The times are changing in the wake of Climategate. And more is to come as the polluted science embedded in the email exchanges gets reviewed by talented amateurs and pros alike on the blogosphere (see Climate Audit, Roger Pielke Jr., and WattsUpWithThat, in particular).
Given time, the rethink will go mainstream. Scientists are truth seekers at heart, but an entrenched mainstream of climate scientists–so many of them friends and political allies–will need to be nudged out of their denialism.
Old voices are challenging their ‘mainstream’ colleagues, and new voices are coming forth. I have seen this clearly here in Houston (examples below), and I expect it is happening elsewhere.
Consider what Andy Revkin, the recently retired climate-change science writer at the New York Times, told the public editor at the Times regarding Climategate: “Our coverage, looked at in toto, has never bought the catastrophe conclusion and always aimed to examine the potential for both overstatement and understatement.”
Sounds like the Times will report both sides of the issue now, rather than just trumpet alarmism as it was prone to do in the past (remember William K. Stevens?). Joe Romm at Climate Progress (Center for American Progress) is furious at this development, but just maybe over-the-top Joe has himself to blame for getting Revkin and the like to want to report on both sides more than ever before. And Romm himself is now considered damaged goods by the Left, thanks to the four-part expose by the Breakthrough Institute.
Climategate, in short, is making quite a difference. But much more courage is needed.
Dr. Michelle Foss (University of Texas at Austin)
Consider Michelle Michot Foss, an internationally respected energy economist with the University of Texas at Austin who is past president of both the U.S. Association for Energy Economics (2001) and the International Association for Energy Economics (2003). Her December 8th letter to the New York Times read:
To the Editor:
Your editorial concludes, “It is also important not to let one set of purloined e-mail messages undermine the science and the clear case for action, in Washington and in Copenhagen.”
Hold on a minute. It was precisely because “one set” of opinions has been driving climate politics that the whistleblowers, not hackers, published the evidence. And it is precisely because of the type of coverage that The New York Times and other mainstream news organizations are giving the whistleblowing incident that the integrity of both the scientific and journalistic communities is being threatened.
Honest questions have been raised and honest attempts have been made to shed light on questionable claims about climate science for decades. We need to push for greater disclosure, more scrutiny, better research and a halt in the action before we jump into policy and regulatory schemes that we will deeply regret.
Dr. Foss has kept her views somewhat under wraps given her university position, but Climategate was enough for her to go public in the above very public way. And she has received a number of emails of support–and some emails by her alarmist friends to the effect: ‘gosh Michelle, I agree with you on Climategate, but I thought you were one of us….’
To such critics, her answer can be: Climategate proves that alarmism is exaggerated, and most modest warming scenarios win the debate for adaptation over mitigation. Robert Murphy has made this point in a post very widely read among economists and entitled “Apologist Responses to Climategate Misconstrue Real Issues.”
I think that if some on the UT-Austin faculty were to try to silence her powerful voice, they would have a (climate) McCarthyism issue on their hands post Climategate. What a difference compared to several months ago!
Dr. Neil Frank
Also consider the case of Dr. Neil Frank, a former director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami and a weather forecaster at KHOU-Channel 11 in Houston. He previously did not want to enter the climate fray for fear of being marginalized by the mainstream–including the hometown Houston Chronicle, whose editorial board is a bastion of alarmism, except for their science writer Eric Berger (skeptical of Gore-type alarmism) and business columnist Loren Steffy (anti cap-and-trade).
Dr. Frank just published an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, Climategate: You Should be Steamed, where he explains why the silent majority in his profession have been mistreated by the academic mainstream/IPCC crowd. (His op-ed is reprinted as an appendix below.)
Dr. Peter Hartley (Rice University): Courage Following Berger’s Courage
It is a sad state of affairs–a Climategate-like situation–when a tenured, chair professor has to sneak his skeptical views about climate alarmism into the public debate. But this is the situation for Peter Hartley at Rice University, and specifically at the James A. Baker Institute where Dr. Neal Lane, a former Clinton Administration official and confidant of Obama science advisor John Holdren (who has been featured at climate events at Baker without balance on the other side) has shut down debate on the physical science of climate change.
Dr. Hartley has been beaten down at Baker for years, and he is full of stories about how other Rice University professors have concerns about climate models (and the ”hockey stick” work of Climategater Michael Mann) but have stayed quiet because so much government funding is at stake. I have been present at a meeting of the Houston Chronicle editorial board where Dr. Hartley lamented the situation at the Baker Institute on climate-change science. The editors may not have taken note, but Chronicle science writer Eric Berger did. And it was Berger who mustered up a bit of courage to write a telling blog on feeling duped by Al Gore and climate alarmism. And as a comment on Berger’s blog, Hartley came out of the closet to note:
First, thank you for maintaining an open mind on this subject. It is unfortunate one has to say that, but certain groups have worked to make it very hard to do so, or at least to admit to it in public.
