Al Gore and his pals in the science establishment want us to totally change our lives because of a theory that might not even be true. Have the sacred cows of global warming been gored beyond repair?
By Gerard Van der Leun • Illustration by Zachary Pullen
It was good to be Al Gore in the last part of the last decade. In the year 2000 he was the world’s biggest loser. By 2009 he was one of the world’s biggest winners after becoming the master of disaster. Flummoxed by his noninvention of the internet and his nonelection as president of the United States, Gore found a winning hand in predicting the end of the world. In the process, he received an Oscar for his film An Inconvenient Truth, the Nobel Peace Prize, and millions of dollars through his interests in companies that dealt in “carbon credits.” Gore became more of a “Comeback Kid” than Bill Clinton ever was. For most of 2009, it was still good to be King Al. But late in the year, Al Gore’s beloved internet betrayed him.
On November 17, 2009, someone, somewhere, copied some 4,000 emails and documents from a password-protected server at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) in England and put them up on a free and open server in Russia for all the world to read. Whoever made these documents available was an unknown soldier of the truth. Taking the handle of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), he or she stated, “We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps. We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code, and documents. Hopefully it will give some insight into the science and the people behind it. This is a limited time offer, download now.”
Whether the “Deep Throat” who leaked the emails was a hacker or a mole within the CRU, he or she had an exquisite sense of timing. The files were made public just before the Copenhagen climate summit. The CRU had been one of the central institutions involved in promulgating the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming (i.e., the Earth is getting dangerously warmer than ever before in history and people are the primary force behind this threatening rise). Now it had become instrumental in the theory’s unraveling.
Founded in 1972, the CRU is one of the central generators and repositories of data sets used in climate research. These data sets from the CRU were fundamental to the theory of AGW. Over the years, data, scientific “peer-reviewed” papers, popular articles, and the United Nations’ reports on global warming were based in large part on material from the CRU. What the November 2009 release of documents demonstrated was that many of the scientists of the CRU and their collaborators around the world had been, in many ways great and small, gaming the system of science to promote their own conclusions.
The story has been dubbed “Climategate” by the media, playing off the Watergate political scandal of the 1970s. But unlike Watergate, this is a story that affects the future of the world. Almost immediately, the documents were copied from the server in Russia and spread far and wide. Within two days, a complete collection was put up at one site as a searchable database. Then the skeptics—the AGW “deniers”—and first-class computer programmers, reporters, bloggers, and the curious really got to work. After years of being stonewalled and denied access to the raw data at the CRU, people could at last take a very close look at nearly ten years’ worth of behind-the-scenes doings in climate research. What many discovered “[blew] the lid off the ‘science’ of man made global warming,” in the words of Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel. She went on to write that the documents “show a claque of scientists massaging data to make it fit their theories, squelching scientists who disagreed, punishing academic journalists that didn’t toe the apocalyptic line, and hiding their work from public view. ‘It’s no use pretending that this isn’t a major blow,’ glumly wrote George Monbiot, a U.K. writer who has been among the fiercest warming alarmists. The documents ‘could scarcely be more damaging.’ ”
One email from the director of the CRU spoke of manipulating data and charts to “hide the decline in global temperatures” and using a “nature trick” to statistically taint other research:
From: Phil Jones [director of the CRU]
Subject: Diagram for WMO Statement
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 13:31:15 +0000
Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,
Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow. I’ve just completed Mike’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. [Ray is Dr. Raymond Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Mike is Dr. Michael Mann, a meteorologist from Penn State whose “hockey-stick graph” purports to show a shocking unprecedented rise in the Earth’s temperature starting around 1900—unprecedented except for the inconvenient truth of a long warming period in the Middle Ages. Malcolm is Dr. Malcolm Hughes from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences in Colorado. Tim is Dr. Tim Osborn of the CRU. Keith Briffa is Deputy Director of the CRU.]
When the scandal broke, Jones admitted he had written the email, but insisted that “it has been taken completely out of context.” He insisted that his science was accurate and, in his statement, went on to say that “the word ‘trick’ was used here colloquially as in a clever thing to do. It is ludicrous to suggest that it refers to anything untoward.” But even Jones couldn’t find a “colloquial” way to explain the rest of his email, so he acknowledged that “the use of the term ‘hiding the decline’ was in an email written in haste.” In other words, the science was totally correct except for the fact that he, this major scientist, was a sloppy email writer.
