Stephen Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC has just published a helpful overview of the documents related to the Climate Research Unit that hackers recently uncovered. I blogged about this last week, but this analysis, entitled “Scientists Behaving Badly” and found in The Weekly Standard, is a must-read for anyone who has invested time in thinking about climate change and whether the role of humans in it in our modern era demands sweeping reform and massive investment that some have called for.
I do not submit because I dismiss climate change due to its advocates. I know little about this sort of thing and am quite open to being led by scientists on this matter. However, the findings released illegally by hackers present devastating evidence that suggests that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the climate change movement and that scientists within it are acting according to political, not scientific, concerns.
Many of us wondered whether this might be so in light of the weight attached to climate change. Almost overnight, this issue became a moral matter, one demanding the full support of all. This has leaked into the Christian community, and many people are confused by this subject. Is global warming happening in abnormal ways today? Should we support legislation, however costly, to attempt to push it back if so? These and other questions confront thinking, moral Christians.
But the fact of the matter seems to be that climate change is far–increasingly far, actually–from the foregone conclusion that it might seem to be. The CRU documents–many of them email exchanges from scientists seeking to prove that humans are causing damaging climate change–show a house in disarray. Hayward’s lengthy piece reveals that there is explosively damaging evidence against climate change advocates in these documents.
The following presents snapshots from his article that are worth reading. I’ll give you the key quotations first, and then give a number of other quotations that highly interested readers should consider. See the bold sections for the essence of the quotation.
The global warming movement is rapidly losing altitude:
Slowly and mostly unnoticed by the major news media, the air has been going out of the global warming balloon. Global temperatures stopped rising a few years ago, much to the dismay of the climate campaigners. The U.N.’s upcoming Copenhagen conference–which was supposed to yield a binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction treaty as a successor to the failed Kyoto Protocol–collapsed weeks in advance and remains on life support pending Obama’s magical intervention. Cap and trade legislation is stalled on Capitol Hill. Recent opinion polls from Gallup, Pew, Rasmussen, ABC/Washington Post, and other pollsters all find a dramatic decline in public belief in human-caused global warming. The climate campaigners continue to insist this is because they have a “communications” problem, but after Al Gore’s Nobel Prize/Academy Award double play, millions of dollars in paid advertising, and the relentless doom-mongering from the media echo chamber and the political class, this excuse is preposterous. And now the climate campaign is having its Emperor’s New Clothes moment.
A prominent supporter of climate change reveals that he is “deeply shaken” by the CRU emails:
There are a few notable exceptions, such as Guardian columnist George Monbiot, who in the past has trafficked in the most extreme climate mongering: “It’s no use pretending that this isn’t a major blow,” Monbiot wrote in a November 23 column. “The emails extracted by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging. . . . I’m dismayed and deeply shaken by them. . . . I was too trusting of some of those who provided the evidence I championed. I would have been a better journalist if I had investigated their claims more closely.” Monbiot has joined a number of prominent climate scientists in demanding that the CRU figures resign their posts and be excluded from future climate science work. The head of the CRU, Phil Jones, announced last week that he will temporarily step down pending an investigation.
Hayward notes that the emails do not disprove global warming, but rather show that the movement is politicized(and likely compromised):
The emails do not in and of themselves reveal that catastrophic climate change scenarios are a hoax or without any foundation. What they reveal is something problematic for the scientific community as a whole, namely, the tendency of scientists to cross the line from being disinterested investigators after the truth to advocates for a preconceived conclusion about the issues at hand. In the understatement of the year, CRU’s Phil Jones, one of the principal figures in the controversy, admitted the emails “do not read well.” Jones is the author of the most widely cited leaked e‑missive, telling colleagues in 1999 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. But he insists that the full context of CRU’s work shows this to have been just a misleading figure of speech. Reading through the entire archive of emails, however, provides no such reassurance; to the contrary, dozens of other messages, while less blatant than “hide the decline,” expose scandalously unprofessional behavior. There were ongoing efforts to rig and manipulate the peer-review process that is critical to vetting manuscripts submitted for publication in scientific journals. Data that should have been made available for inspection by other scientists and outside critics were released only grudgingly, if at all. Perhaps more significant, the email archive also reveals that even inside this small circle of climate scientists–otherwise allied in an effort to whip up a frenzy of international political action to combat global warming–there was considerable disagreement, confusion, doubt, and at times acrimony over the results of their work. In other words, there is far less unanimity or consensus among climate insiders than we have been led to believe.
The predominant paleoclimatological model of climate change is a hockey stick, a model unveiled some years ago:
In 1998 three scientists from American universities–Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley, and Malcolm Hughes–unveiled in Nature magazine what was regarded as a signal breakthrough in paleoclimatology–the now notorious “hockey stick” temperature reconstruction (picture a flat “handle” extending from the year 1000 to roughly 1900, and a sharply upsloping “blade” from 1900 to 2000). Their paper purported to prove that current global temperatures are the highest in the last thousand years by a large margin–far outside the range of natural variability. The medieval warm period and the little ice age both disappeared. The hockey stick chart was used prominently in the 2001 IPCC report as “smoking gun” proof of human-caused global warming. Mann and his coauthors concluded that “the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium.”
This model is now seriously questioned even by advocates of climate change:
Case closed? Hardly. The CRU emails reveal internal doubts about this entire enterprise both before and after the hockey stick made its debut. In a 1996 email to a large number of scientists in the CRU circle, Tom Wigley, a top climatologist working at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, cautioned: “I support the continued collection of such data, but I am disturbed by how some people in the paleo community try to oversell their product.” Mann and his colleagues made use of some of the CRU data, but some of the CRU scientists weren’t comfortable with the way Mann represented it and also seemed to find Mann more than a bit insufferable.
