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It is time to rethink public policy on climate change

April 2, 2010

By Dr. Stephen Murgatroyd
Troy Media

Dr. Stephen Murgatroyd

Dr. Stephen Murgatroyd

EDMONTON, AB, Apr. 2, 2010/ Troy Media/ — Dr. Phil Jones, Director of the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, should be thankful that the parliamentary committee in Britain looking into his actions during Climategate was in a forgiving mood.

The committee has largely exonerated Dr Jones, a key figure in Climategate, of any wrongdoing. But it was less enamoured of the common climatology practice of not releasing the raw data at the same time as the analysis of that data was published. It was also critical of the fact that requests for the release of the data under the UK Freedom of Information legislation were ignored.

Time for the raw data to be released

The committee’s review and exoneration, however, do not alter one basic fact: The global temperature data set prepared by Dr Jones and his two colleagues is still not readily available for public scrutiny. It is imperative that this data set be made available for the simply fact that it is at the heart of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that there is aggressive warming of the planet taking place.

But while the raw data still exists (and/or can be reconstructed from other records), what does not exist is the systematic adjustments Dr. Jones and his colleagues made to the data to account for urban heat sinks and other anomalies.

And it is these adjustments which make all the difference between the raw data and the published data.

Why? Well, measurements of the earth’s surface temperature are made by simple instruments which are meant to be located in places which are unaffected by human activity such as cars, heat sources and large buildings. Unfortunately, many are inappropriately located so adjustments have to be made to take into account the impact of these factors on the measurements. That is why whenever you see reference to global temperature you are actually looking at data from a computer model of what the instruments would say if only they were located in a different place. And how the model is built has a major impact on what the surface temperature will be.

Ross McKitrick at the University of Guelph has analysed the published data and used it to reconstruct models and then tested these against raw data sets which are available. His conclusion is simple. Most of the warming reported in the literature can be explained by the urban heat sinks and where the measuring instruments are located. Rather than measuring climate, Dr. Jones’ data is actually measuring industrialization – where industry and man has an impact on measuring instruments. Almost all of the temperature rises reported in Dr. Jones models can be explained by non-climatic factors.

It gets worse. The IPCC claims that the matter is settled – in fact, the IPCC says in the Summary for Policymakers that the impact of such effects have a “negligible influence” – and that there are no significant effects of industrialization on the measurement model. No substantial evidence for this claim is sited however. In fact, there is no evidence to support this view.

We are now at the crux of the matter. If the basis of the warming claim is problematic, what else is problematic? We know that the IPCC got it wrong on the claim that the ice caps on the Himalayas were melting so fast that they would soon be gone. We know it was wrong in its claims about sea level rises in the northern hemisphere. We know it was dead wrong in the claims that the warming climate is increasing the number and severity of storms. We know it was wrong in its claims about the Amazon rainforest. In all, we know that there were sixteen claims that cannot be supported by the available peer-reviewed evidence and that many of the claims made by the IPCC were based on what is known as “grey literature” – non peer reviewed materials in newspapers, leaflets, pamphlets and magazines.

Der Spiegel, the German newspaper, has published a major eight-part series of online articles this week about the “superstorm” affecting climate change science. Written in English, the articles explore the mistaken claims of the IPCC and use simple language to make clear that the science is not settled and that several major claims of the IPCC are demonstrably false. It looks to what it calls “politically-charged science” as an explanation for why the boundary between science and politics has been so blurred and how campaigners used their own scientific claims as a basis for their own campaigns.

Der Spiegel most telling example is the generally accepted political idea that temperature rises must be limited to two degrees Celsius or the planet is in peril. This idea was central to the Copenhagen Summit and remains at the heart of policy debate in governments around the world, most especially in Europe. Climate models involve some of the most demanding computations of any simulations, and only a handful of institutes worldwide have the necessary supercomputers. All of this is much too complicated for politicians, who prefer simple targets. For this reason a group of German scientists, yielding to political pressure, invented an easily digestible message in the mid-1990s: the two-degree target. To avoid even greater damage to human beings and nature, the scientists warned, the temperature on Earth could not be more than two degrees Celsius higher than it was before the beginning of industrialization.

Der Spiegel suggests that this is scientific nonsense. “Two degrees is not a magical limit — it’s clearly a political goal,” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “The world will not come to an end right away in the event of stronger warming, nor are we definitely saved if warming is not as significant. The reality, of course, is much more complicated.” You may not know that Schellnhuber is the “inventor” of the two-degree target. This one idea, which has no basis in science, made him Germany’s most influential climatologist. Schellnhuber, a theoretical physicist, became Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief scientific adviser.  

Outrageous claims are not science

Half truths, fabrications and outrageous claims do not make for a science. More specifically, they do not create the conditions under which a science can be “settled” or trusted by the public. Der Spiegel’s eight part series is a major challenge to the scientific community and to those who claim to be using science as a basis for policy. Trying to use fear to secure a radical agenda is not what we expect of either science or government. What needs to happen now is for us to start again with a dispassionate look at the science, pressing the restart button on public policy and stop the use of fear as a basis for action.

We have time. There have been many periods in human history when the planet has been warmer and when CO2 concentrations have been higher. We are adapting. Great work is taking place to reduce CO2 emissions, to increase our use of renewables and to green the planet. We can get science back from the post-modernists and return to a critical, skeptical and transparent form of science which truly engages the scientific community in scientific work stripped of polemics.

Now what we need is for the politicians to catch up and to understand that their religious fervour is out of place with their public and that the parade they thought they had rushed to the front of has dispersed behind them. It’s time to rethink public policy.

Counterpoint: Time for climate change action is now

Channels: The Calgary Beacon, April 6, the Slave Lake Lakeside Leader, April 21, 2010

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