But there were many, many other documents that, written in haste or not, showed serious doubts about how knowledgeable these high priests of global warming really were. This email, for instance, was more than candid about how much they knew about temperatures more than 100 years ago in the Northern Hemisphere:
From: Edward Cook [director, Tree-Ring
Laboratory Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory]
To: Keith Briffa
Date: Wed, 3 Sep 2003
… we can probably say a fair bit about [less than] 100 year extra-tropical NH temperature variability… but honestly know fuck-all about what the [more than] 100 year variability was like with any certainty (i.e. we know with certainty that we know fuck-all).
Yet another email spoke of destroying information subject to a formal Freedom of Information request and hiding behind conflicting laws:
From: Phil Jones
To: Michael E. Mann
Subject: Re: For your eyes only
Date: Thu Feb 3 13:11:46 2005
The two MMs [Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, coauthors of an article critical of the CRU and Mann’s work, “Hockey Sticks, Principal Components, and Spurious Significance”] 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. Does your similar act in the US force you to respond to enquiries within 20 days? – our [sic] does! The UK works on precedents, so the first request will test it. We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind.
Still another email enlists many of the CRU associated scientists in boycotting a scholarly journal that dared to publish an article questioning their beliefs:
From: Michael E. Mann
To: Phil Jones
Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2003 08:14:49 -0500
I think we have to stop considering “Climate Research” as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board…
One especially damning email asked others to delete emails that might compromise the now sacred mission of the global-warming alarmists:
From: Phil Jones
To: Michael E. Mann
Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? [Climate Change 2007, the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Mann says he did not delete this.]
Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment – minor family crisis. Can you also email Gene [Dr. Eugene Wahl of the U.S. National Climatic Data Center] and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address. We will be getting Caspar [Ammann, of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research] to do likewise.
The following email, from Dr. Mick Kelly of the CRU to Phil Jones, is a perfect example of what Jones probably wishes had been erased:
Date: Sun, 26 Oct 2008 09:02:00 +1300
Yeah, it wasn’t so much 1998 and all that that I was concerned about, used to dealing with that, but the possibility that we might be going through a longer – 10 year – period of relatively stable temperatures beyond what you might expect from La Nina etc. Speculation, but if I see this as a possibility then others might also.
Anyway, I’ll maybe cut the last few points off the filtered curve before I give the talk again as that’s trending down as a result of the end effects and the recent cold-ish years.
And this email, written to Mann by Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, reveals the exasperation of a man who sees that the weather is not cooperating with his theories:
Date: Mon, 12 Oct 2009 08:57:37 -0600
Well I have my own article on where the heck is global warming? We are asking that here in Boulder where we have broken records the past two days for the coldest days on record. We had 4 inches of snow. The high the last 2 days was below 30F and the normal is 69F, and it smashed the previous records for these days by 10F. The low was about 18F and also a record low, well below the previous record low. This is January weather (see the Rockies baseball playoff game was canceled on saturday and then played last night in below freezing weather)….
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. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.
What so many of these documents reveal is the architecture of an alarmist mentality that—contrary to many facts—has been systematically sold to the world as “settled science.” What was claimed to be hard science backed by definitive data was instead a kind of pseudo-science in which a hodgepodge of data was cherry-picked, obfuscated, eliminated, or exaggerated not to reveal the truth, but to buttress a preconceived position. In short, the “science” behind our “global warming” wasn’t so hot, and neither, it turned out, is our globe.
If the CRU documents were simply the records of a group of eccentric scientists off in their own happy world of research, nothing that came out of them would be worth more than a paragraph or two in the long history of fudging science for higher goals. But the CRU research and data are fundamental to many studies and reports that governmental policy makers use for decision-making.
CRU studies, or studies derived in whole or in part or in reference to the CRU, are also used in the reports of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These reports are central to the planning of governments around the world. They put, in the end, billions of dollars into the science-grant pipeline and trillions into programs to halt a process that may not exist or, if it does exist in some degree, may not be subject to correction by anything humans can do. Interestingly enough, its work on global warming was the reason the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the man who has done the most to make global warming into the most recent environmental cult, Al Gore.
