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Special Edition: Phil Jones's Revelations and the The Meltdown of Global Warming Alarmism

Forget all you've heard about unprecedented global warming; global warming so rapid it can't be natural but must be anthropogenic; global warming threatening to devastate economies, ecosystems, and perhaps even human civilization itself; global warming on which "the science is settled" and "the debate is over."

Forget it all.

Last Saturday (February 13), Dr. Phil Jones, long-time director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (until he stepped down in December under investigation for scientific misconduct) and the provider of much of the most important data on which the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and many governments have based fears of unprecedented global warming starting in the mid-1970s, gave an interview to the BBC in which he made some shocking revelations.

Keep in mind as you read the list of those revelations below and then, if you click to it, the BBC transcript, that the BBC has been a major proponent of belief in dangerous anthropogenic global warming (DAGW) and indeed has billions of dollars of its pension funds invested in ventures that stand to benefit from that belief. Its interviewer was by no means hostile to Jones, did not follow up when Jones's answers were less than forthcoming, and generally simply gave Jones a platform from which to attempt to vindicate himself and the theory he has long promoted.

Jones's Shocking Revelations

Nonetheless, in the interview Jones:

  1. admitted that he did not believe that "the debate on climate change is over" and that he didn't "believe the vast majority of climate scientists think this" (Al Gore, Barack Obama, Barbara Boxer, did you hear that? Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Union of Concerned Scientists, did you hear that? Ed Begley, Robert Kennedy, Richard Cizik, Jim Ball, did you hear that?);
  2. admitted that there was no statistically significant difference between rates of warming from 1860-1880 and 1910-1940 and the rate from 1975-1998, though he and other DAGW believers had for years said the rate in the last period was unprecedented and therefore couldn't be natural but must be manmade;
  3. admitted that there has been no statistically significant warming for the last 15 years (though he personally believes this is only a temporary pause in manmade warming);
  4. admitted that natural influences could have contributed to the 1975-1998 warming (significantly mentioning only the sun and volcanoes--the latter a brief cooling factor--and completely omitting reference to ocean circulations such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the North Atlantic Oscillation, and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, and changes in cloudiness stemming from both the ocean circulations and changes in influx of cosmic rays, all of which have been demonstrated to have strong effect on global temperature);
  5. admitted that the revelation of data handling failures at CRU and elsewhere (e.g., the U.K. Meteorological Office) had shaken the trust many people have in science;
  6. admitted that the Medieval Warm Period might well have been as warm as the Current Warm Period (1975-present), or warmer, and that if it was "then obviously the late-20th century warmth would not be unprecedented" (though he persisted in doubting the MWP to have been global and as warm as the present);
  7. dodged a question about a change of rules at the IPCC allowing lead authors to cite scientific papers not published by deadline, despite the Climategate emails record having shown that he was actively involved in precisely that change;
  8. said that his "life has been awful" since Climategate broke in November;
  9. dodged a question about why he had asked a colleague to delete emails relating to the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report, asked the colleague to ask others to do likewise, and said he had already done so himself;
  10. dodged a question about whether some of his handling of data had crossed the line of acceptable scientific practice;
  11. dodged a question about the significance of his having written in one email that he had used a "trick" to "hide the decline" in tree-ring temperature data

As a former journalist, having conducted many interviews, and now often interviewed myself by journalists and talk show hosts, I can't avoid the strong impression that Jones was given the questions, or at least some, in advance and probably made lack of tough follow-up questions a condition of submitting to be interviewed. (By the way, I have never either required or granted such conditions.) His obviously having been prepared with a statistical table to refer to in answer to the first question is one of the evidences of that.

Poor Data Documentation

In related news, the UK's Mail Online reported that Jones has admitted having trouble "keeping track" of the data he has used in constructing the research papers claiming unprecedented recent warming. The Mail Online said Jones said there was truth in colleagues observations "that he lacked organizational skills, that his office was swamped with piles of paper and that his record keeping is 'not as good as it should be'." It also reported that colleagues say "the reason . . . Jones refused Freedom of Information requests is that he may have actually lost the relevant papers." Though admitting his failure at record keeping, however, Jones "denied he had cheated over the data or unfairly influenced the scientific process." Nonetheless, Jones told the Sunday Times "that he had contemplated suicide" over the revelations that he had "misjudged" the "handling of requests for information."

