Climategate proves nothing

By now we’ve all heard of “Climategate”: a hacker stole and distributed email and other documents from the Climate Research Unit (East Anglia University, Norwich, England) regarding global warming and climate change.

Just for the record, I don’t think the information proves anything except that (1) there’s a hacker out there who may have an anti–global warming agenda and (2) the scientific methods and ethics of the scientists at East Anglia appear highly suspect.

To begin with, how much faith do you want to put in a hacker? Hacking into someone’s digital records is analogous to breaking and entering, trespassing, and theft. The timing of the release is suspicious — or purely coincidental — with President Obama heading to Copenhagen next week for a global climate summit.

What the leaked information appears to show (assuming everything was released and none of it was altered or withheld) is that researchers at East Anglia massaged data to show what they wanted to show in support of man-made global warming and also conspired to exclude opposing views from peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Liars can figure and figures can lie, the old saying goes. Only another statistician with access to the original data would be able to tell exactly what was done at East Anglia and whether it was accepted procedure or inappropriate manipulation. Certainly compromising the objective and purpose of a peer-reviewed scientific journal is highly unethical. The scientific and academic communities are investigating the entire matter.

None of this, however, proves anything about climate change or global warming. The earth goes merrily about its periodic climate changes whether scientists report them correctly or not. Our planet may or may not have warmed in the last decade or two, but a decade is virtually meaningless in a geologic history of several billion years.

If the earth is in a warming cycle, we can’t stop it. But we can reduce our contribution to it. And that little bit we do, however large or small it might be, could make all the difference one day.

Maybe our coastal cities aren’t going to be flooded by melting icecaps. But maybe they are. You want to bet your beach house on it?

One thought on “Climategate proves nothing

  1. “Climategate” started out when there appeared on the Internet a collection of e-mails of a group of climatologists who work in the University of East Anglia in England. These documents reveal that some climatologists of international preeminence have manipulated the data of their investigations and have strongly tried to discredit climatologists who are not convinced that the increasing quantities of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are the cause of global warming.

    It is true that a majority of the scientists who study climatic tendencies in our atmosphere have arrived at the conclusion that the world’s climate is changing, and they have convinced a group of politicians, some of whom are politically powerful, of the truth of their conclusions.

    A minority, however, is skeptical. Some believe that recent data that suggest that the average temperature of the atmosphere is going up can be explained by natural variations in solar radiation and that global warming is a temporary phenomenon. Others believe that the historical evidence indicating that the temperature of the atmosphere is going up at a dangerous rate is simply not reliable.

    Such lacks of agreement are common in the sciences. They are reduced and eventually eliminated with the accumulation of new evidence and of more refined theories or even by completely new ones. Such debates can persist for a period of decades. Academics often throw invective at one another in these debates. But typically this does not mean much.

    But the case of climate change is different. If the evidence indicates that global warming is progressive, is caused principally by our industrial processes, and will probably cause disastrous changes in our atmosphere before the end of the twenty-first century, then we do not have the time to verify precisely if this evidence is reliable. Such a process would be a question of many years of new investigations. And if the alarmist climatologists are right, such a delay would be tragic for all humanity.

    The difficulty is that economic and climatologic systems are very complicated. They are not like celestial mechanics, which involves only the interaction of gravity and centrifugal force, and efforts to construct computerized models to describe these complicated systems simply cannot include all the factors that are influential in the evolution of these complicated systems.

    All this does not necessarily indicate that the alarmist climatologists are not right. But it really means that if global warming is occurring, we cannot know exactly what will be the average temperature of our atmosphere in the year 2100 and what will be the average sea level of the world’s ocean in that year.

    It also means that we cannot be confident that efforts by the industrialized countries to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will have a significant influence on the evolution of the world’s climate.

    Alas, the reduction of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would be very costly and would greatly change the lives of all the inhabitants of our planet–with the possibility (perhaps even the probability!) that all these efforts will be completely useless.

    Harleigh Kyson Jr.
    It is precisely because we cannot know exactly what the ultimate result of the current global warming will be or how much we can mediate our contribution to it that we must do as much as we can as soon as we can. If we do nothing, and our atmosphere reaches whatever its “tipping point” may be, I don’t want my grandchildren scrambling for the high ground and thinking, “damn, those scientists were right; we should have done something when we had the chance.”

    Maybe we can’t clean up our mess. Maybe we can’t make a difference. But we owe it to ourselves and our descendants to try. It’s not like we have a backup planet if we ruin this one.

... and that's my two cents