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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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.

Is Global Warming a Big Deal?

David Ropeik provides an interesting argument about the link between how we perceive risk and how it relates to our perceptions of global warming. As I wrote in earlier posts, we tend to use information shortcuts and running tallies of how well the political parties have met our needs on environmental issues which in turn help define how we perceive the problem of global warming. The article provides a nice summary of the current state of polling on perceptions of global warming.

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?

The Politics Over The Process of Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

Over the past few months, the politics surrounding climate change continues to heat up . Recent efforts by global warming opponents have sought to disclaim the work, and credibility, of groups like the IPCC and CRU.  Opponents have been successful in their efforts to disclaim the work by these institutions by shifting the debate towards claims of cover ups and the mishandling of data by prominent climate scientists as proof of malfeasance. The goal of these efforts by global warming opponents is to redefine the debate over climate change.

By attempting to reshape the public’s perceptions of this issue, climate change opponents are attempting to provide an alternative explanation about some of the problems with the scientific consensus on global warming. This is a shift from previous attempts by global warming opponents to claim that climate change is either not happening or not a result of human activity. This strategy focuses on creating doubt among the public over the entire process in which scientific consensus was reached on this issue. Thus far opponents have done this in two ways. First, opponents have been successful in disclaiming the CRU. This led to the resignation of its Director, Phil Jones, over  leaked email messages that global warming opponents claimed was evidence of a corrupt peer-reviewed system by which scientific evidence on climate change was based.  Second, opponents have begun to discredit the IPCC over glacier-gate. Opponents claim the process that resulted in glacier-gate (faulty predictions over the melting of Himalayian glaciers) typifies a flawed process by which the IPCC makes their assessment on climate change; namely the IPCC’s process is driven by a political agenda and bureaucratic incompetence.  So, where does this leave us? Well, we should expect to see  global warming opponents up the ante in their efforts to challenge the process by which scientific consensus is reached over climate change.