Editor's Page: May Cooler Heads Prevail

Climate-change scientists—so serious, so sincere, so ... scandalous?

Photo: Linny Morris

If you write long enough, you will eventually have second thoughts about an article from your past. In our April 1996 issue, I wrote “The Angry Sky,” about the alarming impacts Hawai‘i expected from ozone depletion and global warming. You never hear about the ozone layer anymore, but global warming has come to dominate our conversations in ways I never imagined.

I never expected the terms “green,” “sustainability” and “carbon footprint” would be hurled at us daily, secular guilt crammed into every consumer choice. But I especially never expected that some of the leading scientists who argue the case for manmade global warming would be revealed as political partisans, who hid evidence against global warming, attempted to redefine the meaning of “peer-reviewed journals” to mean “only peers who agree with us” and, worst of all, conspired to delete data in anticipation of Freedom of Information requests.

Let me back up. Because of manmade global warming, I warned in 1996, that “sea levels could rise as much as three feet by the year 2100 … warming can lead to hotter and more frequent heat waves … stronger and more frequent hurricanes to Hawai‘i … endanger native plants species [and] coral reefs.” These dire predictions came from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Researchers at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia provide much of the IPCC’s analysis and predictions. In November 2009, hackers released thousands of e-mails from the CRU, going back years, and it is these e-mails that reveal the very unscientific, unethical activities I described above.

I feel I’ve been had.

One thing I could not have known in 1996 was that the IPCC’s warming predictions would be wrong. Mean global surface temperatures have not risen since 1998, and, by some measures, have dropped since 2001. The CRU e-mails show scientists trying to hide this decline, to give one detail—I don’t have room in this column to detail the extent of CRU’s shenanigans, nor could I tell the story as well as others, so please read this “Editor’s Page” online for links (see below).

This doesn’t necessarily mean manmade global warming is disproven. But it does deflate the certainty and moral righteousness of the Al Gores and the IPCCs of the world. At Copenhagen and in Congress, politicians have proposed massive disruptions to our economies and lifestyles in the name of halting global warming. It turns out they’ve been doing so, at least partly, with books that have been cooked more than the planet.

I grew up admiring science and scientists. One of my favorite TV shows as a kid? Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. I took global warming seriously because I took scientists seriously and forgot that they are people, too, no less prone to vanity, piety or hubris than others. When I read about the CRU e-mails, a scandal now known as Climategate, I felt anger and disappointment, some of it directed at myself.

People make these kinds of mistakes all the time, and the motives are no mystery. For the researchers, grant dollars and reputations are on the line. For reporters, global warming offers the thrill of covering The Biggest Story Ever Told, an appeal I could not resist. For politicians, it has offered an endless opportunity for grandstanding and power grabs. Convinced they are saving the earth—what could be more rewarding or important?—all three groups helped each other lose their minds.

It’s time for scientists to do what science is all about: check their work to see if the results can be reproduced. Fresh eyes need to look at the original data the CRU used, to see if they can independently find the same evidence for warming. But wait—that can’t be done. Somehow, the CRU managed to “lose” all its original data.

How’s that for an inconvenient truth?

Additional links:

Clive Crook, at The Atlantic Monthly, weighs in on Climategate, Nov. 20, 2009.

Glenn Reynolds (better known as InstaPundit), writes for The Washington Examiner about the internal Climategate emails and how they reveal the very poor quality of the data used in the computer models that predict warming tends,  Nov. 29, 2009.

A critique of the scientists involved in the scandal by an independent organic chemist, Dec. 1, 2009.

Reason Magazine looks at the scandal, Dec. 1, 2009.

The Telegraph reports on a Russian claim that British climate scientists have deliberately cherry picked data from Russian temperature station to exaggerate the case for anthropogenic global warming, Dec. 16, 2009.

The mainstream media comes under fire by its conservative critics for biased reporting, pointing out that some of the leaked emails show an AP reporter working with the CRU scientists as an ally against skeptics, rather than as an objective reporter,  Jan. 8, 2010

PajamasMedia reviews Climategate: The CRUtape Letters, the first book to tackle the issue, Jan. 20, 2010.

CNN reports that the IPCC has  admitted to using unsubstantiated claims that Himalayan glaciers would melt away by 2035, a false claim that is actually separate from the Climategate scandal, Jan. 20, 2010. Much more on this at ABC News, Jan. 28, 2010.

Climate Depot reports on the IPCC exaggerating temperature data specifically to affect the political discussion of climate change, Jan. 26, 2010.

London’s The Times reports that the University of East Anglia violated the Freedom of Information Act, but could not be prosecuted because this was revealed too long after the incidents, Jan. 28, 2010

The February issue of Scientific American attempts to dismiss Climategate as much ado about nothing. The article quotes IPCC head, Dr. Rejendra Pachauri, as lamenting how politicized climate change science has become. The article omits that Pachauri earns millions from countless business relationships in green technology companies—exactly how much, he won’t disclose.

 For more of Napier’s writing, see his “Off My Desk” blog.


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