The Climategate Verdict: Redemption or Whitewash?

The long awaited report on last year’s Climategate has just been released. The panel that conducted the inquiry was chaired by former U.K. civil servant Muir Russell. It was in response to the leaking of more than 1,000 confidential emails from the East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU). Recommendations from the inquiry focused on minor concerns with the practices of the CRU: Sloppy data management and a lack of transparency in making their data publicly accessible.

Russell stated in his report, “we find that their rigor and honesty as scientists are not in doubt, we do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness.” Overall, the report did not find outright fraud by the unit in their reporting on climate change. Nonetheless, the report, much like Climategate itself, has created a lot of buzz. The responses so far to the report indicate the debate over this controversy is likely to continue even after its release.

I’ve posted links below which really give an array of reactions to the report:

  • The team at Real Climate find vindication in the report.
  • Climate Audit finds fault in the report and provides a detailed account of their contention with its findings.
  • George Monbiot no longer has second thoughts about the CRU and climate change after reading the report.
  • Gene Lyons declares “Mission Accomplished” after the panel’s report.
  • Gerald Warner argues that even after this report the CRU brand remains toxic.
  • The Guardian faults the CRU for too much secrecy in their operations which caused this problem in the first place.
  • Terrence Corcoran argues that even though Russell’s report is in, it does not resolve the issue that climate science is in shambles.
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Bias and the IPCC?

The Economist provides a thoughtful, while provocative, account of the work of the IPCC to date. The premise of the Economist’s argument is that though there may not be systemic bias on the part of the IPCC, by only focusing on negative aspects of climate change, the body should nevertheless pay closer attention to its work. I cannot stress the importance of this matter to ensure the body’s work does not become too political in future reporting…more to come.

Is the IPCC too negative?

An Update on Climate Change Legislation

Since the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, climate legislation has been essentially “tabled” among the Democratic leadership. Nevertheless, activity is still underway but overall political consensus for pushing legislation this year is unlikely to meet current efforts by individual members of Congress. Here is a quick recap of what is currently in process:

  1. Senate Energy Chairman Drafting Utility-Only Climate Bill
  2. Environmental groups press President Obama to take stronger lead on climate
  3. Senator Murkowski and Climate Change
  4. Why John Kerry won’t back down from climate change legislation

And BP shows us what to do in case you spill some coffee:

Mucking It Up: Offshore Drilling and Mixed Messages from the Democrats

Last week President Obama announced a proposal to authorize offshore oil drilling off the eastern coast of the U.S. His message was certainly a change from earlier statements. Here are a few snippets of the President’s multiple positions on this issue:

This apparent shift in policy elicited similar responses from the President’s allies and critics in Congress. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D, NJ) said “Drilling off the Virginia coast would endanger many of New Jersey’s beaches and vibrant coastal economies.” The junior senator from New Jersey, Robert Menendez (D, NJ), noted this proposal was a “non-starter.” Senators Ted Kaufman (D, Del.) and Barbara Mikulski (D, Md.) joined their New Jersey colleagues in opposing the plan by issuing the following statement:

“While I share the President’s commitment to taking our dependence on foreign oil head-on, I do not believe opening Delaware’s coasts to drilling is the way to meet that goal. It is a simple fact that the United States has only a tiny percentage of world oil reserves – 3 percent – while we consume 25 percent. We cannot achieve meaningful energy independence through our own oil reserves. We can and must focus on building an energy economy that relies on clean, renewable domestic sources.”

Further, Republicans also remain skeptical of this course of action. Senator James Inhofe (R, OK) noted this change in course reveals a contradiction in the President’s position on this issue. Namely that the President has on the one hand pushed forward with global warming centric-policies, which according to Senator Inhofe “make fossil fuels more expensive,” while on the other hand, the President has opened the door for drilling for more fossil fuels offshore. The skeptical Inhofe noted “how does the President square these two policies?”

Thus the confusion over this change in policy course has left both the President’s allies and critics perplexed. Perhaps there is an underlying motive to his current position: President Obama does not want to be perceived as inactive on energy policy, particularly when the price of oil is expected to jump again this summer which could hurt his party during the upcoming midterm elections. Perhaps I am being a little too cynical.

Climategate: The Scientist Speaks

Testimony from Dr. Phil Jones (the former Director of the CRU) before Members of the British Parliament earlier this week, illustrates the limits of science in politics. Thus the limitation can best be summarized by the following relationship: The scientific process requires uncertainty in deriving outcomes about the natural world while politics demands certainty in its conclusions before taking action on a particular problem.

From watching his statements one thing is clear. Even though Dr. Jones may be right about climate change, one would hope that policymakers do seek out multiple perspectives on the issue before accepting his theories and weigh the consequences associated with them before taking action on climate change.

A look at the policy process and budgeting: EPA Budget Hearings

Over the next couple of days, the Senate Environmental Public Works (EPW) committee will conduct hearings on the EPA’s budget for fiscal year (FY) 2011. What’s interesting from the hearings is that it provides an inside look at how policymakers are not only debating the issue, but also how they are constructing arguments on facts that best suite their existing positions on climate change. This is nothing new in terms of the political process, but does highlight some of the challenges where science and politics converge in developing public policy.

Highlights of the request include:

  • The overall request for FY2011 is approximately a $10B budget for the EPA.
  • The request includes a reduction to overall agency funding by about $300M from FY2010 while reallocating about $56M (includes new funding of $43M) for programs to regulate and control greenhouse gas emissions.
  • There have been concerted efforts led by Senator Linda Murkowski (R-AK) and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) to introduce legislation to strip from the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  The budget process for the EPA serves as a forum for these legislators to block, or water-down, regulatory efforts by the EPA.

Nevertheless, from watching the hearings there are many questions left unanswered:

  • Should the EPA regulate carbon dioxide or is it the role of Congress?
  • Why do EPW senators provide such differing causal arguments about climate change ?
  • How does the public perceive the arguments for or against climate change? Do public perceptions matter?
  • How can we redefine this issue beyond the current rhetoric (e.g. partisanship, personal attacks, binary divisions in the global context of “us versus them,” etc.)? Has the debate become too cavalier?
  • Do you feel the EPW and EPA are representing our interests or the interests of special groups who would benefit from this type of legislation?
  • Should government regulate industries over environmental issues or develop markets and provide subsidies for industries to compete in environmental markets?
  • What are some of the limits of environmentalism in shaping environmental policy?
  • Why does Senator Inofe have an issue with political scientists?
  • How important is using political arguments around scientific certainty in order to develop competing policies to regulate carbon dioxide?