The leaking of hacked emails from one of the most highly regarded climate research units was perfectly timed to coincide with the start of the Copenhagen COP. Without entering into the minute details of just what was or was not exposed by the thousands of leaked emails, it is clear the credibility of one of the world’s most respected institutions of climate science has been undermined.
In a sense this is a reality check for anyone who tend to the view that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is the greatest threat facing humanity. It poses an important question: is the science behind climate change now more open to question as a result?
Maybe I just hang out on the wrong websites, but there seems to be an increasing amount of legitimate questioning out there.Within this category one would have to include doubts surrounding how the CRU compile their temperature records. They homogenised tree ring data with actual temperature records in order to produce temperature graphs. According to Marc Sheppard over on American Thinker:
“If a divergence exists between measured temperatures and those derived from dendrochronological data after (circa) 1960, then discarding only the post-1960 figures is disingenuous, to say the least. The very existence of a divergence betrays a potential serious flaw in the process by which temperatures are reconstructed from tree-ring density”.
These questions deserve to be taken seriously. It should be noted that the British Met Office has made 1,500 data sets used by CRU to compile temperature records available to the public, and intends to make the remaining 5,000 available (along with all computer codes) as soon as it has approval from all national governments to do so.
It should further be noted that research centres are independently compiling climate data from around the world and arriving at the same conclusions as CRU – the global temperature is rising. Within this context it is worth dwelling on the significance of a controversy over one graph.
What strikes me more generally about the average sceptic is that they come to the debate with preconceived notions that either the earth’s orbit, volcanic eruptions, or solar flares are responsible for recent warming. But surely they understand that these would be the first variables that any scientist worth his salt would consider; they have all been discounted as plausible explanations.
Other explanations proffered by sceptics such as the increasing warmth of God’s love, or cosmic fairy dust, have admittedly yet to be assessed by the IPCC.
The scientific consensus among experts seems to be holding strong. Many have called for a thorough investigation, though I can’t find one whose view has been suddenly altered by these revelations.
The thing is that the basic physics behind climate change has been well understood for over a hundred years, and the impact of CO2 in the atmosphere has been replicated and documented in simple laboratory experiments on countless occasions.
Of course there are the attempting to model the sheer complexity of the climatic system, and the incomplete understanding of clouds, water vapour and the oceans currents are perhaps particularly significant. Yet these issues are tangential to the core thesis of AGW.
But what of unknown unknowns? My physics teacher in school used to drop a piece of chalk to the ground and defy us to explain how gravity could possibly be responsible. Being 15 at the time we found this understandably difficult, but he sure as hell never came up with a reasonable alternative explanation. It’s the same for AGW – there may yet be an alternative Nobel Prize winning breakthrough which leads to a new understanding. Until that day it is grossly irresponsible to ignore global warming.
What is much more likely than a new theory is a hardening of the science. In September, for example, the UK Met Office published a report which explored the likely implications of inaction. 4 degrees warming could be reached as soon as 2060 – the team’s best guess: 2070.
What would this world look like? Well for a start, regional warming would be far greater – 7 degrees in many areas, up to 10 in western and southern Africa, and 10 or more in the Arctic. In Africa the projected impacts are predictably devastating, with yields falling over 50% for certain crops and crop failure years growing more frequent in many regions.
So the likelihood is that we don’t have 50-100 years to sort this out. Not even close. Within this context it is worth recalling the words of Professor Hansen, that: “while skepticism is the lifeblood of science, it can confuse the public”.
That is why it good to see the leaked Copenhagen Blueprint. This document is strictly a numbers-free zone as far as national commitments are concerned. The fact that it elicited immediate outrage when it was leaked means that it should be read with caution. It recognizes the “scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not exceed 2 Degrees C”. If all other commitments stem from this premise, we will have a successful outcome from Copenhagen.
It would bind all countries to reduce emissions by 58% on 2005 levels (50% on 1990 levels) and developed countries would also to reducing emissions by 80% by 2050.
Furthermore, all parties would be required to report bi-annually to the UNFCCC and would be expected to outline medium (2020) and long-term (2050) plans.
Funding for developing countries would be dependent on their implementation of various measures (such as removal of subsidies for fossil fuels and other mitigation measures one presumes).
A confidential analysis of the document also leaked to the Guardian calculates that this would indicate an allowance of 2.67 tonnes per developed country dweller and slightly more than half that for citizens of developing countries by 2050.
This document is based on the best available scientific advice and is a good starting point for negotiations.