Climategate: The Big Picture

It's been less than three months since the Climategate files were first revealed to the world, and an amazing lot has happened -- so much that I think it's worth bringing things together in one place.

This is an extension of the "fast facts" post I wrote a couple months ago. The facts and threads are now coming together into a narrative, a big picture combining what we learned from the letters and what we have learned since.

The Back Story

The idea that humans are causing changes in the climate is not at all new, going back at least to the Victorian era. But it's taken on a lot of political weight since the early 1990s, leading to the UN's endorsement of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 (followed promptly by the U.S. Senate rejection of the Kyoto Protocol in 1998).

The Kyoto Protocol was supported by the scientific findings of a UN-chartered group called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC released a series of Assessment Reports (AR), with the most recent to date being the IPCC AR4 in 2007. Each of these ARs has repeated and reinforced the conclusion that the primary climate change is a warming of the average temperature of the earth over the last hundred or so years, brought about primarily by increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. This theory is what is commonly called anthropogenic -- meaning "human caused" -- global warming (AGW).

The notion that humans were causing climate change was always more controversial than it was presented by the media -- it's hard to make a story out of someone saying "that's silly, we don't know enough to say that." As time went on, however, the IPCC reports claimed greater and greater certainty, and became the basis for things like Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Legal reactions to it became the basis for cap and trade schemes worldwide, and the general reaction became the basis for Al Gore's Oscar and his share of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Then the Climategate files came out, and the dominoes started to fall.

The emails showed, clearly, that some of the widely mocked conspiracy theories were true. There had actually been a concerted effort to prevent the "skeptics" (or "denialists") from getting access to data, and to prevent anyone who didn't accept the AGW theory wholeheartedly from being published. If the skeptics were stubborn enough, there were even conspiracies to attack their professional credentials and to effectively eject them from the scientific community. There were even half-joking threats to "beat the s*** out of them."

Once the emails shined a light on the "climate cartel," other things began to show up. It was suddenly clear that "skeptics" would be taken seriously, and it became more acceptable to dig elsewhere in the IPCC reports and to publish criticism.

The Science as Science

One primary public relations argument for the warmists has been the threat of the Himalayan glaciers -- which are the source for many rivers in India -- disappearing by 2035. That turned out to be based on a conversation, reported by a journalist, repeated by the World Wildlife Fund, and included, without citation, in the IPCC AR4.

This showed up on Roger Pielke Sr.'s blog. It spread through numerous outlets (including PJM), and the IPCC was forced to withdraw that statement. Further digging found that the WWF's unreviewed position papers were used dozens of times to support the "peer reviewed" assessment reports.

Roger Pielke Jr. then demonstrated that peer reviewed research showing there was no evidence that AGW was causing increased storm intensity or storm damage was published by the IPCC as concluding the exact opposite.

An increasing body of evidence suggests that the methods used to "homogenize" global temperature data were very effectively adding a warming bias to that data -- a "thumb on the scale" that appears to account for a good bit of the observed warming. Opaque methodology and poor data archiving make it very difficult to reliably, repeatably reconstruct even the homogenized temperatures. And the Climategate emails revealed ways in which people whose research contradicted AGW were marginalized and isolated.

There is more -- much more -- to come on the science and how it has been distorted.

The Finances of Science

So thanks to the Climategate files and the flood of information that came out following their release, some other interesting points emerged. Dr. Murari Lal admitted that the data was tarted up to be more inflammatory, purely because it was more politically effective. At the same time, long-delayed inquiries into the IPCC and its chief, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, unveiled conflicts of interest.

Dr. Pachauri was employed by the Energy Research Institute, which was formerly the Tata Energy Research Institute. Based on the fraudulent "2035" data, among others, TERI drew millions of dollars in grants from the European Union, the Carnegie Corporation, and other sources. Dr. Pachauri has a broad collection of other business associations which raise similar suspicions. These conflicts aren't anything as ungentlemanly as straightforward stock ownership, of course; they are just mysterious ties that undoubtedly pay honoraria as well as Dr. Pachauri's salary.

Has Climategate made anyone directly "rich"? Perhaps not. But there is a second story about the surprising lifestyle of these mere public servants.