Second, as a science writer for a major newspaper I think you should ponder the policy implications if natural climate change is more significant than was thought and can dominate the effects of CO2. It ought to make adaptation strategies more attractive since they can protect against climate shocks whatever the source while limiting the build-up of CO2 world-wide (assuming it can be done any time soon) can at best protect against just one source of climate change. This case is further strengthened [if], as is almost surely the case, additional CO2 in the atmosphere has direct benefits for plants and thus for agriculture, ecosystem productivity, greening of the deserts and much else besides. Good adaptation strategies would allow those benefits to be retained while controlling the costs of climate effects.
Fortunately, a thaw is in the air, as a climate discussion/debate has been planned for the evening of Wednesday January 27th at Rice University (but not at the Baker Institute!) between skeptic Richard Lindzen of MIT and Jerry North of Texas A&M. Stay tuned.
The emergence of new voices is an important development brought on by Climategate. But other voices are still intimidated into silence. There have been mini-climategates at a lot of places, including top universities (email releases anyone?).
It is time for science and ideology to come clean in what could and should be a new era of transparency for physical science and associated public policy. Climate alarmism and the whole neo-Malthusian worldview toward population, resources, etc. needs a full pro/con hearing.
May the best science and public policy win!
APPENDIX: DR. NEIL FRANK ON CLIMATEGATE
Now that Copenhagen is past history, what is the next step in the man-made global warming controversy? Without question, there should be an immediate and thorough investigation of the scientific debauchery revealed by “Climategate.”
If you have not heard, hackers penetrated the computers of the Climate Research Unit, or CRU, of the United Kingdom’s University of East Anglia, exposing thousands of e-mails and other documents. CRU is one of the top climate research centers in the world. Many of the exchanges were between top mainstream climate scientists in Britain and the U.S. who are closely associated with the authoritative (albeit controversial) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Among the more troubling revelations were data adjustments enhancing the perception that man is causing global warming through the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other atmospheric greenhouse gases.
Particularly disturbing was the way the core IPCC scientists (the believers) marginalized the skeptics of the theory that man-made global warming is large and potentially catastrophic. The e-mails document that the attack on the skeptics was twofold. First, the believers gained control of the main climate-profession journals. This allowed them to block publication of papers written by the skeptics and prohibit unfriendly peer review of their own papers. Second, the skeptics were demonized through false labeling and false accusations.
Climate alarmists would like you to believe the science has been settled and all respectable atmospheric scientists support their position. The believers also would like you to believe the skeptics are involved only because of the support of Big Oil and that they are few in number with minimal qualifications.
But who are the skeptics? A few examples reveal that they are numerous and well-qualified. Several years ago two scientists at the University of Oregon became so concerned about the overemphasis on man-made global warming that they put a statement on their Web site and asked for people’s endorsement; 32,000 have signed the petition, including more than 9,000 Ph.Ds. More than 700 scientists have endorsed a 231-page Senate minority report that questions man-made global warming. The Heartland Institute has recently sponsored three international meetings for skeptics. More than 800 scientists heard 80 presentations in March. They endorsed an 881-page document, created by 40 authors with outstanding academic credentials, that challenges the most recent publication by the IPCC. The IPCC panel’s report strongly concludes that man is causing global warming through the release of carbon dioxide.
Last year 60 German scientists sent a letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel urging her to “strongly reconsider” her position supporting man-made global warming. Sixty scientists in Canada took similar action. Recently, when the American Physical Society published its support for man-made global warming, 200 of its members objected and demanded that the membership be polled to determine the APS’ true position.
What do the skeptics believe? First, they concur with the believers that the Earth has been warming since the end of a Little Ice Age around 1850. The cause of this warming is the question. Believers think the warming is man-made, while the skeptics believe the warming is natural and contributions from man are minimal and certainly not potentially catastrophic Ã la Al Gore.
Second, skeptics argue that CO2 is not a pollutant but vital for plant life. Numerous field experiments have confirmed that higher levels of CO2 are positive for agricultural productivity. Furthermore, carbon dioxide is a very minor greenhouse gas. More than 90 percent of the warming from greenhouse gases is caused by water vapor. If you are going to change the temperature of the globe, it must involve water vapor.
Third, and most important, skeptics believe that climate models are grossly overpredicting future warming from rising concentrations of carbon dioxide. We are being told that numerical models that cannot make accurate 5- to 10-day forecasts can be simplified and run forward for 100 years with results so reliable you can impose an economic disaster on the U.S. and the world.
The revelation of ClimateÂ gate occurs at a time when the accuracy of the climate models is being seriously questioned. Over the last decade Earth’s temperature has not warmed, yet every model (there are many) predicted a significant increase in global temperatures for that time period. If the climate models cannot get it right for the past 10 years, why should we trust them for the next century?
Climategate reveals how predetermined political agendas shaped science rather than the other way around. It is high time to question the true agenda of the scientists now on the hot seat and to bring skeptics back into the public debate.
Neil Frank, who holds a Ph.D. from Florida State University in meteorology, was director of the National Hurricane Center (1974–87) and chief meteorologist at KHOU (Channel 11) until his retirement in 2008.