Unsettling Climate Change – ISN

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The Copenhagen climate conference may be overshadowed by leaked emails showing some scientists apparently colluding to exaggerate global warming; and while the scandal does not mean that climate alarmism is unfounded, it does suggest that global warming science is less than ‘settled’.

By Simon Roughneen for ISN Security Watch

Arctic Circle designation in Norway (cc) Børge Antonsen/flickr

Arctic Circle designation in Norway (cc) Børge Antonsen/flickr

As world leaders gather today to discuss actions to prevent and mitigate climate change, the conference could be overshadowed by hundreds of emails and files showing prominent climate scientists expressing dismay at the fact that, contrary to predictions, global temperatures have been falling since 1998.

Sometime over the past two weeks, a hacker/whistleblower released thousands of emails and related files from the University’s Climate Reseach Unit (CRU) into cyberspace, after apparently failing at first to get these picked up by mainstream media.

Messages exchanged between scientists at the CRU and counterparts and colleagues elsewhere feature discussions in which scientists lament their inability to explain the post-1998 fall-off as a ‘travesty – internecine doubt that contrasts sharply with public statements that global warming science is ‘settled’.

CRU Director Professor Phil Jones remarked in one 1999 email that he had used “Mike’s Nature [magazine] trick” to “hide the decline” that inconveniently shows up after 1960 in one set of temperature records. In another, dated July 2005, to climatologist John Christy of the University of Alabama, Jones says: “As you know, I’m not political. If anything, I would like to see the climate change happen, so the science could be proved right, regardless of the consequences.”

Missing data

Perhaps most significantly, the CRU – which is one of a handful of key climate research centers and data collectors involved in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – claims that it has “lost” some of the raw data upon which climate projections are ultimately made. This suggests incompetence at best, given the pivotal role played by the CRU and the importance of the raw data to climate research.

Their private hand-wringing contrasts not only with their public vehemence, but with recent statements by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who described anyone with doubts over the rather-unsettled science as a “flat-earther.”

John Holdren is now US President Barack Obama’s science advisor – and he was forced to defend a 2003 email sent to a CRU scientist, where he ridicules scientists who do not toe the climate change line.

Al Gore and the IPCC co-shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their work on publicising global warming. Over the past weekend, Gore brushed aside the ‘climategate’ issue, telling the UK Times that the scientific consensus around climate change “continues to grow from strength to strength,” and that “the naysayers are in a sunset phase with a spectacular climax just before they subside from view.”

IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri was more circumspect, saying that the large number of contributors and rigorous peer review mechanisms adopted by the IPCC meant that any bias would be rapidly uncovered. However, while IPCC reports are written by scientists, the 20-page summary, upon which policy is made, is the work of bureaucrats and officials who attempt to summarize and explain thousands of pages of often contradictory and complex scientific writing in a short document.

However, back at the CRU, messages were exchanged discussing means to keep research findings that they did not agree with out of the IPCC reports – which are the main internationally sanctioned body of climate research from which global climate negotiations stem. In one case, Professor Jones wrote: “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

Graphic alarmism

Professor Jones has since stepped down, pending an investigation, while Pennsylvania State University has ordered an investigation into Professor Michael Mann, who participates in some of the leaked email correspondence.

Mann helped devise the notorious ‘hockey-stick’ graph, which showed global temperature running almost flat for centuries before 1900, before shooting up in the 20th century. For a number of years, the graph occupied a quasi-iconic place in global warming alarmism, despite (or because of) its omission of the “Medieval Warm Period” – when temperatures were thought to be warmer than now, with vineyards in northern England and ‘green’ areas on the now-frozen coast of Greenland – despite the relative lack of man-made carbon emissions during that period.

The graph then failed to account for the ‘Little Ice Age,’ a relatively cold period that immediately precedes the 20th century, which in turn saw cycles of warming and cooling up until 1998, when the world’s temperatures flat-lined or dropped again.

When a Canadian statistician tested the system that produced the hockey stick graph, he found it to be flawed to the extent that any variety of data inputs would produce the same ‘hockey-stick’ output.

