Unsettled Science

When I was 13 years old, science scared me. Not science itself, mind you, but the terrors of the future it foretold. News of the coming dark ages were delivered to our young ears through that most trusted of conduits, a high school science teacher. We’re killing the planet? I was shocked. What a bunch of jerks we all are! I remember so very clearly coming home from school, brow furrowed, and earnestly rebuking my parents for contributing to the destruction of the earth. RECYCLE! LIKE RIGHT NOW!! OR WE’RE ALL GONNA DIIIIEEEE!!!!!

My father, a professor himself, looked up calmly and said “why?” Well I didn’t really know why. Something about landfills and styrofoam and earth day. Newspapers were killing dolphins. Six packs of soda were strangling penguins. The hole in the ozone layer was letting all our air out into space. Or something. Whatever it was, it was URGENT that we recycle to fix it!!! FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT!!!

Still, though. Why?

So now I’m thirty-five years old, and although I eventually broke free, environmental hysteria has surrounded me ever since that day. And there is no hysteria more rabid than that over man-made global warming (anthropogenic global warming, properly, or AGW). Assuming you haven’t been in an alternate dimension for the last decade or so, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The world is going to be destroyed, Al Gore tells us with the earnestness and oratorical flourish of any panicked 13-year old, if we don’t do something RIGHT NOW!! To which the “global community” replied with a resounding FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT!!!!!!

I won’t go over my journey from terrified teen to skeptical adult, but suffice it to say a shift in politics (from conservative, toward liberal, back to conservative) over my twenties (hereafter referred to as the lost decade) was part of the process. Indeed, in the United States, political persuasion is a trusted diagnostic tool for determining one’s level of acceptance of the theory of man-made global warming. The more to the right you are, the less likely you believe. The more to the left … FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT!!!!!!!!!!!!

That should be a warning sign to anyone of a skeptical mind. What better indicator an issue has been politicized than that it breaks down almost perfectly along political dividing lines? Of course, on the right, we’ll claim it is because the left politicized the science. On the left, they’ll claim it’s because conservatives hate knowledge and also Rush Limbaugh is a doody-head. Nevertheless, the political point is important. Because, regardless of fault, there is now a definitive fault line. And that line is causing the most embarrassing breakdown in journalistic integrity in our lifetime.

But let’s get to that in a moment. Back to the story.

So the millennium arrived, Y2K failed to unleash an army of malevolent, self-aware toasters upon us, and George Bush was president of the United States. The UN, AGW’s town crier, was shopping around the Kyoto Protocol. The US had declined to sign, proving to everyone who is anyone that Republicans eat puppies and want to bring about the end times. (And in case you think I’m joking, I’m not). The EPA came to AGW circa 2002, and by 2005, if you weren’t on board you were pretty much a holocaust-denying lunatic. In 2007, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their landmark, Nobel prize-winning manifesto: Global warming is real, it’s caused by man, and if you don’t agree we’ll shoot you in the face. Not with bullets but with SCIENCE!!

A funny thing happened at this point. Global warming, specifically, and science, generally, stopped being cited and started being invoked. People spoke of SCIENCE! not with dispassionate detachment but rather with the solemn reverence of a priest genuflecting. Suddenly, you were either with science, or you were against it. Either you agreed with the global scientific consensus regarding AGW, or you were an enemy of science, unpatriotic, and possibly a criminal. That is the atmosphere that lingers still today, three years and a flood of -gates later.

Let me tell you a little anecdote. In late 2008 I was in Turkey. I was with a group of journalists, think-tankers and bloggers. So in other words, liberals. And little old me. On our sixth and final night in Turkey, we were at a stunning rooftop bar in Istanbul, overlooking the city lights, with a breathtaking view of the Bosporus. Istanbul sprawls. Actively, like it is growing before your very eyes. And in every direction, the motion is punctuated by spires, modern and ancient. It’s a heady atmosphere. So there we sat, young and abroad, drinking wine, talking politics, and generally bonding. The conversation was lively, if meandering, and, as conversations between left and right inevitably do, it wandered to global warming. I sat quietly listening to the others discuss it. How terrible it was that the United States wouldn’t do our part. How urgent the crisis was. How the media gives too much play to the deniers … and then it was quiet. Liberal eyes traced slow paths over an art-deco table, eventually to fall lightly upon me.

“Is he one of them?” The question was obvious without speaking it. I think I may have smirked a little. I looked out over the city. Finally someone said “be honest.” That was all. I let the moment hang there between us briefly, and then said “I think global warming is probably real, and probably mankind has something to do with that.” They actually applauded. I’m not joking. I got a standing ovation from our little group. They patted my back. I felt like I’d converted. I had joined something. Something important. I didn’t know why, but FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT!!!

