Monthly Archives: December 2009

Climategate? Nuh-uh

First of all, check out the 15 inches of snow that were dumped on Madison last night! It’s hard to believe this all happened over the course of one day.

Anyway, this may no longer be as newsworthy as it once was, but with the Copenhagen Climate Talks going on and Sarah Palin’s silly column in the WaPo Wednesday, I feel as though I should shed some light on the situation pertaining to leaked emails from the Hadley Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at Britain’s University of East Anglia, which were hacked in late November.

Although I usually stay away from heavily science-intensive arguments in this space, I was lucky enough to have received a clear explanation of the situation in class and want to pass it along. This may be boring to some, but stick with me because it’s important – especially because the coverage of certain contents of these emails are masking the coverage of other important global warming news! This debacle needs to be addressed and the perpetrators reprimanded so we can all move on ASAP!

Here is the potentially damning quote found in the email that has people riled up:

“I’ve just completed Mike [Mann]‟s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” –Phil Jones, Climate Research Unit (this quote is taken from RealClimate and also the Washington Post.)

There are a few things to be said about this.

First and foremost: whether this is deceitful, falsified, untruthful or not, the importance of transparency is HUGE in climate science and these scientists were wrong to try to hide anything because inevitably, it will come out and mess everything up. No question about that.

Peter Kelemen addresses this more eloquently:

It is often said that no one should see the ugly reality of how politics or sausages are made. But that’s not true in the world of scientific research. Transparency is the goal, and in my experience it is also the norm.

Although I am not an expert, my professor Jack Williams is and he explained what Jones was talking about and why, as he says, this is “much ado about not much.” First off, the data in question has been replicated by numerous other groups, so even if some sort of tampering or “trickery” was done to this particular data set, it must be remembered that at least 6 other major studies have collected similar data with no evidence of such trickery.

The data in question has the blue box

Next, the word “trick” in this situation is too strong. The “hide the decline” part in this sentence has to do with a confusing aspect of dendroclimatology (a.k.a. tree ring analysis). Normally, in this method the thin and dense rings in a tree stump indicate stress (i.e. summertime/heat) and the distance between each darker ring can indicate when summer came that particular year. Because of this, scientists have been able to use tree rings to aid the climate data in pre-technological times. However, for a reason that is currently unknown, dendroclimatology has not maintained its adherence to the normal trend in similarity between the ring curve and temperature. In other words, since about 1960, while the temperature has risen, the tree rings do not reflect this as they once did, and now show a divergence.So, the “hide the decline” that was mentioned was merely the divergence in tree-ring data, not decline in temperatures.

Yes, I can see how this email would be upsetting to climate change deniers, but when explored, is not really all it’s cracked up to be. But, that’s not to say that these scientists were correct in excluding the rest of us on their intel in the matter. Additionally, many are left wondering, if dendroclimatology has failed us randomly since 1960, why do we use it at all? Scientist Michael Mann (mentioned in the quote) has a clear explanation of this, but the bottom line is, that even when it is used, it’s used in conjunction with many other data sets.

Kelemen goes on to explain the rest of the problem in a Popular Mechanics article that, if you have time, I (and Jack Williams) would really recommend! If you don’t have time, I think he explained the conundrum of climate scientists effectively, and I have included this important explanation below:

Climate Science Not a House of Cards

Perhaps the most worrisome part of this incident is that it could easily leave the public wondering about the science of human-induced global warming. But do the potentially unethical acts implied by these e-mails invalidate the hypothesis that human output of greenhouse gases, most notably CO2, creates a serious risk of rapid climate change? No.

Outspoken critics often portray climate science as a house of cards, built on a shaky edifice of limited data and broad suppositions. However, it’s more realistic to think of the science as a deck of cards, spread out, face up. Some data and interpretations of those data are more certain than others, of course. But pulling out one or two interpretations, or the results of a few scientists, does not change the overall picture. Take away two or three cards, and there are still 49 or 50 cards facing you.

The “house of cards” view results partly from the representation of human-induced climate change in opinion polls and in the press, which split the debate into “believers” and “skeptics.” This dichotomy is misleading for many reasons, particularly because it implies that those who are concerned about human-induced climate change believe every single claim made by every scientist on this topic, in the way that some fundamentalists claim to believe in the literal truth of every word in a religious text. Similarly, it implies that all skeptics doubt the entire theory.

In fact, most scientists are skeptics, to one extent or another, about climate science and almost everything else. Of course, there are a few who actually believe with complete certainty that they are right, and that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. These folks can’t conceive of the possibility that they could be mistaken; they really are like religious zealots. However, the genuine scientific skeptics greatly outnumber the true believers, and in most scientific debates the skeptics prevail … after a while.

Interested? Please read on.

Anyway, shame on those scientists, but shame on us for viewing the media uncritically on any controversial matter of such importance.

