On Climate-Gate

as posted to Huffington Post

While thousands of climate change scientists, policy-makers and thought-leaders gather in Copenhagen to consider what to do about the future of our planet, most climate change skeptics are stuck on dissecting a scandalous incident that occured in the virtual world last month.

This so-called “Climate-Gate” stems from the efforts of a hacker who accessed a number of files and emails at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, one of the most respected institutions in the world conducting climate science analysis.

The information obtained from the CRU includes a variety of commentary by leading climate scientists that personally disparages high-profile climate skeptics, and includes attempts to coordinate efforts to retaliate against them in various ways. I suppose the bitterness is a natural human reaction to criticism, which has become very personal and nasty in recent years, but it’s petty and reflects badly on the scientists: they should be above the fray and mentally/emotionally strong enough to withstand sometimes insulting challenges from others by the virtue of the unquestioned quality of their work.

Of more consequence are the allegations that data was fudged to produce results that misleadingly suggest that the climate is worsening far more than it is in actuality. To the extent there is one, the “smoking gun” of Climate-Gate — which some skeptics are comparing to the publishing of the formerly-secret Pentagon Papers as a watershed turning the tide against the Vietnam War — is the following passage in a confirmed email from Prof. Phil Jones, Director of the CRU:

“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” (emphases added)

Of course, the climate skeptic community has jumped on this trove of emails with glee. The conspiracy-theorists smell blood. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who has long dimissed the climate change issue as a hoax, called for hearings on the matter. A variety of anti-climate-change blogs have wondered why mainstream media haven’t given sufficient (in their view) coverage to Climate-Gate (see example posting).

Referring back to Prof. Jones’ damning email, I personally have no problem with the use of the word “trick”. I’ve used it, and heard it used many times in many contexts, to colloquially describe a series of analytical steps that are completely legitimate but novel and clever to compress what would be a lot of work requiring a lot of time to a little bit of work that can be done quickly and efficiently.

However, I am more troubled by Prof. Jones’ use of the highly dubious and damaging phrase “hide the decline”, and it’s not so easy to completely wash this away. It appears that certain temperature data in question were considered spurious and were dismissed by many as somehow in fundamental error, so another set of data were used as a proxy in its place — producing a result that showed a greater increase in planetary temperatures.

To be clear, I think there’s a lot of science and a lot of data that show — and still show compellingly — that something is happening to the climate that is likely to be human-induced. In other words, I don’t think that Climate-Gate brings down the entire edifice of climate science — a stance well-articulated by a recent article in The Economist. But, this particular episode involving Prof. Jones doesn’t smell right — and in fact, as of December 1, Prof. Jones has stepped down as Director of the CRU, pending an investigation. Whether or not the analytic approach and data assumptions were/are valid, it sure gives an appearance that the results were jury-rigged to produce an answer more desirable to the authors.

And this is the point of John Tierney’s excellent article in the December 1 New York Times: that the scientists were “oblivious to one of the greatest dangers in the climate-change debate: smug groupthink. These researchers…seem so focused on winning the public-relations war that they exaggerate their certitude — and ultimately undermine their own cause.”

It is inaccurate to claim, as some have, that climate science is “settled”. I have long said that climate science is far from certain, and that there are lots of unknowns that merit further study to gain better understanding. I have also said that there probably is enough known about climate change that we should do something about it — because we’ll never have perfect information, just as we never have perfect information about important issues requiring tough choices that we must nevertheless decide upon, such as battle plans (or even going to war in the first place) or rescuing the financial system.

Unfortunately, both sides of the climate debate — passionate scientists and policy advocates vs. heated skeptics and supporters of the status quo at any cost — have moved beyond rational debate into the mystical. Indeed, as reported by The Telegraph in the U.K., a British judge has recently ruled that “a belief in man-made climate change … is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations”. In other words, belief in climate change can be considered a religion.

Is this what we’ve come to: holy wars about the climate?

Let’s bring things back to some basic precepts about which no rational person can argue. First, carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas. Second, the human race is pumping roughly 25 billion tons per year of that stuff into our atmosphere — 25 billion tons per year that wouldn’t otherwise be in our atmosphere. Third, the Earth is the only known planet we can plausibly inhabit.