The next morning, as I was walking through the Hagia Sophia with a fellow tourist I’d shared the cab fare with, reflecting on the history of the building around me, I felt … wrong. The Hagia Sophia is magnificent, but it is pointed. The conversion from Christian basilica to Muslim mosque was one of violence. A jewel torn from one crown and embedded in another. Seated at that table the evening before, no one presented me with any compelling evidence. There were no new papers to share or arguments to be made. It was not a discussion of science or reason. It was a discussion of faith. Would I, like the ancient structure I was to tour the next day, adorn myself with the trappings of a new faith? I didn’t profess to understanding anything, I professed to BELIEVE something. And in that moment of belief I became acceptable. But standing there under that impossible dome the next morning, head clear of the intoxication of Istanbul and acceptance, I knew how wrong that was. It wasn’t science. It was a club. No, a church. And if you weren’t a member, you were the enemy. Skepticism had become heresy, and to speak it aloud was the fastest way alienate yourself from polite society. “Consensus” was the new “evidence,” and to stand outside that consensus was to self-identify as a hater of the planet and all who walk upon it. A sad state of affairs even then. But now?

Many of you have, by now, heard about the infamous “climategate” emails. But you may not be aware of the real scope of the scandals currently rocking the world of AGW. Indeed, if Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey were not apparently the world’s most devoted fan of the British press, I might not be either. The IPCC’s report relied on many pillars for it’s foundation. Those pillars have been crumbling at a stunning rate over the last few months, thanks largely to an investigative UK press. It’s far more serious than the American media is willing to tell you. In fact, the left at large is doubling down, down-playing the emails and simply pretending the other scandals don’t even exist. Because the science is settled, you see. Consensus has been reached. The details don’t really matter anymore.

Only they do.

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level,” spake the IPCC unto man. “The science is settled,” the crowd chants back. “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations,” sayeth the scientists. “The science is settled,” the masses intone.

“observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperature”
In simplest terms, let me summarize how this has changed. The data upon which this claim is largely based has been undone by the Climategate scandal. The damning emails show deliberate manipulation of data to produce the desired “increases in global average air and ocean temperature.” What’s worse, Phil Jones, the scientist at the epicenter of this scandal, “lost” all the original data, which might explain why he has ignored repeated Freedom of Information requests. Jones’ non-peer-reviewed findings are crucial to the famous “hockey stick” graph that alarmed Al Gore into an Oscar. Additionally, the emails show a disdain for the very notion of peer-review as well as active conspiracy to suppress dissenting points of view. And that’s not all.

A study that was peer-reviewed and recently published calls into question even the data we do have at hand.

“The temperature records cannot be relied on as indicators of global change,” said John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a former lead author on the IPCC.

The doubts of Christy and a number of other researchers focus on the thousands of weather stations around the world, which have been used to collect temperature data over the past 150 years.

These stations, they believe, have been seriously compromised by factors such as urbanisation, changes in land use and, in many cases, being moved from site to site.

Christy has published research papers looking at these effects in three different regions: east Africa, and the American states of California and Alabama.

“The story is the same for each one,” he said. “The popular data sets show a lot of warming but the apparent temperature rise was actually caused by local factors affecting the weather stations, such as land development.”

The IPCC faces similar criticisms from Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph, Canada, who was invited by the panel to review its last report.

The experience turned him into a strong critic and he has since published a research paper questioning its methods.

“We concluded, with overwhelming statistical significance, that the IPCC’s climate data are contaminated with surface effects from industrialisation and data quality problems. These add up to a large warming bias,” he said.

Such warnings are supported by a study of US weather stations co-written by Anthony Watts, an American meteorologist and climate change sceptic.

And still, that is not all. In an admission that rocked the British and Australian press and was mostly ignored here in the States, Professor Phil Jones himself has now conceded that the period of medieval global warming, the mere mention of which would have you swiftly decorated by a scarlett letter just weeks ago, might, in fact, have actually been warmer than the predicted peak of the current warming. That is extremely significant. In the first place, it shows that the globe has warmed before without the aid of factories and hummers, and in the second place, because, well, there was no APOCALYPSE!!!!!!! as a result of the warming. Jones also revealed that a warming period between 1860 and 1880 occurred at a greater rate of increase than what the warmers themselves purport to be the increase of the past 30 years. These are extremely crucial points, as the extent of warming and the possible consequences are what drive any potential legislation such as what was proposed at Copenhagen in 2009.

And finally, the climategate emails make an important point indeed. For the last decade, the predicted global warming has not occurred. The lack of which, by the way, the guilty scientists referred to as a “travesty.” Of the notion that this was a concerted conspiracy among several key players, there can be little doubt.

