the IPCC's sole source for that statistic.

In small print at the bottom we learn the webpage has been "Reproduced from ISMA's web site." After we click over to the International Snowmobile Manufacturer's Association – the industry's lobby arm - we find amongst its list of press releases, a "Facts and Statistics about Snowmobiling" entry. Click again and we get taken to a page with the filename: pr_snowfacts.asp.

PR – as in press release. As in public relations. The one PR to which there is no connection is that mysterious beast known as peer-review.

The page has been updated since the 2007 climate bible was published. But there, in statement #5, is a similar claim regarding the economic impact of snowmobiling. It now says the US economic impact is $22 billion (up from 21), while the Canadian economic impact remains at $6 billion. It's worth noticing that statements one to four list the number of snowmobile manufacturers, the number of units sold in 2009, the suggested retail price of those units, and how many snowmobiles are currently registered with the authorities in the US and Canada.

In other words, this listing of "facts" is a marketing exercise. We aren't told the first thing about how the $28 billion number was determined - or by whom. Instead we're advised, according to the statements numbered as follows, that:

#10: The average snowmobiler spends $4,000 each year on snowmobile-related recreation.

#15: Snowmobilers are caring neighbors, they raised over $3 million for charity during the 2008-2009 season.

#20: Snowmobiling is great exercise that brings people outdoors to interact with nature and each other. It is an invigorating sport that is great for stress release and good mental health.

#21: Snowmobiling is a great family lifestyle. It is an activity that keeps parents and kids together. Historically individuals who snowmobile at a young age continue to snowmobile with their parents throughout their lives, sharing great experiences as a family…

What's missing from this list, of course, is a tally of how many gallons of fossil fuel are burned each year by recreational users. It seems to me, if I were the IPCC, that number would be important. Perhaps an overall decline in snowmobiling might be a good thing from a carbon footprint perspective.

Indeed, this green oriented website claims that snowmobiles emit up to 100 times more CO2 than automobiles. (At this junction I should reveal that I grew up in a part of Canada where snowmobiles are common. That I personally find them noisy and smelly doesn't make me popular with certain relatives - who may now like me even less.)

But wait. If we click on yet another press release posted on the lobby group's website – the one titled "Snowmobiling is a $27 Billion Business" - in the second paragraph we read:

Recent Economic Impact studies performed by Iowa State University, Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and the University of Minnesota all show dramatic increases in snowmobile activity and the economic importance of snowmobile tourism.
No further information is provided. We don't know who the researchers are, what the papers are titled, or when they were published. Is it possible these studies appeared in peer-reviewed journals and would, on examination, turn out to be based on solid analysis? Sure. But without considerably more digging we have no idea if this is the case. And what really matters is that the IPCC doesn't, either.

Here, again, we find the IPCC relying on a questionable information source that turns out to be a press release in drag. But hey, when one considers the snowmobile-carbon-footprint issue, at least this instance offers some entertainment value.


UPDATE: An hour after I posted the above, reader Neal Bridges tipped me off to the fact that if one types the dead link included in the IPCC reference above into the WayBack Machine at, (removing the space) one can see what that web page looked like in early 2007 - which is when the IPCC claims it last accessed it.

Curiously, at that point in time the page appears not to have discussed economic impacts at all. Instead, it
begins with the Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organizations' mission statement. Even more curious, at the very top of the page is a link to a brief the organization submitted to a parliamentary committee in 2001. The brief includes a section on the economic impacts of snowmobiling.

According to the first paragraph of that section, snowmobiling has a "positive impact on the [Canadian] economy - $3.1 billion in fact!" This is, of course, rather distant from the IPCC's $6 billion figure. Could the economic impact have doubled between 2001 and 2007? Strange.

It would seem that the most logical explanation is that the IPCC cited the wrong web address in the reference (a version of the page making the $21 and $6 billion claims did exist back in 2007).


>> What the IPCC learned from press releases
>> IPCC falls for press release masquerade
>> Press release masquerade - Part 2
>> Climate bible gets 21 'F's on report card