Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Climategate 2.0 a storm in a teacup while extreme weather worsens with climate change

See the Bigger Picture, Act on Climate Change - Oxfam

More emails by climate scientists have been publicly released from the break-in to the University of East Anglia servers two years ago. The theft was dubbed Climategate, and although climate sceptics argued that the emails showed scientific misconduct, a total of nine separate independent investigations exonerated all the climate scientists. Climategate was all about throwing mud at climate scientists in the hope that some would stick; about sowing doubt broadly among the public in denigrating science, and in particular climate science.

The real story is the way the media sensationalised reporting of Climategate and the lack of investigative journalism in reading the stolen email excerpts in context and follow up with reporting any inaccuracies found in the peer reviewed climate science and reporting it honestly to the public. I don't remember seeing any reports of a scientific study being discredited by a review due to climategate. And the climate science since Climategate only gets stronger. The recent IPCC report on extreme weather events associated with climate change highlights a growing public concern.

The release of these emails, all appearing to be from the same theft, appears to be timed to disrupt the public perceptions of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Durban negotiations of COP17 starting in late November.

The UK Parliamentary Enquiry into Climategate did have some criticisms over the lack of disclosure of raw climate data and called for climate science raw data and detailed methodologies to become more transparent and open. There was also criticism over delays in responding to Freedom of Information requests made by climate sceptics.


The email excerpts being regurgitated now really show nothing new that wasn't exposed back in 2009. In fact they appear to be second level stuff held back at the time of the first release. Juicy bits? Sorry, not much here.

The science showing the anthropogenic influences on climate causing global warming is now very robust. Even the BEST climate study, partially funded by the Koch brothers who are big in funding climate scepticism and climate denial groups, and implemented by scientists who were sceptical over previous analysis of the temperature record, confirmed the rate of global warming of the other major studies including the University of East Anglia/ Hadley Centre.

The University of East Anglia issued a short media statement on November 22, 2011 saying:

This appears to be a carefully-timed attempt to reignite controversy over the science behind climate change when that science has been vindicated by three separate independent inquiries and number of studies - including, most recently, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group.

As in 2009, extracts from emails have been taken completely out of context. Following the previous release of emails scientists highlighted by the controversy have been vindicated by independent review, and claims that their science cannot or should not be trusted are entirely unsupported. They, the University and the wider research community have stood by the science throughout, and continue to do so.

Gavin Schmidt from the Realclimate blog called the release of the second tranche of emails as Two-year old turkey and highlighted the strange timing of the release: "Presumably it is related to the upcoming Durban talks, but it really doesn't look like there is anything worth derailing there at all. Indeed, this might even increase interest! A second release would have been far more effective a few weeks after the first - before the inquiries and while people still had genuine questions. Now, it just seems a little forced, and perhaps a symptom of the hacker's frustration that nothing much has come of it all and that the media and conversation has moved on."

Indeed.

The signs of global warming are now getting pretty obvious to any reasonably intelligent person with Greenland melting in 2011 well above average with near-record mass loss, Global warming in Antarctica, and the recent IPCC report on Extreme weather events and climate change. 2010 saw a record level of global greenhouse gas emissions, as scientists say Carbon Emissions need to peak this decade to meet 2 °C temperature goal which was agreed to in UNFCC climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009 and confirmed in Cancun in 2010. Even the relatively conservative International Energy Agency (IEA) has made a public statement that a Bold change of direction needed globally to meet climate commitments.

So what do scientists and academics make of Climategate 2.0:


Prof Andrew Watson FRS, Royal Society Research Professor at the University of East Anglia, said:

"Reading down these selective quotes, what comes across to me is that climate scientists are a diverse, complex and argumentative bunch, much like any other group of people. They argue about the data and trash the models. They bitch about their colleagues. Some see global warming as a "cause" and all are passionate about the importance of their work, but they worry and complain that the science is becoming distorted by the politics. Some feel that their religious belief requires them to promote the stewardship of the Earth; others feel that their critics are driven by religious zealotry."

"So what to make of all that? That they are diverse, sometimes contradictory, and have multiple motives. Well, so what? Welcome to the human race!"

"But by being sceptical, argumentative and critical of themselves and each other, they are applying the scientific method and slowly iterating towards an understanding of the climate. Which is what you'd hope they would do."

"Meantime, none of this, not one word that I can see, subtracts from the simple fact that the world has warmed significantly in the last 100 years and it's most likely caused by humans increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."

Dr Simon Lewis, Royal Society research fellow at the University of Leeds, said:

"The group who released the emails say they released them because the world's poor may suffer if carbon emissions are reduced. But in reality the world's poorest people have been calling most loudly for serious action on climate change. Next week in Durban it will be rich, polluting countries refusing to sign new legally binding agreements, and poor countries - along with South African social movements outside, - who will be vocally protesting the lack of action. The new email leak is a play by rich people to keep on polluting regardless of the consequences, and should not be seen as anything else."

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, said:

"It is perhaps not surprising that those responsible for the release of hacked e-mails before the Copenhagen summit in 2009 should make another intervention before the United Nations climate change meeting in Durban next week. The selective presentation of old e-mail messages is clearly designed to mislead the public and politicians about the strength of the evidence for man-made climate change, in the hope that governments will stop their efforts to reach an agreement on international action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

"But the fact remains that there is very strong evidence that most the indisputable warming of the Earth over the past half century is due to the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities. The e-mails that have been highlighted by self-proclaimed climate change 'sceptics' do not raise any questions of substance that have not already been addressed by the independent inquiries into the original publication of hacked messages in November 2009. None of the inquiries found evidence of fraud or serious misconduct by climate researchers, but they did conclude that levels of transparency should be improved."

"These e-mails, like the last batch, show that climate researchers are human and prone to the same rivalries and disputes that occur in many professions. Nonetheless, the University of East Anglia should carry out a formal review of all the new material to check whether it raises any new issues of substance. No doubt the police will also be investigating whether this new set of e-mails sheds any new light on the identity of the hacker."

The real aim of the Climegate emails is to sow doubt on climate science to delay action on mitigation and adaptation. This is very similar to the way the tobacco industry for so long prolonged regulation of smoking to preserve tobacco industry profits.

DOUBT from The Climate Reality Project on Vimeo.


Social sciences PhD research student Andrea Carson found a striking parallel between the smoking lobby in the 1970s, and lobbyists opposing climate change action now. Read her article - Climate sceptics steal the big tobacco playbook: create doubt, cause delay, published in June 2011.

You can read more extended commentary on Climategate 2.0 on Skeptical Science and by Joe Romm on Climate Progress.