BBC environmental editor Roger Harrabin also interviewed Jones. Harrabin's report tells of Jones's saying American data centers suffered similar poor record keeping--which implies that none of the datasets on which the IPCC and other bodies have relied is really trustworthy. (This is the same Roger Harrabin, by the way, who admits that the IPCC needs major reforming to regain credibility but rejects its abolition because "without a mutually-accepted source of information it is inconceivable that nations of the world will be able to agree a joint resolve to cut emissions"--i.e., he already knows the conclusion and what policy should be, and the crucial thing is to ensure that the world stays on message. For all you non-logicians out there, this is called begging the question.)

Replicability is a hallmark of truly scientific research, and meticulous record keeping is essential to replicability. And, as Dr. Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and editor of CCNet, the Cambridge Conference Network newsletter, points out, Jones's excuse for his failure to share data in response to requests rings hollow in light of the fact that the Climategate emails leaked from the CRU demonstrate that he readily shared the data with sympathetic researchers.

Indur Goklany Critiques Jones's Responses

Dr. Indur M. Goklany, who has worked with the IPCC as an author, U.S. delegate, and reviewer and was an analyst with the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the author of a book and numerous scholarly papers on climate change, posted annotations to Jones's BBC interview at WattsUpWithThat, a leading site critical of DAGW. A few of his points:

  • Jones's dismissal of the lack of warming over the last 15 years and cooling over the last 8 hides the fact that "this is at odds with the IPCC's model-based claim that were emissions frozen at 2000 levels then we would see a global temperature increase of 0.2°C per decade. This, in turn, suggests that the IPCC models have overestimated climate sensitivity for greenhouse gases, underestimated natural variability, or both. This also suggests that there is a systematic upward bias in the impacts estimates [forecasts of damage from warming] based on these models."
  • Jones's saying he still believes the post-1975 warming is anthropogenic because it can't be explained by solar and volcanic forcing "is based on laughable logic. It is an 'argument from ignorance'! . . .What about internal natural variability and other 'natural influences'? How well do we know the external and internal sources of natural variability?"
  • Jones's attempt to whitewash his claim in an email to have used "Mike's Nature trick" to "hide the decline" was mere obfuscation. Although Jones rightly pointed out that he wasn't trying to hide a decline in instrumental temperate observations, the reality is that he was trying to hide a decline in tree-ring temperature proxy observations from about 1960 to 1999--a decline that put the tree-ring proxies in direct opposition to thermometer measures for that period, what paleoclimatologists now refer to in shorthand as "the divergence problem." Goklany comments, "1. Given the divergence problem, how can it be assumed that tree rings are valid proxies for temperature for other places at other times?" But if they aren't, then the alarmists have lost all basis for their "hockey stick" graphs purporting to show stable global temperature for thousands of years leading to unprecedented warming in the last century. "2. The divergence problem may be well known among tree ring researcher but laymen and policy makers for whom the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers was supposedly written are generally ignorant of it. I also suspect that scientists in other disciplines were not aware of the divergence problem. They were owed this information up front, in the only document on climate change they were likely to read. Another sin of omission." I.e., however technically accurate Jones's explanation of the event might be, hiding the decline still resulted in deceiving decision makers and hiding the much more important implication of the divergence problem: The basis for claims of long-term stability brought to an end by human carbon dioxide emissions was wrong.

The Implications

Jones's concessions are no tempest in a teapot. They strike at the very root of DAGW fears and of the credibility of temperature data on which the IPCC and governments around the world have based those fears and consequent policies. As the editors of Sunday's Mail Online put it,

Untold billions of pounds have been spent on turning the world green and also on financing the dubious trade in carbon credits.

Countless gallons of aviation fuel have been consumed carrying experts, lobbyists and politicians to apocalyptic conferences on global warming.

