Climategate: Case Closed


A new MIT study which will soon be released, “concluded that the (IPCC) forecasts were significantly off: Arctic sea ice is thinning, on average, four times faster than the models say, and it’s drifting twice as quickly.”  I’ve been thinking about this news the past couple of days and its potential implications.  The past two years have seen a steady diet of attacks on climate science and its practitioners.

For those who are not familiar, Climategate, as conservative media outlets lovingly referred to it, was the “controversy over emails stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.”

I was digging through Brad Johnson’s (climatebrad of ThinkProgress.org) YouTube feed earlier and ran across the following interview of Stephen Dubner, the co-author of Freakonomics. (I normally link out to all the books I reference, but couldn’t bring myself to do so here.)

(Btw, I highly recommend subscribing to Brad’s posts on YouTube.  He regularly posts relevant content for those concerned with climate science and politics.)

The interview irked me for multiple reasons.  First, the interviewer, David Asman, opened with:

Well, politicians distort the truth all the time, but scientists are not supposed to do that. Still, it does happen. Stalin used to demand results from scientists that weren’t supported by evence — evidence, and of course Hitler did the same. But surely, we are above that, aren’t we? Well, “It can’t happen here,” as many people have said, but apparently it has.

Hat tip to Brad for calling this out in his response to the interview,  “After Asman compared climate scientists to Stalin and Hitler — we’re not kidding — Dubner jumped in to accuse “potent” scientists of “colluding” to “tell Al Gore what to say,” and “distorting evidence” to “make their findings be right for their position”:” (Emphasis here is mine.)

Next, Dubner admits that the emails were “hacked” (i.e. they were illegally stolen), before positing two potential reasons for this:

“Someone either wanted to get in there because they knew there was something that you know should be read, or maybe there’s a whistle blower, at this point we really don’t know.”

With this statement, Dubner suggests that there is only one possible reason for the emails to have been stolen,  wrongdoing by the scientists whose emails were stolen, the only question is whether it was an inside job.

Asman then tees up the opportunity to wholly discredit the IPCC and Dubner swings for the fences.

ASMAN: Bottom line, we’ve got to cut to the chase. Who do you think is doing what to the evidence? Do you think that supporters of global warming and the UN are distorting evidence to prove their point?

DUBNER: Distorting evidence, probably yes. To what degree with don’t really know yet. We’re going to find out a lot more about that. Here’s what I think.

ASMAN: But doesn’t to any degree discredit their theories?

DUBNER: Yeah. You can’t —

ASMAN: If something has been made up you can’t rely on anything else.

DUBNER: You can’t read these e-mails and feel that the IPCC or the major climate scientists’ findings and predictions about global warming are kosher. You can’t. They may be, but if you read these you have to have a whole lot of skepticism about that.

Dubner does give himself the safe out at the end with the “they may be” comment, but the damage was done when he said that their findings and predictions didn’t feel kosher.

“Climategate” Debunked

In the past two years, several investigations were launched to review the stolen data.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has a nice rundown of the results:

Investigations Clear Scientists of Wrongdoing

If you want to take a deep dive on the subject, check out the full UCS writeup, “Debunking Misinformation About Stolen Climate Emails in the “Climategate” Manufactured Controversy.”  Along with the links shared above, the site features additional background information, links to press releases and further fact checking information, analysis from the UCS, and quite a bit more.

And What of the Accused?

The Climatic Research Unit (CRU), the group whose emails were stolen maintains three things on the home page of their website.
First, they list the list the outcomes of the following investigations:
  • “the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact” (House of Commons Science and Technology Committee)
  • “we saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit” (Lord Oxburgh Science Assessment Panel)
  • “their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt” (Sir Muir Russell Independent Climate Change Emails Review)
  • “careful examination of the e-mails and their full context shows that the petitioners’ claims are exaggerated and are not a material or reliable basis to question the validity and credibility of the body of [climate] science” (US Environmental Protection Agency)
For further information and the latest news, please see the Media and Communications site.
Next, they have the detail the organization’s purpose:
The aim of CRU is to improve scientific understanding in:
– past climate history and its impact on humanity
– the course and causes of climate change during the present century
– prospects for the future
Finally, they share a graphic which displays the average global temp since about 1850.  This seems a nice comeuppance (Something I’m a big fan of.) as they are displaying the data which received such close scrutiny.  To me this screams, “here it is, do your worst.  We can take it!”

Time For One More Investigation?

I had planned to make a case for investigating the embattled News Corp organization, but a quick Google search told me the Joe Romm had beaten me to the punch by nearly a month.   I highly recommend reading his insightful take on the case for further investigation into the hacking incident, “Could Murdoch’s News Corp be behind Climategate too?”  It’s not hard to mentally connect the dots with News of the World’s hacking escapades and illicit dealings with Scotland Yard going on at the same time that Fox News was hammering away at the IPCC over the stolen emails.  I’m not aware of a shred of evidence, so call this rampant speculation if you like, but recent events tell me it’s worth a look.

Closing the Door on Climategate

I opened this post with the news that arctic sea ice is melting four times faster than the IPCC scientists had predicted.  This is just one aspect of the IPCC’s research, but it is an important one as the melting ice has serious implications on global climate.  One study suggests that the melting ice could change ocean currents and severely impact the climate in Europe and North America.  “In any case, all researchers can agree that the Arctic ice has decreased by a third since 1979, and that Arctic ice hit a new monthly record low this past month.