The truth is we really don’t know how the carbon dioxide we artificially introduce into the atmosphere will manifest itself in climatic impact. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conduct this thought-experiment and conclude that such emissions could have an important impact, and might even have a serious and damaging impact, on the long-term well-being of our planet.

Do we really want to keep conducting a global experiment with the only place in the universe where we can live for the foreseeable future? Especially if we can mitigate the experiment at modest economic costs? (By modest, I mean modest relative to the size of expenditures on discretionary human phenomena such as wars and bailouts.)

I take encouragement from hearing a voice of sanity emerge from an unlikely source, cutting through the din of the irrational diatribes in the wake of Climate-Gate. Last week, James Murdoch, the Chairman and CEO of Europe and Asia for News Corporation — the parent company of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, two outlets not generally sympathetic to the climate change issue — wrote a very thoughtful editorial that was published in The Washington Post. His punchline:

“You do not need to believe that all climate science is settled or every prediction or model is perfect to understand the benefits of limiting pollution and transforming our energy policies — as a gradually declining cap on carbon pollution would do. This is the moment to champion policies that yield new industries, healthy competition, cleaner air and water, freedom from petroleum politics and reduced costs for businesses.”

With a simple statement like this, maybe Murdoch can achieve what the climate scientists at CRU and elsewhere have been unable to accomplish with attempts at sophisticated analysis. Given Murdoch’s credentials, perhaps some segments of the climate skeptic community can begin to see more clearly the need to adopt energy policies that can improve our economy and our environment, even while acknowledging the limitations of our understanding of climate science.

Let’s not waste time investigating the crimes of the robbers behind Climate-Gate, as Richard Graves has suggested on The Huffington Post. Let’s move on past Climate-Gate, and take action towards building a better future for ourselves.

14 replies
  1. Shouting Thomas
    Shouting Thomas says:

    "Do we really want to keep conducting a global experiment with the only place in the universe where we can live for the foreseeable future?"We're not conducting a global experiment. We're living. Individuals are making day to day decisions about what they want to buy, and how they want to live.This statement in itself causes me to doubt your motivations.The people on the other side of this debate (opposed to you) believe that economic and political activity should be decided by the individual decisions of consumers and by the electoral process.You obviously believe that such decisions should be made in a centralized system.You're a Marxist masquerading as a scientist. You're deluding yourself. In fact, you probably don't even know you are a Marxist.The intellectual delusion you suffer has been tried over and over for the past century. Marxism, which is centralized, "scientific" control of economies and governments, produced genocide and poverty. Your theory of grand experiments is a god that failed miserably. Marxists always assert that we are in some sort of crisis that demands that application of their "scientific" principles.You are a very confused man. You're a very intellectual confused man. This is a very dangerous thing. You are so intellectual in your stupidity that you've hypnotized yourself.You're obviously unaware of the intellectual history of the past several hundred years. You're making the same dumb mistake that Marxists have always made… believing that your ideas are scientific.I'd suggest that you read "A Hero of Our Times" by Turgenev. The same foolish arguments were being made in Russia in the 19th century.You're not a proponent of a scientific theory. You're a proponent of Marxism, an ideology that produced global genocide and poverty. You are, in fact, a very immoral, dangerous man.

  2. tw80002@yahoo.com
    tw80002@yahoo.com says:

    I am an engineer, not a climate scientist, but have followed the global change research since 1987. One of the conclusions I have come to regarding the difficulties of the debate is the legitimate fears that the issue sparks. Examples include:- climate changes that could leave our grandchildren with a more difficult life than we experienced- loss of wealth for everyone heavily invested in infrastructure that emits greenhouse gasses- imposed lifestyle changes that we wouldn't make otherwise that could come through environmental regulationMaking good decisions in this case requires good science, and there has never been a topic studied globally with as much peer review as global climate change. We can all help by keeping the debate centered on the science.