Some of the CRU emails discuss ways to prevent Steve McIntyre – the aforementioned statistician – from accessing information from the CRU under Freedom of Information requests.

Undermining Copenhagen

Since the emails have been made public, allegations have been made that the revelations are aimed at undermining the Copenhagen process, with fingers being pointed at energy exporter Russia.

US Democrat Senator Barbara Boxer dismissed calls for an investigation into the content of the emails, seeking instead a criminal inquiry into how the emails were leaked or hacked. Two scientists based the UK and Canada, meanwhile, intend to pursue the CRU for criminal fraud, saying that the scientists implicated in ‘climategate’ have gained funding and career advancement by twisting data, hiding evidence and shutting out dissenters.

One email suggests that Professor Jones accrued millions of dollars of research funding from governments, while scientists who do not believe the science is ‘settled,’ have long complained of being frozen-out of the funding cycle, while claiming that government policy and ideology drives climate science, rather than the other way around.

Model dilemmas

The Copenhagen conference aims to create a global policy framework that would reduce the human impact on climate change. In sum, the science behind climate change holds that as human carbon emissions increase, global temperatures should go up. Therefore, by reducing human carbon emissions, temperatures will drop. However, temperatures have fluctuated, rather than increased, along the lines of the models used in reports.

Richard S Lindzen, professor of meteorology at Massachussets Institute of Technology, told ISN Security Watch that “models have displayed minimal skill in explaining or predicting climate. Model projections, it should be recalled, are the basis for our greenhouse concerns.”

These models have in turn been used by lawmakers to introduce new taxes and propose to restructure economies to stave off ‘catastrophic’ climate change.

Chris Horner, author of The Politically-Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism, told ISN Security Watch that “given the pivotal role played by the UEA center in the IPCC reporting process, this calls the whole IPCC into question. And this in turn raises issues about the whole Kyoto-Copenhagen process.”

Copenhagen features a wish list of targets under discussion, though not expected to produce anything concrete, due to various disagreements between countries. Developed nations are required to produce targets for cutting their emissions by 2020. According to the IPCC, carbon emissions from developed countries need to drop by 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 if the world is to limit the rise in temperature to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels – a cure based on a diagnosis drawn from IPCC climate projection models.

Emerging economies, including China, the world’s single-biggest emitter, want western governments to pay huge sums to help them reduce their ‘carbon footprint’ on the one hand, and deal with climate change on the other.

While the emails do not automatically mean that Cassandra climate change scenarios are without foundation, they do add credence to the view that the science is far from ‘settled.’ The scientists implicated in the emails say as much themselves.

This undermines at least part of the premise upon which policymakers (such as Brown) and the EU are hoping to act.

Reacting to ‘climategate,’ Professor Lindzen said: “It certainly suggests that the politicians can no longer say that they are dealing with well established science. Rather they are proposing hard ‘solutions’ to a dubious problem.”

ISN Security Watch requested interviews and emailed questions to numerous scientists and analysts across the climate change debate spectrum. Of those contacted, only Mr Horner and Professor Lindzen agreed to be interviewed.

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2 comments to “Unsettling Climate Change – ISN”
  1. thanks for your contribution, simon.
    while reading your essay, i was wondering what causes would bring researchers to exaggerate global warming.
    and the mentioned funding and career opportunities seemed striking on first sight.
    however, under the presumtion of non-egoistic motives, i found likewise plausible causes for stretch forming the hockey stick or covering up the model dilemmas. i guess, when it comes to politics even the most honourable scientist is forced to KISS (Keep It Simple ‘n Stupid).

  2. thanks for your contribution, simon.
    while reading your essay, i was wondering what causes would bring researchers to exaggerate global warming.the mentioned funding and career opportunities seemed striking on first sight.
    however, under the presumtion of non-egoistic motives, i found likewise plausible causes for stretch forming the hockey stick or covering up the model dilemmas. i guess, when it comes to politics even the most honourable scientist is forced to KISS (Keep It Simple ‘n Stupid).

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