Those who have been reading this column for awhile know that my views on global warming are a bit askew of the traditional fault lines on the subject.
I’ve accepted the proposition that the earth is getting warmer — and that man has a hand in it — as a working hypothesis for making public policy.
However, I’ve been skeptical as to whether anything can be done about it. Numerous climatologists have said global warming is a done deal, that even if the human species were to cut its carbon footprint to zero, the world would get warmer for centuries to come.
I’ve also been skeptical as to whether it’s politically possible to reduce the world’s carbon footprint, both because the developing world isn’t going to defer economic growth and because people living today aren’t going to make sacrifices that won’t produce visible results for centuries.
Finally, I've been skeptical as to whether combating global warming is even desirable, given that by the time the world begins to cool several centuries from now, people alive then will have adapted to a warmer climate and will be horrified by the prospect of returning to a cooler one. Under the circumstances, I’ve thought the world should forget about combating global warming and take proactive steps to adapt to it.
What I have not been skeptical about is the integrity of the basic climate science that maintains human-caused global warming is happening.
Up until now. After reading some of the e-mails hacked out of the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU), I think it would be wise to withhold judgment as to whether the data and science suggesting human influence on global warming is reliable, and more important, on whether public policy should be based on it.
The climate scientists who have sounded the alarm over human-caused global warming are for the most part attempting to minimize the e-mails’ importance, but in this case I prefer to believe my lying eyes. The picture presented by the e-mails is one of corrupt scientists and corrupt science.
The e-mails revealed that the CRU scientists, who are some of the most influential in the field — and CRU Director Phil Jones in particular — sought to suppress the publication of the work of scientists with whom they disagreed, discussed blacklisting and boycotting scientific journals that published research and presented views that differed from theirs, and attempted to get the editors of such journals removed.
They also restricted access to the raw data on which their research was based, making it impossible for critics to check their work and prompting several freedom of information lawsuits.
In the e-mails, Jones repeatedly discusses deleting e-mails and data that might be subject to a freedom of information act disclosure, which is a crime in Britain (as it is in the U.S.).
Jones also speaks of having used a “trick” developed by Michael Mann, a colleague at Penn State, to hide the fact that for the last half-century, tree-ring data, which is used to estimate temperatures in centuries for which temperature records don’t exist, has disagreed with actual thermometer temperature readings. The actual readings have shown temperatures going up, while the tree rings have shown them going down. The reason for hiding the decline was that if the tree-ring data disagreed with actual temperature readings during years for which both were available, then the value of tree-ring data as a way of determining temperatures in ages for which no direct data is available is suspect. This is important, because without reliable temperature data from centuries past it is impossible to decide if current temperature increases are the result of natural forces or human activity.
The trick was to graft the actual temperature data from 1960 onwards to the end of a graph of the tree-ring data up until 1960, which is brazenly deceitful.
In short, the e-mails show that Phil Jones’ concept of how science is done, and how one should go about relating to colleagues with whom one disagrees, bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Trofim Lysenko’s. That alone should cause the world to subject Jones’ work and that of his collaborators to special scrutiny.
Over the weekend, the British paper The Sunday Times reported that the raw temperature and meteorological data that had been the basis for much of the CRU’s most important work had been thrown away years ago — because the paper records and magnetic tape it was stored on took up too much space. “The lazy dog ate my homework,” said the quick brown fox guarding the henhouse.
All of this would be only of academic interest were it not for the fact that the East Anglia science is central to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that are calling on the world to abandon the use of fossil fuels — and to do so in a time frame that would require that the global economy be put on a war footing and could create global economic chaos.
Under the circumstances, any government that made public policy on the strength of this information, including the City of Boulder’s and Boulder County’s, would be certifiably nuts or terminally inattentive.