Environment

Stolen Emails Do Not Change the Facts of Global Warming

| by NRDC

Facts are stubborn things. Since my last post
the discussion of the emails hacked from the Climate Research Unit
(CRU) has continued to swirl, but as scientists and the mainstream
media have delved into what the emails actually say and what their
implications are for our understanding of global warming the facts have
begun to bubble up to the surface. Of course, there is still a lot of
noise out there, such as today’s Washington Post op/ed by noted climate scientist Sarah Palin, but the signal to noise ratio has improved in recent days.

Here is a quick survey of some of what has emerged.

*Yesterday the World Meteorological Organization
reported that with just a few weeks left in this decade, the 00s
(January 1, 2000 – December 31, 2009) will be the warmest decade on
record. Warmer than the 1990s, which was warmer than the 1980s. Some
climate change deniers have claimed that the earth has been cooling
since 1998, but that is based on the actual “trick” of starting the
time series in a year that was far warmer than the long-term trend. No
responsible scientist has ever claimed that global warming means every
year will be warmer than the year before. After all, global warming
does not eliminate inter-annual variability. Rather, it imposes a long
term trend on top of that natural variability. The most straightforward
way to look for the underlying trend is to examine running multi-year
averages, such as the red 5-year running average line in these data
from NASA.

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*On December 4th a group of 25 leading U.S. scientists, including
eight members of the National Academy of Sciences and one Nobel
Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, wrote to Congress to “set the record straight.” They note:

In the last few weeks, opponents of taking action on climate change
have misrepresented both the content and the significance of stolen
emails to obscure public understanding of climate science and the
scientific process….The body of evidence that human activity is the
dominant cause of global warming is overwhelming. The content of the
stolen emails has no impact whatsoever on our overall understanding
that human activity is driving dangerous levels of global warming. The
scientific process depends on open access to methodology, data, and a
rigorous peer-review process. The robust exchange of ideas in the
peer-reviewed literature regarding climate science is evidence of the
high degree of integrity in this process.

*A more thorough reading of the purloined emails, rather than just
the handful that have received the most attention, demonstrates that a
“robust exchange of ideas” is exactly what these scientists were
engaged in. Yes, they vented frustration in private with each other and
with climate deniers who they thought (with good reason in many cases)
were only interested in attacking them. But they also expressed a
commitment to the scientific process. For example, this email from Michael Mann:

Dear Ed, Tom, Keith, etc.

In keeping w/ the spirit of Tom's and
Keith's emails, I wanted to stress, before we all break for the
weekend, that this is ultimately about the science, its not personal.
If my comments seemed to assail e.g. Keith's motives or integrity, etc.
I believe that they were misunderstood (as I tried to clarify that in
my previous message), but I can see that there was a potential for
misunderstanding of my message (precision in wording is very important)
given the high levels of sensitivity in this debate. So I wanted to
leave no uncertainty about that. And of course, I very much apologize
to Keith (and Tim) if they took them my comments that way. They, again,
were most decidedly not intended that way.

I hope we can resolve
the scientific issues objectively, and w/out injecting or any personal
feelings into any of this. There are some substantial scientific
differences here, lets let them play out the way they are supposed to,
objectively, and in the peer reviewed literature.

Enjoy the weekend all.

cheers,

Mike

*The scientific journal Nature published a thoughtful editorial
about the controversy. They point to direct evidence of global warming,
such as melting ice and rising sea levels, as well as “decades of
biological data on blooming dates and the like suggest that spring is
arriving earlier each year.” I left this large and growing set of
biological observations out of my previous post. Nature also
points out that while some of the scientists involved in the CRU emails
thought that a couple of papers by climate change skeptics were bad
science and should be kept out of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, in
fact that didn’t happen and those papers were reviewed by the IPCC (Chapter 3 of Working Group I report, pages 244-245).

*Time magazine provided reasonably balanced coverage
of what they called “Climategate/Swifthack.” The article starts with a
pretty detailed recitation of the denier’s arguments but goes on to ask
“Do the e-mails weaken the scientific case for global warming?” Time
answers this question by quoting from scientists’ letter I quote above.
The article goes on to put the whole episode in context of the
long-standing ideologically-driven effort to confuse the public about
global warming in order to block action to cut emissions.

Ultimately, though, we need to place Climategate/Swifthack in its
proper context: amidst a decades-long effort by the fossil-fuel
industry and other climate skeptics to undercut global-warming research
— often by means that are far more nefarious than anything that appears
in the CRU e-mails. George W. Bush's Administration attempted to censor
NASA climatologist James Hansen, while the fossil-fuel industry group
the Global Climate Coalition ignored its own scientists as it spread
doubt about man-made global warming. That list of wrongdoing goes on.
One of the main skeptic groups promoting the e-mail controversy, the
Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, was recently
revealed to have links to the energy company Exxon-Mobil, which has
long funded climate-change deniers. "This is being used to confuse the
public," says blogger James Hoggan, whose new book Climate Cover-Up details Exxon-Mobil's campaign.