Every government on Earth has changed its policy, hundreds of academic institutions, entire school curricula and the priorities of broadcasters and newspapers all over the world have been altered - all to serve the new doctrine that man is overheating the planet and must undertake heroic and costly changes to save the world from drowning as the icecaps melt.

You might have thought that all this was based upon well-founded, highly competent research and that those involved had good reason for their blazing, hot-eyed certainty and their fierce intolerance of dissent.

But, thanks to the row over leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit, we now learn that this body's director, Phil Jones, works in a disorganised fashion amid chaos and mess.

Interviewed by the highly sympathetic BBC, which still insists on describing the leaked emails as 'stolen', Professor Jones has conceded that he 'did not do a thorough job' of keeping track of his own records.

His colleagues recall that his office was 'often surrounded by jumbled piles of papers'.

Even more strikingly, he also sounds much less ebullient about the basic theory, admitting that there is little difference between global warming rates in the Nineties and in two previous periods since 1860 and accepting that from 1995 to now there has been no statistically significant warming.

He also leaves open the possibility, long resisted by climate change activists, that the 'Medieval Warm Period' from 800 to 1300 AD, and thought by many experts to be warmer than the present period, could have encompassed the entire globe.

This is an amazing retreat, since if it was both global and warmer, the green movement's argument that our current position is 'unprecedented' would collapse.

It is quite reasonable to suggest that human activity may have had some effect on climate.

There is no doubt that careless and greedy exploitation has done much damage to the planet.

But in the light of the 'Climategate' revelations, it is time for governments, academics and their media cheerleaders to be more modest in their claims and to treat sceptics with far more courtesy.

The question is not settled.

IPCC's Crumbling CredibilityThe Wall Street Journal wrote similarly in an editorial today that before even getting to the story of Jones's admissions led off:

It has been a bad-make that dreadful-few weeks for what used to be called the "settled science" of global warming, and especially for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that is supposed to be its gold standard.

First it turns out that the Himalayan glaciers are not going to melt anytime soon, notwithstanding dire U.N. predictions. Next came news that an IPCC claim that global warming could destroy 40% of the Amazon was based on a report by an environmental pressure group. Other IPCC sources of scholarly note have included a mountaineering magazine and a student paper.

Since the climategate email story broke in November, the standard defense is that while the scandal may have revealed some all-too-human behavior by a handful of leading climatologists, it made no difference to the underlying science. We think the science is still disputable. But there's no doubt that climategate has spurred at least some reporters to scrutinize the IPCC's headline-grabbing claims in a way they had rarely done previously.

Take the rain forest claim. In its 2007 report, the IPCC wrote that "up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state."

But as Jonathan Leake of London's Sunday Times reported last month, those claims were based on a report from the World Wildlife Fund, which in turn had fundamentally misrepresented a study in the journal Nature. The Nature study, Mr. Leake writes, "did not assess rainfall but in fact looked at the impact on the forest of human activity such as logging and burning."

The IPCC has relied on World Wildlife Fund studies regarding the "transformation of natural coastal areas," the "destruction of more mangroves," "glacial lake outbursts causing mudflows and avalanches," changes in the ecosystem of the "Mesoamerican reef," and so on. The Wildlife Fund is a green lobby that believes in global warming, and its "research" reflects its advocacy, not the scientific method.

The IPCC has also cited a study by British climatologist Nigel Arnell claiming that global warming could deplete water resources for as many as 4.5 billion people by the year 2085. But as our Anne Jolis reported in our European edition, the IPCC neglected to include Mr. Arnell's corollary finding, which is that global warming could also increase water resources for as many as six billion people.

The IPCC report made aggressive claims that "extreme weather-related events" had led to "rapidly rising costs." Never mind that the link between global warming and storms like Hurricane Katrina remains tenuous at best. More astonishing (or, maybe, not so astonishing) is that the IPCC again based its assertion on a single study that was not peer-reviewed. In fact, nobody can reliably establish a quantifiable connection between global warming and increased disaster-related costs. In Holland, there's even a minor uproar over the report's claim that 55% of the country is below sea level. It's 26%.