“widespread melting of snow and ice”
The great glacial melt, the massive African famines, the extinction of the polar bears, and the destruction of South American rainforests are the key consequences we’re to see from AGW. Each of these points was made, and hammered upon, in the 2007 IPCC report. Each of these items has since been debunked thoroughly. The predicted devastation was a phantom. Al Gore today, and others in the past few weeks, have attempted to brush this under the carpet as immaterial, on the grounds that only a few of the points from their report have been debunked. What The Telegraph understands is what we should all understand: it’s the very most significant portions of the report that were falsified. The most sensational. The Al Goriest. And of course, that matters a great deal. It is the very direness of the moment that we’re all supposed to be terrified of. Polar bears therefore taxes and all that.

As scandals have rocked the AGW movement over the last few months, the American press has been loathe to report it. Once they treat global warming with skepticism, they don’t get invited to rooftop bars in Istanbul anymore, for one thing. But more than that, they, as individuals, have clearly bought in fully. Who hasn’t seen the disdain with which reporters and anchors discuss skeptics of AGW? It is not merely that they don’t wish to be excluded by the believers, it is that they themselves are among the faithful. “The science is settled” and “global consensus” are among the MSM’s most favored phrases.

So, too, democrats and the left at large. Not merely fearful of exclusion, they are the ones doing the excluding. They are the crowds setting up the pyres for the burning of witches. They aren’t trying to avoid the inquisition, they are the inquisitors. Doubting the existence of man-made global warming is thoughtcrime of the highest order in this country. What surprise can there be in that they don’t wish to report the scandals? They want to wave their hand and tell you that these are not the droids you were looking for, actually. Move along.

But we cannot move along. Our children are being indoctrinated. It’s not a matter of their being taught incorrect scientific data, it’s that they are being taught a fundamental untruth about science itself. Science isn’t in the business of consensus. We didn’t vote on gravity. If science is in the business of anything, it is skepticism! And truth-seeking. Many of you will recall that my oldest daughter was part of a global warming presentation in lieu of a “holiday” play a few years ago. The children told us that polar bears were on the verge of extinction, and that Myrtle Beach, SC, would be wiped off the map by a rising ocean WITHIN FIVE YEARS. And when you confront the purveyors of that alarmism they say what Al Gore and his priests and acolytes are currently saying. The details don’t really matter. It’s the big picture that matters. The Myrtle Beach threat is fake, you see, but true.

And this, of course, is how environmental science and activism have always operated, on issues from large to small. On a different occasion, my daughter, then in first grade, came home and expressed her great sadness at the demise of a particular type of bird in Hawaii. The encroachment of man, she assured me, was killing birdies. So I decided to look into it. A quick Google search revealed that not only was the pending extinction of the bird NOT due to man, but that it WAS due to nature taking it’s course. In fact, several environmental groups in Hawaii were opposing the intervention the state was considering, on the grounds that interference would upset the balance of nature. My child’s teacher could have looked up this data. But why would she? She “knows” the truth. Man is bad for earth. If something is dying, we did it.

People “know” we’re hurting the earth with pollution. They “know” greenhouse gases are heating up the earth. They “know” that will eventually cause catastrophic devastation. After all, there was a movie! They “know” the science is settled. They “know” all the scientists are in agreement. After all, there was a Nobel prize!

It’s time now for people to know the real truth. You may think after all that I’ve written that I now demand retraction and apology. Perhaps in my high dudgeon I will require confession and absolution from the AGW faithful before I consider them once more acceptable. But I do not.

Because the most important part of the scandals here isn’t the relative reliability of the data or the relative accuracy of the predictions of global warming. The important lesson of the scandals is two things. Two very important things.

The first is that, with all the serious problems with the data and conclusions regarding global warming, we would be irresponsible stewards of our nation and guardians of our children’s futures if we now allowed ourselves to be seduced by another Kyoto or Copenhagen. We cannot let a do-good impulse to best our own reason and judgment. Cap and trade must die. Copenhagen must not be reborn.

The second, and perhaps in the long view the more important, is this: THE SCIENCE IS NOT SETTLED. Even if you are still fully on-board the AGW train, you cannot continue to claim the science is settled. Scientists around the globe are expressing their doubts, and even the chief architects of the IPCC report have admitted for the record that there remain questions about both the data and the conclusions. People. This is the very definition of not settled. If you grant that debate continues apace, and you can’t not grant that without checking out from reality in full, then you must grant, you MUST grant, that there is no consensus. You must grant that the science is not settled. And I urge you to never again judge the relative accuracy of a scientific theory like you are voting for the prom queen and king. Something is true, or untrue, regardless of how many of your friends think it’s super-keen. Just ask Copernicus.

The scientific community is unsettled. Beyond our borders, the people are unsettled. The press is unsettled. And all because the science, it turns out, is unsettled. The hysteria must end. It’s time for science to de-cult and get back into the business of science.

So, to the press, to the left, and especially to the scientific community at large …

Caleb Howe