Consensus or Con? The global warmists are the real deniers

February 18, 2010 06:33


This column was scoffing at global warming back when global warming was still cool. But even we have been surprised at the extent of the past three months’ “meltdown” of global warmism, to use the metaphor that everyone seems to have settled on.

As we’ve written on various occasions, we didn’t know enough about the substance of the underlying science to make a judgment about it. But we know enough about science itself to recognize that the popular rendition of global warmism–dogmatic, doctrinaire and scornful of skepticism–is not the least bit scientific. The revelations in the Climategate emails show that these attitudes were common among actual scientists, not just the popularizers of their work.

Still, we would not have gone so far as to say that global warming was just a hoax. Surely there was some actual science to back it, even if there was a lot less certainty than was claimed.

Now, though, we’re wondering if this was too charitable a view. London’s Sunday Times reports that scientists are “casting doubt” on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “claim that global temperatures are rising inexorably because of human pollution,” a claim the IPCC describes as “unequivocal”:

“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.”

Meanwhile, the BBC carries an extraordinary interview with Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and the central Climategate figure. In the interview, Jones admits that the periods 1860-80 and 1910-40 saw global warming on a similar scale to the 1975-98 period, that there has been no significant warming since 1995, and that the so-called Medieval Warm Period calls into question whether the currently observed warming is unprecedented.

And then there’s this exchange:

When scientists say “the debate on climate change is over,” what exactly do they mean–and what don’t they mean?

It would be supposition on my behalf to know whether all scientists who say the debate is over are saying that for the same reason. I don’t believe the vast majority of climate scientists think this. This is not my view. There is still much that needs to be undertaken to reduce uncertainties, not just for the future, but for the instrumental (and especially the palaeoclimatic) past as well.

So “the vast majority of climate scientists” don’t think the debate is over? Someone had better tell the IPCC, Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee and most of our colleagues in the media, who have long been insisting otherwise–and indeed, who continue to do so. An example is this piece from yesterday’s Washington Post:

With its 2007 report declaring that the “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won a Nobel Prize–and a new degree of public trust in the controversial science of global warming.

But recent revelations about flaws in that seminal report, ranging from typos in key dates to sloppy sourcing, are undermining confidence not only in the panel’s work but also in projections about climate change. Scientists who have pointed out problems in the report say the panel’s methods and mistakes–including admitting Saturday that it had overstated how much of the Netherlands was below sea level–give doubters an opening.

It wasn’t the first one. There is still a scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change. But . . .

That sentence beginning “There is still . . .” seems a rote recitation of an editorial position, sort of like when a news story refers to “a procedure that opponents call ‘partial-birth abortion,’ ” or when Reuters puts scare quotes around “terrorism.” (Or, for that matter, like when we refer to John Kerry as “the haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Democrat who by the way served in Vietnam,” except that we are satirizing the practice.) The gist of the Post’s story is that the so-called consensus no longer exists, if it ever did. So why is the paper compelled to assert that it still does?

For an amusing example, listen to this New Yorker podcast on Climategate, featuring writers Elizabeth Kolbert and Peter J. Boyer. Boyer acknowledges that the emails raise serious questions about Climate science, but Kolbert denies it. Listen, though, to Kolbert’s tone of voice: She sounds extremely defensive, as if she feels personally threatened by questions about global-warmist doctrine.

And maybe she does. There are, no doubt, lots of true believers in global warming–not scientists, but people, including many journalists, who have embraced global warmism as a political and quasireligious doctrine based, they have been led to believe, on the authority of science.

Even Phil Jones acknowledges climate science is rife with uncertainty, but global warmism’s popularizers refuse to brook any doubt or acknowledge that the “consensus” they have touted is a sham.

And they used to call us deniers.

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