Climategate from Crisis to Controversy

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"Climategate from Crisis to Controversy"
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Climate, especially global warming has gone from being a world wide crisis to a controversial embarrassment and is now back to being an embarassment for the embarrasers!

Beginning with the early concepts of anthropogenic contributions to the warming of the atmosphere of the entire globe, climategate was born into a complex and treacherous world of political, corporate, human and other conflict over cleaning up mankind's contributions to pollution of the atmosphere and waters of the Earth.

When former Vice President Al Gore publicized the effects of human pollution of the atmosphere in a stunning series of lectures that culminated in the film "An Inconvenient Truth",  an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize, worldwide attention was focused on the impending crisis and doom from global warming.

There are four operative concepts in the climategate controversy. First, climate involves the atmosphere of the entire planet. Weather involves actual events that occur at specific times.

Thus, global warming  can be going on, while record cold spells are experienced at specific times and locations.

Second, any person who lives in a built up or urban area is well aware of the effects of humankind's propensity for burning massive amounts hydrocarbons that result in periods of serious air pollution, whether it is periodic and in the form of "spare the air days" or whether the pollution is seasonal.

Third, "global warming or cooling" is a function of a variety of complex systems that attempt to measure the Earth's entire atmosphere over very long periods of time. Then the measurements are subjected to a variety of complex analytical tools and models that may or may not agree with each other.

Proponents of warming will be looking for evidence of warming while proponents of stability or cooling may be looking for other things.

Fourth, the average person has no ability to dive into the incredible complexities of examining and measuring the atmosphere of the entire world or of interpreting and forecasting based on the results of the study.

The sources of information, primarily the commercial news media, are hard pressed to summarize anything but the most sensational and easily digestible information and to present it in a form that fits into a limited number of words for an article, or a limited number of minutes for a broadcast bit.

The latest episode of climategate involves the East Anglia University, the university's Climate Research Unit, and Professor Phil Jones.

In the United States, Pennsylvania State University and Dr. Michael Mann were involved. Then there is NASA's shameful weakness in collecting temperature data.

In 2009, over 1000 E-Mails were stolen from the Climate Research Unit in Britain and were circulated to certain Right wing groups in the US and abroad. The goal of the right wing activists was to discredit the science and/or the reputations of the scientists who did not back their ideas about global warming.

Two investigations ensued. The British Government's initial investigations found no attempts by scientists to manipulate or to falsely represent the data, to distort the peer review, or to forward any fraudulent findings in support of global warming.

The scientists were cleared of wrongdoing.

The Penn State review came to the same conclusions on the part of Dr. Mann, who had corresponded with his British counterparts in some of the stolen E-Mails.

None of his actions were found to seriously deviate from established and required practices.

With Dr. Mann, the accusation of using a "statistical trick" in order to manipulate data received the most attention.  In reality, Dr. Mann was working with his counterparts to put together one graph from two disparate sources, using statistical tools for conjoining the graphs into one. 

Dr. Mann was not attempting to manipulate data in order to present fraudulent or false results.

In the case of NASA's faulty temperature data, the stolen e-mails implicated NASA's Dr. Reto A. Ruedy, who once told an interviewer that NASA's findings from climate data was worse than that from both the East Anglia Climate Research Unit and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center [NCDC].

Apparently, there were very good measuring stations and then there were NASA's measuring stations, which were not always very good, according to Dr. Ruedy.

His statements were used to create a firestorm of controversy that landed on Al Gore. In actuality, Dr. Ruedy's statements provided some exoneration for the work of the beleagured Penn State and British scientists, while causing enormous problems for NASA and the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change.

The current conclusions of climategate are leaning toward leaving the climate change complexities and controversies out of the process of making energy policy, as there is influence and backwash from all sides that are looking for a particular outcome that supports their position, thus compromising the science and the work of the scientists.

The public is dropping their previous levels alarmed interest in climate change. The volatility of spectacular reporting, based on right wing activism and dirty tricks is confusing the issue into a lesser stance than it deserves.


Media Matters, "CEI's Horner enlists Fox News in manufacturing another climate email scandal", March 2010

Anthony DiMaggio, "Witness to Mediagate: Making Sense of the "Climategate Scandal", Monthly Review, June 2010

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, "Freeing Energy Policy From The Climate Change Debate", Yale, Environment 360, March 2010

More about this author: Elizabeth M Young

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