December 01, 2009

So, now it's just down to the polar caps

Well, it's been awhile since I've tackled anything of any substance here, so I may as well crackle the old joints and blow the dust off the old fisking machine. This thing just begs to be torn apart.

WASHINGTON -- Stop hyperventilating, all you climate change deniers.

I'm sorry, was someone denying climate change? Was someone denying the earth has had an ever-changing climate since it first started clumping together into a spherical mass some 4.3 billion years ago? Of COURSE the climate changes! That's what the climate does. What anyone with a memory going back just five years ago will notice is "global warming" has quietly exited the stage and "climate change" has been introduced as the new undeniable bogeyman which we all must fear and dread.

The purloined e-mail correspondence published by skeptics last week -- portraying some leading climate researchers as petty, vindictive and tremendously eager to make their data fit accepted theories -- does not prove that global warming is a fraud.

Excuse me? The e-mail correspondence was published by "skeptics?" Last I heard, no one knows for sure who even pilfered and published the e-mails and other documents. But, hey, who am I to question the credentialed authority of a Pulitzer Prize winning member of the media commentariat.

If I'm wrong, somebody ought to tell the polar ice caps that they're free to stop melting.

Ah, the polar ice caps. That last bastion of retreat for warmlarmists (my word, but you can use it). Of course, they always seem to focus on the arctic ice cap, while ignoring the fresh body in the corner of the room that is the growing Antarctic ice cap. Or the fact the arctic has also been warmer in the not-too-distant past, warm enough for the Vikings to grow and harvest crops during the Medieval warm period. But, never mind all that.

That said, the e-mail episode is more than a major embarrassment for the scientists involved. Most Americans are convinced that climate change is real -- a necessary prerequisite for the kinds of huge economic and behavioral adjustments we would have to make to begin seriously limiting carbon emissions. But consensus on the nature and scope of the problem will dissipate, and fast, if experts try to obscure the fact that there's much about the climate they still don't know.

Oh, yes, by all means, let's admit the earth's climate has been in flux for 4.3 billion years, and then dedicate trillions of dollars from the global economy to address the "problem," a problem even Mr. Pulitzer agrees is so ridiculously complex, we basically don't have the first clue as to how the climate even actually works.

Here's what happened: Someone hacked into the servers at one of the leading academic centers in the field -- the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England -- and filched a trove of e-mails and documents, which have been posted on numerous Web sites maintained by climate skeptics.

You'll just have to excuse those dastardly "skeptics" for posting what amounts to a smoking truth gun vindicating what they've been trying to tell people for the last two decades or so. Namely: climate scientists on the "anthropogenic global warming (AGW)" side of the fence are largely a bunch of fraudulent Chicken Littles.

Phil Jones, the head of the Climatic Research Unit, released a statement Wednesday saying, "My colleagues and I accept that some of the published e-mails do not read well." That would be an example of British understatement.

How MUCH of an understatement?

In one message sent to a long list of colleagues, Jones speaks of having completed a "trick" with recent temperature data to "hide the decline."

Really? Using a "trick" to "hide the decline" doesn't read well? That's like saying "I killed my wife, and buried her in the backyard," could be read by SOME people -- we'll call them "skeptics" -- to mean "I may have committed murder, and then tried to cover it up." Not to worry though, Mr. Pulitzer can easily explain this away.

The word "trick" is hardly a smoking gun -- scientists use it to refer to clever but perfectly legitimate ways of handling data.

Sigh. A clever, but perfectly legitimate way of handling data? To be fair, I used to do that all the time when playing computer games. For example, I discovered in Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2, that I could blow up the bridges, and the computer AI wasn't smart enough to send engineers to rebuild them, so I could pretty much take over the map at will. Hey, it was a "clever, but perfectly legitimate way of handling data." Sure, SOME people might call that cheating, but so what?

But the "hide the decline" part refers to a real issue among climate researchers called the "divergence problem."

Divergence problem? No, let's call it what it is: a "oh, crap, this data doesn't fit, so let's find a way to cram it under the rug" problem.

