Climate research lament

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By Chick Keller

  Since the last science update of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said recent warming is due mostly to human emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), the critics have mounted an awesome pushback with some success.

    As a long time student of the amazing research into climate change, this writer must lament. It has been truly observed that “When ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

    In short, to the extent that the contrarians are succeeding, they are doing it through misinformation and flat-out incorrect statements, using rhetoric to generate uncertainty and outrage. Often they simply alter graphs or information to show their points (just as they charge incorrectly that others do.) Also they make statements that are true, but then lead the reader to interpret them incorrectly.

    Other times they just lie, as in a piece sent to thousands of scientists looking like a reprint from a journal but really just put together. In this they argue that the sun is doing the warming.

    How do they do this when satellites show average solar activity has not increased in the past 30 years? Easy, they falsify their graph of solar activity showing that its activity increases.     Now that’s “fudging the data” to make a point (a charge they make against climate scientists).

    Here I am not including the many good scientists who genuinely think the science is not yet certain enough to support the IPCC’s claims. With them we can have civil discussions, exchanging information and looking for common ground.

    They in fact sometimes provide a service by pointing out areas that need further work. The others are very different. They are modern day gothic writers. They paint a picture of a world that is one of intrigue, conspiracy, fraud, and hoaxes worthy of some of our best fiction writers — great entertainment, but not the truth.    

    How do they do it?  Americans rightly are concerned lest people with political or other motives bend the truth. The contrarians know only too well how to play on this, and are causing even well-meaning people to be increasingly concerned that the IPCC’s statements are wrong — driven by bad people.

    A recent column in the Monitor (Barbara Smith, “Debate looks like it was manipulated”) is another case in point. It is sad that people who write such pieces seem to get their information chiefly from blogs and the like. We all know you can find anything in them.

    They can make unfounded, incorrect and misleading charges and there is no process that demands they be truthful or correct.  Ms. Smith’s piece is unfortunately a classic example of what comes from uncritically not getting the whole story and simply repeating unfounded claims.   

    The author seems to be a genuinely concerned person, with whom we would agree, if the charges were correct. They are not. She has been told that the purloined e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Center (CRU) prove that nearly all climate researchers are scoundrels involved in a 25-year conspiracy to foist the hoax of human-caused global warming on a gullible world.

    The idea that such a conspiracy could involve hundreds of researchers from tens of countries for over a quarter century ignores any semblance of common sense.

    Nobody is losing their job for questioning the IPCC’s conclusions. Contrarians, when they write good papers, get them published. No hoax, no conspiracy — just humans working very hard to learn as fast as possible what we’re doing to our climate. No wonder climate scientists become exasperated at such stuff.

    Perhaps it’s this exasperation that motivated those CRU emails — in which people seemed to be blowing off steam — writing  things they didn’t really believe but never putting them into practice. Have you ever done that?

    But how to counter these purveyors of misinformation? It would take the entire page of this newspaper to begin to explain it. Instead you might want to consult a blog written by climate scientists that attempts to explain the errors in the contrarians’ arguments. One such is called Real Climate.

    Yes, it is another blog, but try it for balance. For example, it has some good discussion of the so-called East Anglia emails, which contrarians take out of context to make their points of fraud and deception.

    In this short piece all I can say is the following: There is no fraud, no hiding of information as anyone who reads the scientific publications can verify.  

    So sit back, take a deep breath. Then look at Real Climate and its links to the scientific papers themselves. A bit of work, but otherwise you become a victim of the bloggers.

Chick Keller was the Director (retired) of the University of California’s Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory.