There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
Having long since been politicized, the debate over global warming has become yet another front in the political culture wars. With the climate change deniers being led by such flat-earth luminaries as James Inhofe and Darrell Issa, it’s easy for anyone with upwards of half a brain to dismiss their followers as a bunch of babbling idiots.
While some of them clearly are, unfortunately, fellow tree huggers, they have a point.
The purported smoking gun is contained in the recently leaked emails and files from Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, on whose research, dataset and algorithms the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) relied in its hugely influential 2007 report. The U.S. EPA in turn relied heavily on that report in determining that carbon dioxide emissions endanger public health and should be regulated. The Obama administration is relying on both the U.N. and the EPA’s findings in arguing for expanding cap-and-trade and in setting its agenda going into the Copenhagen climate negotiations. The underlying data is not nearly as tidy as has been assumed.
I’ve spent the last few days reading the leaked CRU documents and a lot of the commentary surrounding them. I’ve read their programmer’s README file and critiques of their code by a number of experienced programmers. I’ve had to go back to my college programming and math texts to assess some of the critiques, but like it or not they’re largely right.
It’s way beyond annoying to have to agree with Inhofe/Issa that “the books have been cooked,” but they have been. Climate change adherents—and I’m still strongly among them—don’t need to change their conclusions, but they need to know that the data on which they’re basing them isn’t nearly as conclusive as they’d like.
In the case of Inhofe and Issa—both of whom formed their conclusions long before any facts were in (isn’t that called prejudice?)—I take solace in what someone once said of Rush Limbaugh, “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”
Show Me the Money
Here are a few key excerpts from the CRU programmer’s README file:
I am seriously worried that our flagship gridded data product is produced by Delaunay triangulation – apparently linear as well. As far as I can see, this renders the station counts totally meaningless.
I am very sorry to report that the rest of the databases seem to be in nearly as poor a state as Australia was. There are hundreds if not thousands of pairs of dummy stations, one with no WMO and one with, usually overlapping and with the same station name and very similar coordinates. I know it could be old and new stations, but why such large overlaps if that’s the case? Aarrggghhh! There truly is no end in sight… So, we can have a proper result, but only by including a load of garbage!
Knowing how long it takes to debug this suite – the experiment endeth here. The option (like all the anomdtb options) is totally undocumented so we’ll never know what we lost.
22. Right, time to stop pussyfooting around the niceties of Tim’s labyrinthine software suites – let’s have a go at producing CRU TS 3.0! since failing to do that will be the definitive failure of the entire project.
Comments in leaked computer code—in addition to Harry’s README file—have sent a swarm of programmers to work critiquing the code. They didn’t have to look far:
A comment in the file briffa_sep98_d.pro says: “Apply a VERY ARTIFICAL correction for decline!!” and “APPLY ARTIFICIAL CORRECTION.” Another, quantify_tsdcal.pro, says: “Low pass filtering at century and longer time scales never gets rid of the trend – so eventually I start to scale down the 120-yr low pass time series to mimic the effect of removing/adding longer time scales!”
Equally damning were comments by CRU researchers, whose agendas—combined with a very dim view of their detractors—were beyond the pale. CRU director Phil Jones, in one email, warns that global warming skeptics “have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone.” Jones was a contributing author on the IPCC’s report.
For its efforts the U.N. panel received a Nobel Prize. For its work the University of East Anglia CRU needs to be excoriated and purged, starting with Jones.
The only certainty in science is that there is no certainty, only varying degrees of uncertainty that you try to diminish by unbiased research. The rate of climate change and the relative importance of the reasons for it just became more uncertain, thanks to a bunch of wankers in East Anglia whose biases clouded their objectivity, and in the process handed a huge PR victory to their opponents. Thanks, jerks!
Beyond the vocal wall of political demagogues the programmers and climate scientists now finally able to critique the CRU’s model are doing everyone a service. It’s unconscionable that the CRU didn’t allow peer review of their work, especially knowing how dodgy it was. This is how the scientific method is supposed to work. It’s a damn shame it had to come about this way.
In addition to the CRU’s tainted model, there are dozens of other computer models from hundreds of scientists with impeccable credentials, models based on thousands of observations that all point to the same conclusion: the world’s climate does seem to be changing, and increasingly so in recent decades. It beggars belief that 6.8 billion people driving cars powered by fossil fuels and burning coal to heat their homes and generate electricity aren’t having a discernible effect on the environment, even the climate.
To put this in perspective, the earth’s mean radius is 3,959 miles. The breathable portion of the earth’s atmosphere (troposphere) extends out a mere six miles from the surface and the stratosphere out to 30 miles. About 99% of atmospheric gases are contained within these two layers.
The breathable portion of the atmosphere is a mere 0.76% of the radius of the earth—about the same proportion as the skin on a plum. The stratosphere merely supplies an efficient method of carrying pollutants pumped into the air from a coal-fired power plant in Texas, thousands of aging diesel buses in India and rain forest clearing fires in the Amazon to the rest of their respective hemispheres. Cleaning up our act is of paramount importance.
It’s shortly going to become much more important. According to the 2006 U.N. population report, “The world population will likely increase by 2.5 billion … passing from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050. This increase is equivalent to the total size of the world population in 1950, and it will be absorbed mostly by the less developed regions, whose population is projected to rise from 5.4 billion in 2007 to 7.9 billion in 2050.” As Tom Friedman noted recently in the New York Times, “The energy, climate, water and pollution implications of adding another 2.5 billion mouths to feed, clothe, house and transport will be staggering.”
Sticking with just pollution for the moment, if you’ve ever visited major cities in China you know what pollution is; only one percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union. The Chinese government only cracked down on the coal-burning stoves that Beijing residents used to warm their flats and pollute their skies in advance of the 2008 Olympics. They ordered gas-burning heaters installed, which greatly alleviated the chronic smog problem.
After The Great Smog of 1952—caused by Londoners burning high-sulfur coal to keep warm during a temperature inversion—killed nearly 12,000 people, the British Parliament outlawed the burning of coal in open-hearth fireplaces and started pushing cleaner sources of energy.
Just Do It
People often do the right thing only after a situation has gotten so bad that they can no longer deny or ignore it. What matters is doing the right thing in a timely manner, before disaster strikes. It ultimately doesn’t matter whether or not you believe people are responsible for climate change; what matters is whether you support or oppose efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, stop polluting the environment and develop clean, renewable sources of energy—all of which lessen the impact of a swelling mass of human beings on the environment.
The bottom line politically is that the U.S. is borrowing from China to buy oil from Middle East dictatorships. This puts us in a weak position strategically and an untenable one economically. Supporting the development of clean, renewable, alternative sources of domestically-produced energy such as solar and wind power makes sense politically, economically and morally. Opposing it is a lot harder to justify.
Whether or not you believe that humans are responsible for climate change, those who do believe it are doing what needs to be done in any case. Those who don’t believe it need to get past “Just say no!” and support their efforts.