  3. craigkl
    craigkl says:

    I appreciate the acknowledgement that "hide the decline" is highly dubious. I disagree that this is the worst of it, however.First, the Climategate emails provide strong evidence of a conspiracy to keep dissenting views out of peer-reviewed journals. But that's not the worst of it: the conspiracy also extends to frustrating Freedom of Information Act requests, a crime. This behavior is fundamentally anti-scientific. It's a basic canon of the scientific method that once you make a claim, you publish your evidence and methods so that ANYONE who wishes to can repeat the steps you have taken and check your conclusions. Thus can we confirm which scientific hypotheses are true, and which are false. That Jones and Co. have plainly done everything they possibly could to INTERFERE with this process shows that they are opposed to the most fundamental value of science, i.e. free AND OPEN enquiry. Their behavior is more like that of the priesthood of some secret order.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Global warming is a lie. I don't know a single fellow engineer that believes it. It's more of a faith….where is the evidence? CFL's are a joke, too. They completely suck in performance and quality, and they pack mercury in them…isn't that great. Wake up folks, the emperor has no clothes.

  5. Richard T. Stuebi
    Richard T. Stuebi says:

    Thomas,I will take a different tack than your comment: I won't ascribe all sorts of negative labels to you, because I don't know anything about you.Most people who actually do know me view me legitimately as an ardent capitalist. As a capitalist, I do believe that there is a valid role for government — to set appropriate rules by which participants in the marketplace operate to maximize their interest. Based on the vehemence of your rant, it would appear that we differ on what the appropriate rules for the energy marketplace might be. For instance, I have no problem with the notion of ascribing an economic penalty on commercial activity (e.g., combustion of fossil fuels) that produces an externality (e.g., carbon dioxide emissions) with effects that may be costly (e.g., significant possibility of climate change) to other parties (e.g., all of humanity, not to mention other species, present and future).The basic concept of internalizing the economics of externalities is well-established and accepted even by libertarian thinkers such as Friedman. (Of course, they are more willing to entertain this possibility in theory than they are in practice, but that's another conversation….)You might disagree with my position, but none of this makes me a Marxist, or immoral, or confused, or dangerous, or pseudo-scientific, or pseudo-intellectual — all of which I reject categorically. Not that I'm perfect — far from it — but I don't deserve your ungrounded insults, and won't accept them without strong objection. Happy blogging and exercising our First Amendment rights!

  6. craigkl
    craigkl says:

    tw80002 writes:"there has never been a topic studied globally with as much peer review as global climate change."tw80002, I doubt you could prove your claim about the quantity of peer review, but please just think about the standard you are appealing to. Peer review does not mean that a view has the Good Housekeeping Seal of Truth; it means that scholars in the field have read a paper and found that at the current state of knowledge, it has a contribution to make. It may be right, it may be wrong, (the editors may not think it's right), but it is worth paying attention to. Nothing more.Consider: at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a field called eugenics: "the study of all agencies under human control which can improve or impair the racial quality of future generations", which called for the sterilization of "degenerate" human beings (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics.) US universities had Departments of Eugenics, and there were many PEER-REVIEWED papers being published in the field (including those from scholars in Nazi Germany.)I'm sure that if you go back and look, you'll find a number of PEER-REVIEWED studies on the safety and efficacy of Thalidomide. And in your field, engineering, I'd be surprised if there weren't PEER-REVIEWED studies praising the design principles behind the Tacoma Narrows bridge.So passing peer review is a very low hurdle. And when influential people who have already had "peer-reviewed" papers published are found conspiring to lock out dissenting views, as the Climategate emails illustrate, it becomes clear that peer review can actually be an OBSTACLE to discovering the truth. As I recall, Galileo's reports on the moons of Jupiter were not "peer reviewed", and would not have been accepted if he had tried to submit them to the "leading scholars" of the time.

  7. allcustom
    allcustom says:

    There are certainly a lot of details like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith. term papers writing service

  8. Essays
    Essays says:

    The given information is about the on the climate gate is really good one to have because the climate now a days a very good topic to talk about because it has so much importance to our life.

  9. Mannatech
    Mannatech says:

    climate gate,
    Global warming was a scam just to charge under developing countries and companies fee's for pollution and and letting big companies make as much pollution as they want as long as they pay with credits, this was a setup to help big corporations to monopolize the World marketplace.

    This would have let a World government watch over every country and person for so called carbon taxes, they want to charge people for breathing out carbon dioxide so everyone would have a tax for breathing.

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