Climategate in Plain Language

It has been nearly a month since we learned of a number of Emails between important contributors to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which reveal a conspiracy to defraud governments and the people on the nature, certainty and importance of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW,) that is human influence on the climate.

What little media coverage has been had has been superficial and inadequate in explaining what all this means, possibly because it is so arcane and complex that most people in the media are unable to grasp the significance.  So, I will attempt to bring some clarity and perspective to the issue here.

Leaked, not hacked. – First, the media has reported these emails were hacked, or stolen, from some private correspondence. That seems very unlikely. Lance Levsen, at the Small Dead Animals blog explains in deep detail that they were more likely leaked by someone at East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) who was suddenly afflicted with a conscience. Follow the link if you are a UNIX server expert, but the gist is that the manner in which the many emails and other documents were organized and packaged would have been exceedingly difficult to accomplish from outside and were almost certainly gathered by someone within the CRU system. Hacking the emails in this form would be much like a burglar breaking into a house and finding the owner had gathered the silverware, electronics and jewelry into a large sack and left them by the door for his convenience. So, the more logical assumption is that an inside whistleblower gathered the incriminating documents and FTPed them to a site well known to be used by hackers to disseminate information.

The Medieval Warm Period Problem- The Emails reveal a decade long effort to deny reviewers outside the CRU and IPCC access to the data on which the case for AGW is based. So, a brief review of the science is needed.

The AGW premise is that burning fossil fuels releases an unprecedented amount of CO2 into the atmosphere which traps infrared energy and is causing an unnatural temperature rise, and that as this takes place, the rising temperature reduces the amount of CO2 which can be contained in the oceans and the soil, causing more CO2 to be released and more heating, until the arctic tundra thaws releasing huge quantities of methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas, and resulting in runaway heating, melting of the polar ice caps and ice sheets, and flooding of coastal cities.

Scary, huh? This is what is called a ‘positive feedback loop’ and such arrangements are dynamically unstable. Once started there is no coming back. So, if it ever had been warm enough, long enough, for the tundra to melt, then we should have had runaway global warming already. A problem the AGW supporters is that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP – Appx 800AD to 1300AD) is well supported by historical and archeological evidence, even though it was before thermometers were invented and was certainly sufficient to have initiated the positive feedback loop which is the premise of AGW. Worse for AGW supporters, the Little Ice Age (LIA- Appx 1400AD to 1850AD) followed the MWP and was much colder than today. The MWP followed by the LIA cannot be accommodated by the Global Climate Model constructed by the AGW supporters. If they happened, then their model is meaningless.

So, AGW supporters postulated that the MWP was a result of changes in Atlantic currents and was limited to Europe, Iceland and coastal Greenland and that the Canadian and Siberian regions were not involved. But since there was no historical record from those areas going back that far, how do you prove or disprove the theory? The primary method is by examining the growth rings in both living and sub-fossil trees recovered from riverbeds and carbon dated. CRU scientists examined a number of tree cores recovered by Russian scientists and produced a “Proxy” graph which showed no MWP or LIA in Siberia. This was the famous Hockey Stick graph that is the basis for Global Warming policy.

But trees are not thermometers and determining climate from tree growth is quite subjective. Many things other than just growing season length can influence how fast a tree grows, including the micro-environment specific to a single tree, the age of the tree at the specific year, crowding, fire, insects and genetic differences. So, in determining climate from tree rings, you have to have a lot of trees overlapping in time and you have to eliminate statistically unlikely growth results. Otherwise, the signal related to climate change is lost in the noise of random variations.

Obviously, which data you choose to accept and which to discard can greatly bias the results.

The Dog Ate My Homework – In order for independent analysts to replicate and verify the results of a study(peer review,) they must have the data available, and that is the primary issue in the Emails. For over a decade, CRU scientists withheld their data from outside investigators, making available to others only the “homogenized” data that supported the hockey stick and refusing the data which was discarded (the residuals,) the code used for selection, and the identifying data for each of the tree cores (the Meta-data.) The Meta-data would establish the location where each tree was found, the circumstances in which it was found and other information which might explain anomalous growth.  These are the data to which the emails referred as CRU scientists discussed the importance and means for denying outsiders access to the full data set. They even conspired to destroy the data if it were subject to Freedom of Information disclosure.

And, not surprisingly, this is the data which was lost as files were deleted to make room on East Anglia computers.  The data we are talking about would have fit on a single CD-ROM with space left over for music, so the need for space on the servers is about as valid an excuse as the homework eating dog.

However, Steve McIntyre, a Canadian statistician was undeterred and was able to obtain some of the missing data and identify some of the data used form other sources. Amazingly, in the critical period where the Hockey Stick blade took off, only 12 trees from the Yamal area in Siberia were used, a statistically useless sample as they were too few and could have been simply in a more fertile area than trees used in other periods. You can read an excellent layman’s explanation of that effort at his Bishop Hill Blog but the gist of that is when McIntyre used a more representative sample for that period, the hockey stick was gone! Other corrections, including correction inverse data (changed signs) showed the MWP occurred in Siberia just as in Europe.

Hide the Decline – Another sneaky trick which was exposed by the emails is known as Mikes Nature Trick. The Hockey Stick graph in the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers omitted data on tree ring proxies beginning in 1960, creating a continuous graph of all proxy (tree ring data) from 1000AD to 1850AD mixed instrument and proxy data from then until 1960, and then all instrument data after that. Instrument data is certainly better than proxy data, for the reasons stated above, so why not?

Note Gray area which represents the unfiltered data.

Well, because after 1960, the hidden proxy data showed a sharp cooling while the instrument data kept rising. Again, so what? The instrument data is better. But think a moment. If the proxy data was wrong during the period in which the instruments were available as a check, then they were also unreliable in the centuries in which there was no way to check them.

This is proof that the selection methods used by the CRU for the tree ring cores selected was unreliable, and with the Meta-data destroyed, there is no way other than going back and doing it all over again to correct the errors. So, the CRU scientists chose instead to hide the decline and hope no one noticed.

Now, the EPA, based entirely on the proven unreliable Global Climate Model is poised to regulate all fuel use to drastically curtail CO2 emissions with no surviving basis in science.

We have, in plain sight, the smoking gun that disproves AGW, and the EPA, the government, and the mainstream media are, for p0litical purposes, pretending it isn’t there, confident that aided by a partisan press, they will get away with it.

It is up to the blogging community to do the job of the press, or we will wreck our economy for no reason.

2 Responses to Climategate in Plain Language

  1. Don Tabor says:

    Just to put things in perspective, see

    How far back you look makes a difference.

  2. tommoriarty says:

    Here is a demo of the Michael Mann averaging error that causes the Principal Component Analysis algorithm to derive the hockey stick from noise…

    Michael Mann Averaging Error Demo

    Best regards,

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