Climate Change: A Messaging Problem?


I participated in a discussion initiated by Brad Johnson, the Editor of ThinkProgress Green, on Google Plus this week:

Brad Johnson's profile photo Brad Johnson  –  Jul 13, 2011  –  Public

I never knew Al Gore had a time machine. He’s been running that global warming alarmist conspiracy for a really long time.

Climate Hawks's profile photoClimate Hawks originally shared this post:
Svante Arrhenius, 1896: On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground http://www.rsc.org/images/Arrhenius1896_tcm18-173546.pdf
Chris Oestereich's profile photo Chris Oestereich – He also wrote Fourier’s papers on the greenhouse effect in the 1820’s.
Jul 13, 2011  –  Edit
Hunter Lovins's profile photo Hunter Lovins – Aye, my big criticism of Al’s approach is that he totally misses the business case for solving the climate crisis at a profit. Guess some folk prefer to focus on being scared rather than being entrepreneurial
Hunter Lovins, President and Founder of Natural Capital Solutions, and recent inductee to the ISSP Sustainability Hall of Fame, knows what it takes to mitigate greenhouse gases.  So when she enters the conversation, A – It’s pretty cool, and B – It’s worth paying attention to.  Hunter’s comment reminded me of the McKinsey greenhouse gas-abatement cost curve which I learned of in researching a project for a course I recently completed .  The McKinsey curve displays projects in order from most profitable (Starting at the left.) to most costly.  The zero line is the today’s break even point.
Source: UNEP (Click on the image to view)

The green opportunities below that line are exactly what Hunter was referring to.   If you’re interested in digging in on this, I recommend checking out the book she recently authored with Boyd Cohen, entitled “Climate Capitalism.”  Their book capably runs the gamut of financially viable opportunities.

The McKinsey Curve assumes a business as usual economic environment which does not feature a carbon tax, or cap-and-trade scheme, for most of the world.  If regulations became pervasive, the curve might change dramatically.  Profitable projects would likely become more profitable and many of those which are now seen as costly, might become profitable or at least less costly.

Additionally, some of the remaining projects would become more costly as we began to price in the externalities which are currently ignored in our economic systems.  To put dollars to this, the EPA has attempted to estimate an equitable cost for every ton of CO2 released into the atmosphere, which they have referred to as the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC).  The agency co-published a paper in February of 2010 with the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Transportation, and Treasury in the following range of prices for SCC were offered, “$5, $21, $35, and $65 (in 2007 dollars).”  The $21 estimate, equivalent to “roughly 20 cents per gallon of gasoline,” has been viewed as a fairly conservative figure for estimating the value of projects in a carbon tax scenario.

For those unfamiliar with the term, here’s the Wikipedia definition of an externality:

“In economics, an externality (or transaction spillover) is a cost or benefit, not transmitted through prices,[1] incurred by a party who did not agree to the action causing the cost or benefit. A benefit in this case is called a positive externality or external benefit, while a cost is called a negative externality or external cost“)

A classic example of an externality is the pollution caused by a coal-fired power plant.  The plant burns coal to produce energy which it sells to consumers, but the transaction does not account for the pollution emitted into the atmosphere.

A new study produced by  Economics for Equity and the Environment Network (E3), “a national network of more than 200 economists whose applied research supports active environmental protection,” suggests that the interagency figures may have vastly underpriced SCC.   The following passage is from that paper’s Executive Summary.

The government’s calculation of the $21 SCC, however, omits many of the biggest risks
associated with climate change, and downplays the impact of our current emissions on
future generations. Our re-analysis, including those factors, shows that the SCC could be
much higher. In our worst case, it could be almost $900 in 2010, rising to $1,500 in
2050. If the damages per ton of carbon dioxide are that high, then almost anything that reduces emissions is worth doing.

The report then ties back these estimates to the following conclusion:

That is, under many of the assumptions we explored, the damages from a ton of carbon
dioxide emissions in 2050 could equal or exceed the cost of reducing emissions at the
maximum technically feasible rate. In other words, it is unequivocally less expensive to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions than to suffer climate damages. Once this is the case,
the exact value of the SCC no longer matters, and cost-benefit analysis of proposals for
emission reduction conveys no additional information. All that is needed is a costeffectiveness analysis of the least-cost strategy for eliminating carbon emissions as
rapidly as possible.

I think this is where Hunter’s message really hits home.  Al Gore’s alarmist position is great for grabbing headlines, but does it elicit action?  I recently wrote a post supporting the former Vice President’s article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine, but I do see where Hunter is coming from.  There’s plenty to worry about with the threat of climate change, but could we be better served concentrating on the opportunities, rather than the threats?  If we focus on the things which will make us better off financially — something we’re quite good at — and do it as fast as we possibly can, we might get where we need to go, without the scare tactics.  That said, I’ll go ahead and keep a laser sharp focus on the threats for you.  Better safe than sorry… 🙂

Thanks for stopping by!

-Chris

The Forbidden Fruit?


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I was planning to write a pithy article on the many things which have gotten my goat this week, but I’ve had it up to here and the relevant angles have been covered by far better writers.  I’ll just leave you with a picture of my boys thumbing their noses at the City of Oak Park, Michigan for their decision to fine a homeowner for violation of  “a code that says a front yard has to have suitable, live, plant material.”   Continue reading