New CRU emails: First Impressions
There was always an element of tragedy in the first “Climategate” emails, as scientists were under pressure to tell a story that the physical evidence couldn’t support – and that the scientists were reluctant to acknowledge in public. The new email archive, already dubbed “Climategate 2.0”, is much larger than the first, and provides an abundance of context for those earlier changes.
One civil servant wrote to Phil Jones in 2009:
“I can’t overstate the HUGE amount of political interest in the project as a message that the Government can give on climate change to help them tell their story. They want the story to be a very strong one and don’t want to be made to look foolish.”
Having elevated global warming to the most dramatic, urgent and over-riding issue of the day, bureaucrats, NGOs, politicians and funding agencies demanded that the scientists must keep the whole bandwagon rolling.
It had become too big to stop.
“The science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run,” laments one scientist, Peter Thorne.
While Professor Jagadish Shukla, a lead IPCC author, IGES founder, and one of the most senior climate experts writes that:
“It is inconceivable that policymakers will be willing to make billion-and trillion-dollar decisions for adaptation to the projected regional climate change based on models that do not even describe and simulate the processes that are the building blocks of climate variability.”
With the release of FOIA2011.zip, the cat’s now well and truly out of the bag.
To their credit, some of the climate scientists realised the dangers of the selective approach politicians demanded, which meant cherry-picking evidence to make it suitably dramatic, and quietly hiding caveats.
“We need to communicate the uncertainty and be honest,” pleads Thorne, in another email from 2005. Thorne noted that a telltale “signature” of greenhouse gas warming was absent:
“Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical troposphere unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous.”
Elsewhere, discussing the homogeneity of temperature readings from different sources, Thorne mulls the need to “balance the text so this is not the message”, and expresses his discomfort with making claims that conceal the uncertainty. But such were the demands of activists, agencies and the political class, uncertainty was not on the menu.
This was why the first Climategate caused such repercussions. The revelations came as little surprise to those few who follow state of temperature reconstructions, but they rocked supporters who had put their trust in climate scientists. Clive Crook, a believer in the manmade global warming hypothesis and supporter of carbon reduction measures, expressed it like this:
“The closed-mindedness of these supposed men of science, their willingness to go to any lengths to defend a preconceived message, is surprising even to me. The stink of intellectual corruption is overpowering.”
Where the “intellectual corruption” is plain is that somehow these doubts and uncertainties, along with the limitations of using computer models as evidence, never made it into the “bible” of climate science, the reports produced by the United Nation Organisation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.
“Basic problem is that all models are wrong,” writes Phil Jones, bluntly, “not got enough middle and low level clouds.”
If that’s the case, then why isn’t this printed as a large health warning on the cover of the IPCC reports? Politicians who devised policy based on estimates of certainty by the IPCC now know they’ve been sold a pup.
In the short term, the issues raised by Climategate I, which subsequent inquiries failed to explore, are back with a vengeance. Parliament looked at several issues including transparency – withholding code and raw data to allow third parties to replicate CRU’s temperature work – corruption of the peer review process, poor quality programming, and the destruction of internal emails. Since CRU’s temperature work was at the heart of the IPCC, this is troubling. Climategate II finds Phil Jones telling the University of East Anglia’s FOIA climate officer that:
“I wasted a part of a day deleting numerous emails and exchanges with almost all the skeptics. So I have virtually nothing. I even deleted the email that I inadvertently sent. There might be some bits of pieces of paper, but I’m not wasting my time going through these.”
“I’ve been told that IPCC is above national FOI Acts. One way to cover yourself and all those working in AR5 would be to delete all emails at the end of the process.”
His colleague Keith Briffa – expressing doubts about “all temperature reconstructions” also appears to ensure such doubts are not on the public record:
“UEA does not hold the very vast majority of mine [potentially FOIable emails] anyway which I copied onto private storage after the completion of the IPCC task.”
Elsewhere Briffa adds:
“But for GODS SAKE please respect the sensitivity here and destroy the file immediately when finished and please do not tell ANYBODY I sent this. Cheers Keith.”
Some context is worth remembering.
As with the first Climategate archive, much of the correspondence focuses on modern temperature trends and historical temperature reconstructions – not on the stuff we call hard physics: the behaviour of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. (Note also that the emails stop in 2009.)
The temperature work was only thrust into such a dramatic political role because of the state of the hard physics of climate. There’s broad agreement amongst supporters of the manmade greenhouse gas theory, and ‘lukewarmers’, on what an increase in CO2 should do to the Earth’s energy budget – a modest increase in temperatures, before any feedbacks are taken into account. But speculation about runaway temperatures, while entirely legitimate, is for now, just that.
In the absence of telltale manmade global warming “fingerprints” (and there have been several candidates over the years, such as the tropospheric hotspot, or elusive ocean heat sinks) contemporary temperature readings and historical temperature reconstructions were freighted with immense significance.
So the mewling infant that we call Climate Science – a 40-year-young offshoot of meteorology – has been thrust into a political role long before it’s capable of supporting the claims made on its behalf. From the archives we can see the scientists know that too, and we can read their own reluctance to make those claims, too. As one scientist muses:
“What if climate change appears to be just mainly a multidecadal natural fluctuation? They’ll kill us probably.”
That won’t be necessary.