After the damning emails were released, CRU staffers and their supporters went into hyper-spin mode to contain the damage. The CRU’s Trevor Davies assured everyone that no records were deleted, altered, or “otherwise dealt with in any fashion with the intent of preventing the disclosure of all, or any part, of the requested information.” How he would know was not specified.
Elsewhere, CRU director Phil Jones went into a not-our-data-to-give posture with: “This information is not ours to give … we hope to gain permission from each of these services to publish their data in the future.” And when it came to the squelching of the journal Climate Research, the hyper-AGW-activist hockey-stick maker Michael Mann told The Wall Street Journal, “We shouldn’t be publishing in a journal that’s activist.” That wasn’t the only lesson Mann learned. He warned researchers to be more vigilant at their laptops. “Any scientist now,” he said in December 2009, “is going to be far more careful in what they put in personal emails.” He went on to denounce the whole scandal as a “false controversy that has been manufactured … in an effort to cloud the debate and distract the public and policymakers….”
Phil Jones, who has since stepped down (temporarily) from his post as director of the CRU, admitted, “My colleagues and I accept that some of the published emails do not read well.” Translation: “Nothing to see here, folks, move along.”
Unfortunately for him, however, the British authorities didn’t view the affair as simply sloppy email writing. In January 2010, the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office said, according to The Wall Street Journal, that the University of East Anglia, where these climate researchers were based, “broke the law by failing to comply with requests for raw data about global warming, but that too much time has elapsed for the institution to be prosecuted.”
Other immediately inconvenienced cheerleaders for global warming as “settled science” were mainstream media outlets who attempted to down play, or simply ignore, the CRU documents for the first few weeks while they were the biggest story in years on the internet. Foremost among these forces was The New York Times, which almost always referred to the Climategate emails as “stolen,” “purloined,” or “hacked,” as if that diminished their credibility. Apparently the Times editors forget what many of them used to consider to be the newspaper’s proudest moment—the publishing of the stolen Pentagon Papers in the 1970s, which showed how mendacious politicians led the U.S. into the Vietnam War. Although the Climategate emails expose a scandal potentially more significant than lying about Vietnam, almost all American media—with the notable exception of the Wall Street Journal editorial page—has marched in lockstep behind The Times in dismissing the story.
When criticized roundly by readers and skeptics alike for its handling of the story, a responsible editor at the “paper of record” took refuge in stating, “We here at The Times are not scientists. We don’t collect the data or analyze it, and so the best we can do is to give our readers a sense of what the prevailing scientific view is, based on interviews with scientists.” And in an editorial, The Times basically told people not to believe their eyes: “No one should be misled by all the noise. The email messages represent years’ worth of exchanges among prominent American and British climatologists. Some are mean-spirited, others intemperate. But they don’t change the underlying scientific facts…. Despite what the skeptics say, they demonstrate just how rigorously scientists have worked to figure out whether global warming is real and the true role that human activities play.”
But despite their supporters’ desperate attempts to explain away these inconvenient emails, the sacred cows of global warming continued to be gored. During the Copenhagen climate summit, the CRU documents were the elephant in many rooms that led this much-touted meeting of the best and the brightest to a very inconclusive conclusion. In mid-January, the UN’s IPCC 2007 Report was revealed to have inserted very unscientific and possibly untrue information about the rate at which alpine glaciers were melting in the Himalayas. In late January, the same report was discovered to have used a World Wildlife Federation article about logging reducing Amazon rain forests to support the IPCC’s contention that global warming was killing off the rain forests.
Meanwhile, the chain of events that began with the release of the CRU documents to the world at large is continuing to shake the once-settled world of the global-warming alarmists. And while the evidence they tout has been shown to be less than scientific, it is still the basis upon which the United States and many other nations are proposing to turn their economies upside down—in the face of a worldwide financial crisis.
Although the person responsible for exposing these emails is still unknown, the advice of Deep Throat in the film All the President’s Men is as valid for Climategate as it was for Watergate: “Follow the money.”