Procrastination aid Of The Day: UEA CRU hyperbole

Best summation of the whole storm in a tea-cup (the Univesity of East Anglia Climate Research Unit’s documents that were obtained illegally and published online last week by a hacker) that I’ve found so far:

#788 | Steven J Heimel says:
22 November 2009 at 1:43 AM

Okay. Can we step back a little and get the big picture? My understanding is this. Tell me if I am wrong, The emails largely had to do with dealing with an already known problem with dendrochronology. The oceans are still rising, the Arctic ice is still melting back worse in the summer, the glaciers are still withdrawing. And all of this is still exceeding IPCC models, as the modelers well know. The hockey stick has acquired another crook. So what? Be glad, world! Even with that, things (including methane releases from the permafrost I am willing to bet) are worse than the models predicted. I write this from 61 north. And none of this has anything to do with Al Gore.

I’m not entirely sure (after 700+ comments it becomes a bit confusing to keep track of who’s arguing with whom) but I’m pretty sure that the “So what? Be glad, world!” bit is in reference to the way that certain contrarians are touting these emails as if they somehow reveal that AGW has been a hoax all along, and so “the world” (i.e. humans) can be happy that we don’t have to stop guzzling petrochemicals and spewing forth carbon waste into the atmosphere and the oceans. For people who proudly proclaim themselves skeptical of “unproved claims”, these folks don’t seem to have been very skeptical at all of the provenance and pristine integrity of these documents, do they?

Anyway, for more context, here’s some official statements from the University of East Anglia and the Climate Research Unit, including the big one that despite all the claims flying around that CRU researchers were blocking access to raw data, that in fact over 95% of their data has been available for several years.

Another point made that I found interesting, although I can’t find a direct link to it now, is that one of the ideologies driving climate change denialism is those who are radically anti-birth control, because they see environmentalism of any kind as just a way of demanding that we act in concert to prevent population growth: those who want to continue multiplying see climate change in particular as one argument that might really sway people in favour of limiting the size of their families, because it affects not just exotic animals living a long way away but the actual crops and animal/fish stocks that their children and grandchildren etc etc will need to have available in the future so that they do not starve.

Categories: culture wars, environment, Science

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4 replies

  1. I read through a bit of this with some trepidation. Climate science is an inexact science, and I was a little concerned that they may have found something that could be taken well out of context and blown all out of proportion. What I found was a bunch of scientists talking about how hard it is to synthesise data from heterogeneous sources and not to obscure the fundamental message. I read it and thought “What? This is the best you can do with 1000 documents? Are you utterly clueless about how science works?”
    I found the “revelation” of these documents very comforting. I have not been batting for the wrong team, climate change is real.

    • The timing of this hack and the spin on a few displays of petulance against misrepresentative pests (who were harassing the CRU team with vexatious FOI requests for data that wasn’t theirs to give) strikes me as quite clearly aimed squarely at the meetings in Copenhagen, and especially at the US representation there. The tack taken by FoxNews is a weird combination of outrage and gloating at the “scam”.
      I just want to nitpick your “Climate science is an inexact science” – there’s nothing inexact about the many measurements taken over many parts of the world, and taken from materials that show historic variations (tree rings, ice cores, coral reefs etc); measurements that show that there have been unprecedentedly rapid atmospheric and oceanic changes since the Industrial Revolution. There’s still a way to go with climate modelling, but there’s whole swathes of climate science which is very exact indeed, and just like the trends in blackjack hands tell us that the casino will end up making a profit even though we can’t predict the card distribution in the next hand, the trends in the measurements make it clear that so many unprecedented changes to our biosphere are taking us well into uncharted territory that threatens the adaptive capacity of many species of animals, fish and plants.
      If even a tenth of the world’s species of food animals/fish/plants die off, what will happen to the human food chain? Do countries that currently import more food than they grow have any idea where they’ll replace the food that their current suppliers are going to start keeping for themselves? I’m convinced that if more people in the West actually had a better grasp on agriculture they’d be far more worried about the potential threat to our food supplies instead of concentrating so hard on sea levels. Think about the relative social dislocation potential in absorbing displaced populations from shorefront properties as the oceans gradually rise versus the social dislocation potential of everybody competing directly for scarcer food. The most vicious mass revolts in history have occurred in starving populations against those perceived to have more.

  2. I’ve finally got back to this…
    Yes, you’re right, a lot of the measurements are exactly that – measurements and not at all inexact. I really had expected them to be taking pot shots at the models, because they differ wildly in their predictions. Of course, they differ in terms of exactly which catastrophes will strike and in what order, rather than if, but this inherent uncertainty is easy fodder for denialists.
    So I was surprised to find that they were attacking measurement data. I haven’t read the leaked stuff in detail, but the quick analysis I read was talking about the “trick” to plotting data from differing sources – specifically direct and indirect measures of carbon, which does involve a degree of inexactness. But still, this “criticism” applies to a huge proportion of science – and pretty much all of medicine. I doubt many climate change denialists would be arguing that we shouldn’t be funding hospitals because there is uncertainty in the underlying science.
    I also utterly agree that threats to food are a much bigger problem – but they are complicated to understand. Ok, not very complicated, but it is harder to explain than “ice melts, sea levels rise, tropical paradises cease to exist (as do bits of the Eastern Suburbs)”. In terms of humanitarian crisis, sea level rises have massive consequences very quickly for Bangladesh – millions of people displaced very quickly. I notice this is rarely mentioned either. Rich people don’t go on holidays to Bangladesh.
    Ok, I think I’ve depressed myself enough for this morning.

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