Ongoing Investigations

It has already been concluded that Jones and the CRU violated Britain's Freedom of Information Act, though the conclusion came too late for prosecution. An inquiry by the University of East Anglia into whether Jones is guilty of serious scientific misconduct continues--following the resignation from the inquiry panel of Dr. Philip Campbell, editor in chief of Nature , after it was revealed that, shortly after the Climategate emails were released, he had "told Chinese state radio . . . that he did not believe that the emails had shown any evidence of improper conduct." The comment clearly demonstrated Campbell's bias in the matter and disqualified him from participating on the panel, though he did not reveal the fact himself. Ironically, Nature is the journal in which Dr. Michael Mann used the tactic that Jones referred to in one of the most famous of the Climategate emails as "Mike's Nature trick."

A crucial question for the panel to address is what Jones knew when in 1990 he co-authored an article titled "Assessment of urbanization effects in time series of surface air temperature over land" that argued that the "urban heat island effect" on apparent global temperate data was insignificant. That paper has been a controlling factor in alarmists' claims ever since and has been cited repeatedly by the IPCC, particularly in a crucial chapter of the 2007 Assessment Report of which Jones himself was lead author. In the 1990 paper Jones and co-authors, particularly Wei-Chyung Wang, claimed that temperature data source stations in China "were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times."

But as Doug Keenan pointed out in an article in the Journal Energy & Environment in 2007, sources cited by Jones and his co-authors themselves specified that "station histories are not currently available" and "details regarding instrumentation, collection methods, changes in station location or observing times ... are not known" for 49 out of the 84 stations, making it impossible for the authors to have known what they claimed to know about those stations. And later research demonstrated that indeed there were major problems of instrumentation, collection methods, and station locations for the remaining 35 stations.

Keenan says Jones probably didn't know of the errors when he published the paper in 1990. But in 2001 Jones co-authored a new paper that, Keenan says, "correctly describes how the stations had undergone relocations, and it concludes that those relocations substantially affected the measured temperatures-in direct contradiction to the claims of [the 1990 paper]. Thus, by 2001, Jones must have known that the claims of Wang were not wholly true."

Yet Jones, knowing this, and even after Keenan emailed him in 2007 saying "this proves that you knew there were serious problems with Wang's claims back in 2001; yet some of your work since then has continued to rely on those claims, most notably in the latest report from the IPCC," still has never published a correction to the 1990 paper, though under questioning he has now told Nature he "will give it some thought. It's worthy of consideration."

Investigations also continue at Pennsylvania State University into whether paleoclimatologist Michael Mann, another author of many of the Climategate emails, committed scientific misconduct.

Conclusion

When even the Times of London, long a promoter of DAGW, forthrightly reports, in the midst of all the news of the collapse of credibility of data purported to support DAGW, that other serious scientists say the world is not warming, you know the gig is up. The Times quotes Dr. John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama at Huntsville and a former lead author for the IPCC, as saying, "The temperature records cannot be relied on as indicators of global change" and then goes on to explain Christy's and others' criticisms at length. "The story is the same for each" region he has analyzed, Christy said. "The popular data sets show a lot of warming but the apparent temperature rise was actually caused by local factors affecting the weather stations, such as land development."

The Times also cites Dr. Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada (and a co-author of the Cornwall Alliance's Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming) as saying that his service as an IPCC reviewer "turned him into a strong critic." "We concluded," McKitrick said, "with overwhelming statistical significance, that the IPCC's climate data are contaminated with surface effects from industrialization and data quality problems. These add up to a large warming bias." And the Times refers to a study of U.S. weather stations by Anthony Watts and Joseph D'Aleo that demonstrates that most do not meet standards for siting, construction, and maintenance, resulting in the strong warm bias.

Let's face it. The case for DAGW has suffered mortal wounds. Never truly strong, the belief has been subjected to serious critiques by many of the world's top independent scientists, arguing along many lines not only that the science doesn't uphold it but also that policies meant to fight it could themselves be the true causes of disaster . Climategate is simply the death knell that confirms many suspicions of fraud and collusion among leading alarmists.

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