Sunday, December 20, 2009



The only story in the news last week, that the Copenhagen Climate Conference Proceedings (CCCP) continued unabashed, illustrates just how the entire dialogue on environmentalism has been usurped for cold, calculating political purposes. Two weeks back, in an unprecedented move 56 of the world's newspapers, using 20 languages, published a common editorial.

The article states that 'humanity faces a profound emergency' and that unless we do what's already been decided we should do that 'climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security'. This is the same conclusive, didactic tone that dominates most major media coverage of such questions and issues, a tone that can never be supported by scientific evidence, largely because scientific evidence just doesn't work that way. That evidence can be used to support a theory and make predictions on the basis of that theory, but it can't tell you the future behaviour of complex systems with any guarantee of accuracy. This is commonly known as the butterfly effect. A butterfly flaps its wings in New York and ten hours later the weather in Peking changes.

So why did 56 of the world's newspapers do this? Newspapers are very much in competition with one another for readership and advertising revenue. This, rather than any sense of democratic responsibility, is the reason why the same story will be told differently by different outlets. Guardian readers will as a rule not touch the Daily Mail, and vice versa, though to someone with no affiliation they're both pretty poor. This latest move is only the culmination of a longstanding policy of unanimity amongst the mainstream media when it comes to discussing the possibility of an anthropogenic origin of climate change and therefore the need for widespread economic policies to counter the deadly climate change that will allegedly result. The epistemological basis for such claims doesn't exist, and the economics of running a newspaper would dictate that at least a token difference in content is a good idea, and yet some force was at play that overcame that.  

Some versions of the editorial made mention of the awfully-named 'climategate' scandal, where the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia university was hacked. Various e-mails and other files that were obtained by the hacker(s) are now widely available online, and despite the attempts to deny their significance they have given a boost to many of those people who are skeptical about whether global warming is taking place, or whether it has a human cause.  

The most obvious aspect of the e-mails is their vocabulary in discussing anyone who is even skeptical about the CRU's conclusions. While science is meant to proceed in an atmosphere of mutual skepticism and questionning, anyone deviating from the 'global warming is real and serious and caused by humans' belief is evidently seen as hostile, an opponent to be overcome. One e-mail from Phil Jones, the head of the CRU, describes the death of sceptic John Daly as 'cheering news'. Though this was said in a once-private email, it betrays an ugly attitude on the part of people whose professional obligation is towards careful questionning, not rejecting disagreement in all its forms.

The same attitude is seen in the emails discussing those who were using the Freedom of Information Act to get the data and models on which the CRU formed their conclusions, including the infamous hockey stick graph. In one, Phil Jones talks about how he'd rather delete the data than give it out (which is a crime), and about finding ways to hide behind the Data Protection Act. He also mentions an e-mail sent to him by former head of the CRU Tom Wigley, 'worried' that he'd have to give up the source code for his model. Wigley is now retired, and Jones suggests that this should be enough to protect him and his contribution. In another, Jones asks another member of CRU staff to delete emails that were also subject to FOIA requests.

The Canada Free Press recently published an article by Tim Ball, the man in the video above, profiling Jones and Wigley and how they'd been at the centre of the CRU and the IPCC throughout the period when climate science became so politicised. Indeed, one of the most recent e-mails of all is from Wigley to Jones, stating that land warming since 1980 is double the ocean warming, and that sceptics might use this to argue that the urban heat island effect is more influential than is accounted for in the models. Other e-mails from Wigley to Jones illustrate that despite his retirement, Wigley is very much still running the show at the CRU, including this e-mail in which he expresses concern at the 1940s warming 'blip' which they cannot explain. Ultimately, concern is at how to make the 'blip' disappear so as to not threaten the desired conclusion, rather than a genuine scientific concern that their conclusion might be wrong.

Another exchange from 2005 shows considerably more dissent and disagreement within the scientific community that the 'consensus' would have us believe. This gives credence to the over 30,000 scientists (including 9000 PhDs) who have signed a petition saying they are not part of the consensus. Going back to 1997 we find an email discussing how to manipulate media coverage to make it seem like the scientific community were far more unified that they were in reality:

Mike, Rob,