CRU scientist Keith Briffa, whose work on tree rings in Siberia has been subject to its own controversies, emailed Edward Cook of Columbia University: “I am sick to death of Mann stating his reconstruction represents the tropical area just because it contains a few (poorly temperature representative) tropical series,” adding that he was tired of “the increasing trend of self-opinionated verbiage [Mann] has produced over the last few years . . . and (better say no more).”
Cook replied: “I agree with you. We both know the probable flaws in Mike’s recon[struction], particularly as it relates to the tropical stuff. Your response is also why I chose not to read the published version of his letter. It would be too aggravating. . . . It is puzzling to me that a guy as bright as Mike would be so unwilling to evaluate his own work a bit more objectively.”
In yet another revealing email, Cook told Briffa: “Of course [Bradley] and other members of the MBH [Mann, Bradley, Hughes] camp have a fundamental dislike for the very concept of the MWP, so I tend to view their evaluations as starting out from a somewhat biased perspective, i.e. the cup is not only ‘half-empty’; it is demonstrably ‘broken’. I come more from the ‘cup half-full’ camp when it comes to the MWP, maybe yes, maybe no, but it is too early to say what it is.”
Perhaps the most damning evidence of the CRU’s shoddy work comes from the files of the researcher attempting to collate the data on climate change:
The HARRY_READ_ME.txt file, over 100,000 words long, paints a picture of haphazard data handling that would get almost any private sector researcher fired. Among the many damning items included in Harris’s narrative are more instances of “hiding the decline” such as “Specify period over which to compute the regressions (stop in 1940 to avoid the decline)” and “Apply a VERY ARTIFICIAL correction for decline!” Worse are Harris’s notes of improperly coded data (or data without codes at all), computer subroutines that don’t work, and near complete chaos: “I am very sorry to report that the rest of the databases seem to be in nearly as poor a state as Australia was. . . . Aarrggghhh! There truly is no end in sight. . . . Am I the first person to attempt to get the CRU databases in working order?!! . . . ” On and on goes Harris’s catalogue of software bugs and data horrors. Finally, this: “OH F– THIS. It’s Sunday evening, I’ve worked all weekend, and just when I thought it was done I’m hitting yet another problem that’s based on the hopeless state of our databases. There is no uniform data integrity, it’s just a catalogue of issues that continues to grow as they’re found.”
Some have challenged the “hockey stick” model of climate change, causing major public damage to the model and leading the authoritative American body, the National Academy of Sciences, to conclude thusly:
[A] close reading shows that the NAS report devastated the hockey stick. While the NAS said the hockey stick reconstruction was a “plausible” depiction of 20th-century warming, the report went on to state clearly that “substantial uncertainties currently present in the quantitative assessment of large-scale surface temperature changes prior to about A.D. 1600 lower our confidence in this conclusion compared to the high level of confidence we place in the Little Ice Age cooling and 20th century warming. Even less confidence can be placed in the original conclusions by Mann et al. (1999) that “the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium.” [Emphasis added.]
Hayward concludes with a couple final points worth reading:
First, we still don’t know whether the medieval warm period was comparable to or even much warmer than current temperatures, and we probably never will know with confidence. So the validating or refining of today’s climate models will have to go forward without this piece of the puzzle being filled in. Second, a close reading of the entire email archive allows some distinctions to be drawn among the CRU circle. Michael Mann, Phil Jones, and Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore seem indisputably to be the bad actors (it was Santer who said he was “very tempted” to “beat the crap out of” skeptic Pat Michaels). Others in their circle, such as Keith Briffa, Tom Wigley, and Mike Hulme, appear much more scrupulous and restrained about handling the data, uncertainties, and conclusions they put into print.
Finally, here is what Hayward concludes about the CRU fiasco in general:
Climate change is a genuine phenomenon, and there is a nontrivial risk of major consequences in the future. Yet the hysteria of the global warming campaigners and their monomaniacal advocacy of absurdly expensive curbs on fossil fuel use have led to a political dead end that will become more apparent with the imminent collapse of the Kyoto-Copenhagen process. I have long expected that 20 or so years from now we will look back on the turn-of-the-millennium climate hysteria in the same way we look back now on the population bomb hysteria of the late 1960s and early 1970s–as a phenomenon whose magnitude and effects were vastly overestimated, and whose proposed solutions were wrongheaded and often genuinely evil (such as the forced sterilizations of thousands of Indian men in the 1970s, much of it funded by the Ford Foundation). Today the climate campaigners want to forcibly sterilize the world’s energy supply, and until recently they looked to be within an ace of doing so. But even before Climategate, the campaign was beginning to resemble a Broadway musical that had run too long, with sagging box office and declining enthusiasm from a dwindling audience. Someone needs to break the bad news to the players that it’s closing time for the climate horror show.
Wow. This is quite an article, as you can see. Read the whole thing. It is well worth your time, as climate change is one of the more important cultural issues we face today. Even if you don’t like thinking or reading about it, lots of people in the culture are, and it behooves us as thinking Christians to ponder this stuff.
As you can see, the climate change movement is highly politicized. The science is far from a sure thing; the movement itself is fractured; there is steadily increasing uncertainty even among supporters of this cause. We do not need to write the climate change folks off at this point; we should hear them out and wait to see if they can produce hard data. If they can, we may well need to modify the way we live in this world. I’m prepared to do so.
But, if the CRU fiasco exposed above is as bad as it looks, I wonder whether we are a long way from reaching this point. Climate change is notoriously hard to prove, especially when one looks back to eras for which no data exists. Christians would do well, it seems to me, to care for the earth as best we can in our efforts to glorify our Lord, and to avoid falling prey to groupthink and cultural pressure.