To plot temperatures going back hundreds or thousands of years -- long before anyone was taking measurements -- you need a set of data that can serve as an accurate proxy. The width of tree rings correlates well with observed temperature readings, and extrapolating that correlation into the past yields the familiar "hockey stick" graph -- fairly level temperatures for eons, followed by a sharp incline beginning around 1900. This is attributed to human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting increase in heat-trapping atmospheric carbon dioxide.


Or, maybe not. . .

But beginning around 1960, tree-ring data diverges from observed temperatures. Skeptics say this calls into question whether tree-ring data is valid for earlier periods on the flat portion of the hockey stick -- say 500 or 1,000 years ago.

Lousy skeptics, being skeptical about skeptical things.

Jones and others acknowledge they don't know what the divergence means, but they point to actual temperatures: It's warmer now than it was 100 years ago.

Ah, 100 years ago. Why, that's a eternity! It certainly trumps 4.3 billion years of ongoing change. Yes, obviously we dastardly humans must be the culprits behind less than one degree Celsius of temperature increase over the last 100 years. So, Jones and others don't know what the data is telling them, or even if the data is being collected in any meaningful way, but that questionable data is telling them it's warmer, damnit! Gosh, consider me convinced.

Another e-mail -- from Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. -- is even more heartening to the skeptics. Trenberth wrote last month of the unusually cool autumn that Colorado was experiencing, and went on: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't."

Now why would that be heartening to those stupid "skeptics?" Possibly because a leading climate researcher is admitting there's no apparent current warming they can account for? How could that POSSIBLY interest a skeptical person?

He appears to be conceding skeptics' claim that over the past decade there has been no observed warming. In truth, though, that wouldn't be much of a concession. At issue is the long-term trend, and one would expect anomalous blips from time to time.

Sooooo, ten years is an "anomalous blip," while 100 years of less than one Celsius of increase (observed through questionable data and filtered through agenda-driven AGW climatologists) is reason for flesh-rending, apocalyptic monkey yammering? Fascinating.

From my reading, the most damning e-mails are those in which scientists seem to be trying to squelch dissent from climate change orthodoxy -- threatening to withhold papers from journals if they publish the work of naysayers, vowing to keep skeptical research out of the official U.N.-sponsored report on climate change.

Not to keep calling back to my Command and Conquer credentials or anything, but that also sounds a lot like blowing up the bridges to keep the computer AI from ever being a serious threat.

In his statement, Jones noted that the e-mail hack occurred just days before the climate summit in Copenhagen. "This may be a concerted attempt to put a question mark over the science of climate change," he said. There's that understatement again.

Yep, the climate summit in Copenhagen, where a bunch of self-important wonks burn through their weight and the weight of 1,000 other people in fossil fuels to jet their way to a cozy conference to discuss the dire need to cut back on the burning of fossil fuels to curtail the effects of the fraudulent man-made faint-fest known as global warming. Heaven forbid there might be a concerted effort to put a question mark on that kind of ridiculous nonsense.

The fact is that climate science is fiendishly hard because of the enormous number of variables that interact in ways no one fully understands. Scientists should welcome contrarian views from respected colleagues, not try to squelch them. They should admit what they don't know.

Wow. Something I agree with. Only took 15 paragraphs to get here.

It would be great if this were all a big misunderstanding. But we know carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas (and that levels were drastically higher during past epochs, epochs when plant and animal life flourished), and we know the planet is hotter than it was a century ago (again, not as hot as when earth harbored its most lush and abundant life). The skeptics might have convinced each other, but so far they haven't gotten through to the vanishing polar ice.

And, with that, we're back down to that last great warmilarmist retreat: polar ice. It's an incomplete retreat, and intellectually lazy, but that's what they're left with.

Eugene Robinson, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, is a nationally syndicated columnist based in Washington, D.C.

Which is pretty sad, really.

Posted by Ryan at December 1, 2009 07:55 AM | TrackBack
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