Blog Posts | Pembina Institute

Climate confusion sequel heads straight to video

Blog - Nov. 23, 2011 - By P.J. Partington

Do not adjust your internet. You are not stuck in 2009.

Yesterday, news broke that a batch of hacked e-mails from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia had been posted online.

Sound familiar?

It's not a coincidence. The e-mails are a selection of 5,000 out of a batch of over 200,000, believed to be from the original set released almost exactly two years ago in an attempt to disrupt the climate conference in Copenhagen.

Then, feverish cries of scandal ruled the airwaves for a time but quietly faded away as investigation after investigation dismissed the claims. At the same time, the body of scientific evidence sounding alarms about climate change continued to grow. Despite this thorough debunking, somebody is clearly hoping for a repeat, this time just ahead of the climate conference in Durban.

Unfortunately for them, it should be a lot harder to fool people a second time.

The central issue in the first set of e-mails was the integrity of the global surface temperature record. Numerous independent investigations backed up the conclusion that average global temperatures have been rising. A recent study led by former skeptic Richard Muller sought to test these concerns and ended up completely validating the integrity of the temperature record. His team even found that the particular record in question — the one maintained by the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit — was underestimating recent warming.

BEST graph
This is just one of many examples of how science is constantly evolving and improving. Throughout that evolution, the basic conclusion that humans are causing climate change and we have short window of time to deal with the problem have not changed. Dated discussions and erroneous allegations based on old e-mail chains should be read with that context in mind.

Meanwhile, here on Earth

In the midst of this, the world keeps getting warmer. We have just had the warmest year on record (2010 tied with 2005 for the dubious honours), following the warmest decade on record. But the world's foremost scientific bodies don't call warming of the earth's climate system "unequivocal" and a "settled fact" just because of temperature records. There are numerous, independent lines of evidence that all point to the same conclusion. They also all point to greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and forest clearing as the primary culprit.

Meanwhile, we keep piling these heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate. The World Meteorological Organization reported just this week that greenhouse gas levels are yet again record-breaking, and that the warming effect has increased by 28 per cent since 1990.

Even the staid International Energy Agency has warned we face severe consequences if we do not urgently begin reducing our greenhouse gas pollution. Time is running out to limit warming to "manageable" levels.

This is not an abstract discussion. Climate change has very serious impacts and is already taking a serious toll on many vulnerable populations around the world. It is a serious challenge that should be discussed in a serious, open manner based on the best and broadest science available — not on inflated claims based on outdated stolen emails.

Brandon — Nov 29, 2011 - 07:00 PM MT

The central issues in the first set of emails had nothing to do with the instrument record, but tree rings, and they still have not come clean about the issues of using tree rings for temperature. The second was trying to abuse the peer review system to stop contrary papers getting published. The third was avoiding FOI requests. The inquiries never checked into any of these issues. But your claim it had to do with the instrumental record and the BEST series somehow refuted this, is just a blatant lie. Does BEST deal with the tree divergence after 1950? Nope, so your making a straw man.

P.J. — Dec 07, 2011 - 03:52 PM MT

Hi Brandon - apologies for the delayed response, I just caught this now.

Your claim that the inquiries didn't look into these issues is simply false. The Russell review, for example, has a full chapter devoted to each (See Ch. 7, 8, and 10). They found that the uncertainties of temp reconstructions with tree rings, including the divergence issue, were well discussed in the literature and properly presented in AR4. Similarly, they found no evidence of subversion of the peer review process. They made a number of recommendations on FOI requests and the University has moved forward on them. Many of the other reviews looked at these issues as well and came to similar conclusions.

Of course the instrumental temperature record was a central issue. There were plenty of allegations made at the time that the record was somehow corrupt, implying that scientists had shown warming that wasn't there. These concerns have clearly been show to be baseless, by BEST and plenty of others, which is my point above.

Scientists have openly discussed tree divergence for well over a decade. I'm not clear on what bearing you feel this has on modern climate change or the case for urgently reducing emissions.

Roger Gagne — Nov 23, 2011 - 10:34 PM MT

Excellent summary, PJ. While the PMO and a few skeptics keep saying either that climate change isn't caused by humans or else that we've got it under control, the rest of the world is moving on the issue.

The IEA also said this week that renewable power is now cost competitive.

The Australian Senate has passed their national carbon tax into law.

The IMF and World Bank want us to get serious about climate change with a carbon tax starting at $25.

James Proudfoot — Nov 23, 2011 - 10:11 PM MT

So hard these days to separate the straw from the chaff. I blame a lot of confusion on uninformed media spewing out misinformation and erroneous information which the public is all to willing to latch onto if it supports their position or is so amazing that it must be true. And, I believe that it will get worse before it gets better. Good luck, all!

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