30 Nov 2009

Two Honest Opponents on Climate Alarmism

All Posts No Comments

Part of why I am skeptical of some of the loudest proponents of large-scale government intervention to fight climate change is that, even on their own terms, the suggested remedies won’t stave off disaster.

However, a few of the people on the other side of this issue seem very sincere to me. I still disagree with them, but I think it is truly an intellectual disagreement. One is George Monbiot, who reiterates his feeling “alone” in condemning the leaked CRU behavior. He writes:

I have seldom felt so alone. Confronted with crisis, most of the environmentalists I know have gone into denial. The emails hacked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, they say, are a storm in a tea cup, no big deal, exaggerated out of all recognition. It is true that climate change deniers have made wild claims which the material can’t possibly support (the end of global warming, the death of climate science). But it is also true that the emails are very damaging.

The response of the greens and most of the scientists I know is profoundly ironic, as we spend so much of our time confronting other people’s denial. Pretending that this isn’t a real crisis isn’t going to make it go away. Nor is an attempt to justify the emails with technicalities. We’ll be able to get past this only by grasping reality, apologising where appropriate and demonstrating that it cannot happen again.

It is true that much of what has been revealed could be explained as the usual cut and thrust of the peer review process, exacerbated by the extraordinary pressure the scientists were facing from a denial industry determined to crush them. One of the most damaging emails was sent by the head of the climatic research unit, Phil Jones. He wrote “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

[Jones’] message looks awful. It gives the impression of confirming a potent meme circulated by those who campaign against taking action on climate change: that the IPCC process is biased. However good the detailed explanations may be, most people aren’t going to follow or understand them. Jones’s statement, on the other hand, is stark and easy to grasp.

When it comes to his handling of Freedom of Information requests, Professor Jones might struggle even to use a technical defence. If you take the wording literally, in one case he appears to be suggesting that emails subject to a request be deleted, which means that he seems to be advocating potentially criminal activity. Even if no other message had been hacked, this would be sufficient to ensure his resignation as head of the unit.

The crisis has been exacerbated by the university’s handling of it, which has been a total trainwreck: a textbook example of how not to respond. RealClimate reports that “We were made aware of the existence of this archive last Tuesday morning when the hackers attempted to upload it to RealClimate, and we notified CRU of their possible security breach later that day.” In other words, the university knew what was coming three days before the story broke. As far as I can tell, it sat like a rabbit in the headlights, waiting for disaster to strike.

When the emails hit the news on Friday morning, the university appeared completely unprepared. There was no statement, no position, no one to interview. Reporters kept being fobbed off while CRU’s opponents landed blow upon blow on it. When a journalist I know finally managed to track down Phil Jones, he snapped “no comment” and put down the phone. This response is generally taken by the media to mean “guilty as charged”. When I got hold of him on Saturday, his answer was to send me a pdf called “WMO statement on the status of the global climate in 1999”. Had I a couple of hours to spare I might have been able to work out what the heck this had to do with the current crisis, but he offered no explanation.

By then he should have been touring the TV studios for the past 36 hours, confronting his critics, making his case and apologising for his mistakes. Instead, he had disappeared off the face of the Earth. Now, far too late, he has given an interview to the Press Association, which has done nothing to change the story.

But the deniers’ campaign of lies, grotesque as it is, does not justify secrecy and suppression on the part of climate scientists. Far from it: it means that they must distinguish themselves from their opponents in every way. No one has been as badly let down by the revelations in these emails as those of us who have championed the science. We should be the first to demand that it is unimpeachable, not the last.

Exacto-mundo. Those people who have been citing the “peer-review process” and “the science is settled” for years should have been shocked by ClimateGate. They don’t have to say, “Wow I guess it was all a hoax,” but to dismiss this as taking “technical terms” out of context is absurd. You don’t need to be a climate scientist to know what “delete any emails” means.

We also have James Hansen–Al Gore’s mentor and head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies–publicly saying that cap-and-trade is a phony solution (HT2 MasterResource):

Science reveals that climate is close to tipping points. It is a dead certainty that continued high emissions will create a chaotic dynamic situation for young people, with deteriorating climate conditions out of their control.

Science also reveals what is needed to stabilise atmospheric composition and climate. Geophysical data on the carbon amounts in oil, gas and coal show that the problem is solvable, if we phase out global coal emissions within 20 years and prohibit emissions from unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands and oil shale.

Such constraints on fossil fuels would cause carbon dioxide emissions to decline 60% by mid-century or even more if policies make it uneconomic to go after every last drop of oil.

Improved forestry and agricultural practices could then bring atmospheric carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm (parts per million) or less, as required for a stable climate.

Governments going to Copenhagen claim to have such goals for 2050, which they will achieve with the “cap-and-trade” mechanism. They are lying through their teeth.

Unless they order Russia to leave its gas in the ground and Saudi Arabia to leave its oil in the ground (which nobody has proposed), they must phase out coal and prohibit unconventional fossil fuels.

Instead, the United States signed an agreement with Canada for a pipeline to carry oil squeezed from tar sands. Australia is building port facilities for large increases in coal export. Coal-to-oil factories are being built. Coal-fired power plants are being constructed worldwide. Governments are stating emission goals that they know are lies – or, if we want to be generous, they do not understand the geophysics and are kidding themselves.

Is it feasible to phase out coal and avoid use of unconventional fossil fuels? Yes, but only if governments face up to the truth: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, their use will continue and even increase on a global basis.

Fossil fuels are cheapest because they are not made to pay for their effects on human health, the environment and future climate.

Governments must place a uniform rising price on carbon, collected at the fossil fuel source – the mine or port of entry. The fee should be given to the public in toto, as a uniform dividend, payroll tax deduction or both. Such a tax is progressive – the dividend exceeds added energy costs for 60% of the public.

Cap and trade with offsets, in contrast [to a carbon tax refunded to the poor], is astoundingly ineffective. Global emissions rose rapidly in response to Kyoto, as expected, because fossil fuels remained the cheapest energy.

Cap and trade is an inefficient compromise, paying off numerous special interests. It must be replaced with an honest approach, raising the price of carbon emissions and leaving the dirtiest fossil fuels in the ground.

Are we going to stand up and give global politicians a hard slap in the face, to make them face the truth? It will take a lot of us – probably in the streets. Or are we going to let them continue to kid themselves and us and cheat our children and grandchildren?

I strongly oppose Hansen’s call for a carbon tax and refund, but given his stated views, it makes sense. And in particular, if Hansen really believes we have a very short window to prevent utter climate catastrophe for our children, then he is being heroic for publicly denouncing the fraud of the Copenhagen meetings. (Or at least I think he is: For all I know he Obama secretly loves Hansen’s push for an explicit carbon tax, just as Paul Krugman isn’t really “speaking truth to power” when he says the stimulus is way too small.)

So I want to acknowledge that there are some climate change alarmists who at least have the courage of their stated convictions. If you really believed the computer models showed we have to wean ourselves from fossil fuels quickly to avoid disaster, then you should be mortified by the CRU emails and by the politicians’ discussions of Copenhagen. On that score, I respect Monbiot and Hansen.

Comments are closed.