Friday, April 02, 2010

REBOOT, RETHINK, REGROUP - The New Reality of Climate Change Science and Policy

A parliamentary committee in Britain has largely exonerated Dr Phil Jones, Director of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and a key figure in Climategate. While they wee very critical of the practice in climatology of not releasing raw data at the same time the analysis of that data is published and of not responding to legitimate and entirely correct requests under the Freedom of Information legislation in the UK to release these data, the committee was in a forgiving mood.

Their review and conclusion do not alter one basic fact. The global temperature data set which came from Dr Jones and his two colleagues is not readily available for public scrutiny. This is important, since the data set is at the heart of the claims made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that there is aggressive warming of the planet taking place. The raw data does exist and can be reconstructed from other records. What does not exist is the systematic adjustments made to these data by Phil Jones and his colleagues to account for urban heat sinks and other anomalies – adjustments which, when made, make all the difference between the raw data and the published data.

Here is why. Measurements of the surface temperature are made by simple instruments which are meant to be located in places which are unaffected by human activity – cars, heat sources, large buildings. Many are inappropriately located and adjustments have to be made to take into account the impact of these factors on the measurement. Thus whenever you see reference to global temperature you are not looking at a reading from an instrument, you are looking at data output from a model of what the instruments would say if only they were located in a different place. How the model is built has a major impact on what the surface temperature will be.

Ross McKitrick at the University of Guelph has analyzed the published data and used it to reconstruct models and then tested these against raw data sets which are available. His conclusion is simple. Most of the warming reported in the literature can be explained by the urban heat sinks and locations of the measuring instruments. Rather than measuring climate, the Phil Jones data is actually measuring industrialization – where industry and man has an impact on measuring instruments. Almost all of the temperature rises reported in the Phil Jones models can be explained by non-climatic factors.

It gets worse. The IPCC claim that the matter is settled – there are no significant effects of industrialization on the measurement model. In fact, the IPCC say in the Summary for Policymakers, that the impact of such effects have a “negligible influence” on the data. They cite no substantial evidence for this claim. It is now clear that the evidence does not support this view and that the IPCC fabricated the evidence to support their claim.

This is a crucial matter. If the basis of the warming claim is problematic, what else is problematic? We know that the IPCC got it wrong on the claim that the ice caps on the Himalayas were melting so fast that they would soon be gone. We know that they got the measurement and claims about sea level rises in the northern hemisphere. We know they are dead wrong in the claims that the warming climate is increasing the number and severity of storms. We know they got claims about the Amazon rainforest wrong. In all, we know that there were sixteen claims that cannot be supported by the available peer reviewed evidence and that many of the claims made by the IPCC were based on what is known as “grey literature” – non peer reviewed materials in newspapers, leaflets, pamphlets and magazines.

Der Spiegel, the German insight newspaper, has published a major eight part series of online articles this week about the “superstorm” affecting climate change science. Written in English, the articles explore the mistaken claims of the IPCC and use simple language to make clear that the science is not settled and that several major claims of the IPCC are demonstrably false. They look to what they call “politically charged science” as an explanation for why the boundary between science and politics has been so blurred and how campaigners become scientists who use their own scientific claims as a basis for their own campaigns.

They look at several examples, but the most telling is the generally accepted political idea that temperature rises must be limited to 20C or the planet is in peril. This idea was central to the conversations at Copenhagen and remains at the heart of policy debate in Governments around the world, most especially in Europe. Climate models involve some of the most demanding computations of any simulations, and only a handful of institutes worldwide have the necessary supercomputers. The computers must run at full capacity for months to work their way through the jungle of data produced by coupled differential equations. All of this is much too complicated for politicians, who aren't terribly interested in the details. They have little use for radiation budgets and ocean-atmosphere circulation models. Instead, they prefer simple targets. For this reason a group of German scientists, yielding to political pressure, invented an easily digestible message in the mid-1990s: the two-degree target. To avoid even greater damage to human beings and nature, the scientists warned, the temperature on Earth could not be more than two degrees Celsius higher than it was before the beginning of industrialization.

Der Spiegel suggests that this is scientific nonsense. "Two degrees is not a magical limit -- it's clearly a political goal," says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). "The world will not come to an end right away in the event of stronger warming, nor are we definitely saved if warming is not as significant. The reality, of course, is much more complicated." Schellnhuber is the “inventor” of the two-degree target. This one idea, which has no basis in science, made him Germany's most influential climatologist. Schellnhuber, a theoretical physicist, became Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief scientific adviser.

Half truths, fabrications and outrageous claims do not make for a science. More specifically, they do not create the conditions under which a science can be “settled” or trusted by the public. Der Spiegel’s eight part series is a major challenge to the scientific community and to those who claim to be using science as a basis for policy. Trying to use fear to secure a radical agenda is not what we expect of either science or government. What needs to happen now is for us to start again with a dispassionate look at the science, pressing the restart button on public policy and stop the use of fear as a basis for action.

We have time. There have been many periods in human history when the planet has been warmer and when CO2 concentrations have been higher. We are adapting. Great work is taking place to reduce CO2 emissions, to increase our use of renewables and to green the planet. We can get science back from the post-modernists and return to a critical, sceptical and transparent form of science which truly engages the scientific community in scientific work stripped of polemics.

Now what we need is for the politicians to catch up and to understand that their religious fervour is out of place with their public and that the parade they thought they had rushed to the front of has dispersed behind them. Its time to rethink public policy.

1 comment:

Sam Gregory said...

This said, i don't think that this whole idea of being kinder to our planet should all just stop. Even if the claims are false, this green thinking revolution that seems to be occurring and continuing to happen should not come to a screeching halt. We should still build on what we have started, as it will do nothing but benefit us.