A Free-Market Energy Blog

Climategate Is Still Relevant (Alarmism discredited in public policy debate)

By Drew Thornley -- January 22, 2010

Most everyone in science or politics is familiar with the scandal that erupted after hundreds of emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) were made public several months ago. The emails between climate scientists expose evidence of climate-data manipulation, conspiracies to silence scientists critical of man-made global-warming theory, and dodging of freedom-of-information requests.

Climategate became shorthand for bad behavior.  The climate-science community scrambled. The United Nations and myriad other groups trembled about the scandal’s implications for their own climate agendas. Investigations commenced into the actions of the CRU’s director, Phil Jones, and of Penn State’s Michael Mann, author of the infamous, debunked “hockey-stick” climate graph.

Yet today things have become relatively quiet. Though the media and much of the public have turned their attention to other stories, including the failure of climate politics in Copenhagen and the backlash against Obama’s Chicago-hard politics, a key lesson from Climategate remains: climate policy has not been and is not being guided by sound science.

Indeed, Climategate is further proof that climate science is not settled, yet politicians and regulators continue to use such science as their chief justification for legislation/regulation to control carbon. Look no further than the endangerment finding of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), criticized by Marlo Lewis in a devastating two-part post here at MasterResource.

How can climate research that is in open dispute among climate scientists be sufficient to lead the charge for sweeping government regulation and global government? Anthropogenic (man-made) global warming has myriad areas of theoretical and empirical controversy, yet our political leaders warn of certain climate catastrophe. Genuine disagreement exists within the scientific community regarding the causes of climate change, but we’re told (for example, by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs) that anyone who argues with the science is “kinda silly.”

Au contraire. Climate-model predictions do not square with reality yet serve as the foundation for the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global authority for climate science. Instead of diligently pursuing facts and hard data, sound science and prudence, too many political leaders rush foolhardily into a policy agenda laden with unknowns, misinformation, and, now, scandal.

Sadly, the soundness of the evidence for global warming is immaterial, because the consequences of not acting are too dire. For them, the precautionary principle—in this case, that we should err on the safe side and prepare for climate catastrophe, just in case—justifies open-ended government expansion over the economy and even our private lives.

But while it is one thing to base minimally-consequential legislation/regulation on the chance that not acting will lead to harm, it is entirely another to do so when individuals’ freedoms and national economies are at stake. In the case of the latter, prudence demands and the public deserves much more than guesswork. They deserve sound science, not theories or tarnished data. They deserve evidence of causation, not correlation. They deserve clear solutions for clear problems.

One would hope that any legislation/regulation—much less those that stand to impose draconian control over individuals and constrain our national and state economies to degrees perhaps never before seen—would be built on facts, not theories or questionable data. One would hope that should legislators and regulators take sweeping actions that affect each and every one of us, they would do so with rock-solid evidence supporting their decisions.

Yet when it comes to climate change, we don’t even know what, if anything, is the problem, much less how to fix it. Climate change may ultimately turn out to be a global nightmare, but current knowledge is wholly inadequate to support such a position. In the meantime, the public deserve better from our policymakers. If our nation’s leaders wish to move forward with any agenda—climate related or otherwise—they should be armed with sound, not scandalous, research. On this, there should be no disagreement.

Drew Thornley, born in Jasper, Alabama, now makes Austin, Texas his home. A graduate of the University of Alabama (economics) and the Harvard Law School, Thornley specializes in energy issues and teaches business law at the University of Texas at Austin, among other activities.

A man with a mighty palate, Drew posts on Texas barbeque joints at Man Up Texas BBQ.

MasterResource posts on Climategate:

Climategate: Here Comes Courage” (January 4, 2010)

Ken Green on the New ‘Denialists’” (January 2, 2010)

Climategate: There is Normal Scientific Discourse Too” (December 12, 2009)

Climategate Did Not Begin with Climate” (December 8, 2009)

Apologist Responses to Climategate Misconstrue the Real Debate” (December 2, 2009)

Climategate: Is Peer Review in Need of Change?” (December 1, 2009)



  1. Tom Tanton  

    Everyday we hear about some new research that calls into question very basic assumptions/assertions about AGW and the models used. Today we hear that maybe desertification is a “good” thing http://www.lifesciencesworld.com/news/view/131211
    or what I like to refer to as the “Stihl Solution” Point is that we need to not only be able to adapt actions, but policies when we learn something new (Gore refuses to learn) or suffer the return of the dark ages.


  2. Jon Boone  

    Ever since Rachel Carson made the concept of the precautionary principal well known, I came to understand it as a proscriptive behavior. That is, if one is not sure about the consequences of particularly large scale activity, one should therefore not introduce such activity into the environment. This applies to chemicals like DDT and thalidomide, among many others.

    Only recently have I seen this transformed into a call for prescriptive behavior, whereby one should alter activity merely on the slightest off chance of some future catastrophe, spending in the process vaults of public treasure in the hopes of heading it off, as is now the case with those pushing the Climate Change agenda.

    Public policy should indeed be based upon “unimpeachable research,” not risk du jour, as is most certainly the case with climate alarmism, used as it is for political and economic gain.


  3. Andrew  

    Jon-the problem with the precautionary principle is really that 1. It presumes rather than establishes that uncertainty compels action and 2. Properly applied it works both ways-if there is a possibility that taking or not taking an action will be a disaster, you must do it/not do it. Unless, of course, there is a possibility that not taking or taking that action would also result in disaster.

    As everyone knows, there is ALWAYS a possibility of things going horribly wrong.


  4. Jon Boone  

    Yes, I know, Andrew. I’ve tried to live my live according to a reasonable facsimile of the inverse of the Golden Rule: Don’t do unto others…–recognizing the considerable masochism abroad in the land. For perhaps similar reasoning, proscriptions dominate the Bill of Rights–not prescriptions.


  5. Alan Esworthy  

    Perhaps the excitement of Chapter 1 of ClimateGate has abated but I believe Chapter 2 will be a real pip. We’ve begun to see reports of even more blatant data manipulation here in the US by NOAA and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. For a good description see Anthony Watts at http://wattsupwiththat.com/ where the lead story at this moment links to a full article at

    Recommended reading for certain.


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