It’s time to wrap this one up, but here are some links for Copenhagen Day 3:

[but first, Sarah Palin’s column debunked]

Obama’s top aides arrive in Copenhagen

50/50 chance of meeting climate target?

Sorry for the late post!


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First of all, I love this from Joel Pett:

I can't find a full image credit. If anyone knows, please message me!

Next, today, the big news at Copenhagen seemed to be about the leaked document, which have been said to throw the conference into “disarray.” The Guardian describes the situation as such:

Developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.

The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.

While this fairness issue for economic development from developing countries is a constant argument, other (namely Grist, a leader in Copenhagen coverage) analysts don’t think this is as big of a deal as the Guardian cites it to be. In fact, they don’t think it’s a big deal (or deal) at all:

I’ve been told by folks on the ground in Copenhagen that negotiators say the supposedly new draft is actually an old draft that was leaked several weeks ago. There’s nothing new here; the Guardian seems to have been straight-up duped. For the most part the draft is boring and practical; it mainly seems to have pissed off the anti-World Bank crowd. Regardless, it’s an old draft, one of many documents floating around, and of no particular significance in and of itself—reflective of longstanding tensions among rich and poor countries, but not their cause.

also, Grist writer David Roberts chalks up the false hysteria to the place being overloaded with bored and anxious journalists who just need something, some “news” to write about. Everyone loves a good controversy.

Anyway, for some more links:

25 Reasons to Give a Damn

Copenhagen 101

More on the influence of the smaller countries

Also, a side note: Snow day tomorrow in Madison! Drive safe (or don’t drive) people!


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Hope for Copenhagen

It seems as though I may have placed too much weight on the negativity of Bill McKibben’s article yesterday and failed to focus on other current events.

According my my professor, Cal DeWitt this morning in lecture, the promise of Copenhagen is not quite as dire as McKibben made it seem.

Since the EPA released yesterday that they will now consider 6 greenhouse gasses, most notably carbon dioxide, as pollutants, that makes some major implications for President Obama’s potential coming actions in Copenhagen.

Last week, Obama announced that instead of dropping by Copenhagen at the beginning of the conference, he would instead attend the final week, which is when all the major action and decisions take place.

This, coupled with the EPA decision (under the leadership of Obama), could mean good news for the strength of Obama’s (and consequently, America’s) presence and effort in climate change mitigation.

It could be that McKibben’s article was a final nudge to encourage Obama to take the strongest possible stance from the US, hopefully much greater than the original 17% promise.

I hope Cal is right!

More to come soon.

In the meantime, here are some updates from day two

A summary by The Environmental Leader

And a “major players” list from the NYT

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Thoughts from Waubesa Wetlands

The sun on the first day of ecology lab embraced our group and warmly encouraged us to step out of the classroom and into the wild and unknown, if only for 3 hours a week. In the last ecology lab of the semester, our group returned to its original site, Waubesa Wetlands, to address the changes in vegetation, weather, and how our own understanding and opinions this semester have changed along with the seasons.

This actually took place a couple weeks ago, and, as my blog absence has suggested, my lack of writing is due to the flurry and hubbub that takes place at the end of each semester. Over the past two weeks, I’ve gotten to the point where my only response to what I have to get done this weekend is, “I don’t want to think about it.”

Although writing here has been difficult to maintain over the past month or so, I have made a couple presentations about my blog now, and from these, I know that I’ll keep it up as I think it has aided in my own understanding of environmentally-related subjects and encouraged me to advocate for increased environmental knowledge and action among my readers. Anyway, sorry again for my absence. Can’t wait to catch up on here with all the interesting things I’ve learned.

Back to Waubesa.

Samuel and Lisa’s idea for taking us back there was very rhetorical as it related to our maturation coinciding with the seasonal changes in the wetlands. Where on the first day we shyly followed Samuel into the grass to get our bare feet dirty in the peat, on the last we shivered in the wind and boldly shared our insights and memorable moments from the semester. We stood in the leafless, browned wetland to discuss what we’d learned or how our opinions had evolved in light of Cal’s quirky lessons, our hands-on labs, and or our application of these lessons in other parts of our lives. I scribbled notes of peoples’ memories as quickly as I could, but without relaying them all back, it was a powerful time to see how each lab had affected us differently and showed us each something new that we could take away and apply to our other studies.

The theme of the semester, as introduced by Samuel on the first day, remained the fact that humans are a part of nature just as “natural things” are that we may refer to as nature itself. While a telephone pole in the wetland may not seem “natural,” it was placed there as a result of a human choice, and us humans are just as important (or unimportant) to nature as a beaver or bird or tree. So, what made us feel like we were important enough to disrupt this environment by adding this pole? Would our actions have been different if we’d considered the rest of the environment before choosing this location, type of wood, type of wiring, etc. Humans are a part of nature and must not view themselves as “above” or somehow removed from it.

Continue reading

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