BURKE, Va. (BP)–One of the most alarming warnings in the 2007 Assessment Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was that Himalayan glaciers — on which hundreds of millions of people depend for regular water supply from their annual contraction and recovery — are in grave danger from global warming. “[I]f the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high,” the report said (NOTE (1)).
But to the curious, there was a telltale sign that something might be amiss. The IPCC’s rules require that all assertions in its assessment reports be based on published papers in refereed journals. But in this instance, the citation at the end of the sentence was “(WWF, 2005).” “WWF” is the World Wildlife Fund, an environmental advocacy organization that publishes no refereed journal and has a well deserved reputation for exaggerated claims.
As it turns out, “(WWF, 2005)” wasn’t the end of the story. As reported this week in TimesOnline in the UK (2), “the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before….” And news stories aren’t refereed. Further, this news story was “based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, a little-known Indian scientist….” And to make matters worse, “Hasnain has since admitted that the claim was ‘speculation’ and was not supported by any formal research.”
That’s not all, though. Hasnain says his “speculation” was based on a report he was bringing to Britain — a report that was not, and never would be, peer reviewed or published. But even that report didn’t say or imply that the glaciers could disappear by 2035. But WWF cited it in a campaign piece in 2005 — and it was that campaign piece that the IPCC cited as its source. But even the campaign piece didn’t suggest that the likelihood of the glaciers’ disappearing by 2035 was “very high.” That, apparently, was the utterly baseless addition of whoever wrote that part of the IPCC report. In reality, even if the IPCC’s predictions about anthropogenic (manmade) global warming (AGW) are true, it would take hundreds of years — not 28 — for the Himalayan glaciers to disappear, if they ever would.
“If confirmed,” TimesOnline continued, “it would be one of the most serious failures yet seen in climate research.” Well, it is confirmed (3). And it is a serious failure. And there are others. For just three examples, the IPCC wrongly claims that
— global warming has led to increased economic losses from hurricanes — citing as support work by Roger Pielke Jr. that actually says the opposite (4).
— sea level rise accelerated in the late 20th century because of global warming and constitutes a grave threat to low-lying population centers; but in reality the late 20th century had no acceleration in sea level rise (5) and, contrary to widespread claims, low-lying south Pacific island nations like Tuvalu are not endangered by sea level rise, because there has been no sea level rise there during the period in question (6).
— late-twentieth-century global temperature rise was more rapid than other temperature rises from 1850 onward, giving rise to the assertion that it must be manmade, when the claim rested on what statisticians call an “end point fallacy,” and a valid graph of the same data showed no increase in warming rate (7).
There is much more, though, to cause thoughtful people to doubt even the best documented of the IPCC’s claims about AGW. The claims rest on the assertion that twentieth-century warming was more rapid, and brought global temperature higher, than anything in history. And those claims rest on the reliability of two things: our knowledge of twentieth-century temperatures, and our knowledge of pre-twentieth-century temperatures, with which to compare them. But both of these are highly in doubt. If recent warming was matched in the past, it could just as easily be a repetition of natural warming. And unprecedented warming is an absolutely essential piece of the argument for AGW.
First, recent temperature. It has recently become clear that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has cherry-picked temperature data (8) to over-represent low-altitude and urban data (which are artificially warm) and under-represent high-altitude, rural data (which are cooler), thus exaggerating apparent warming. And Russian scientists have discovered that the Hadley Center for Climate Change at the British Meteorological Office has similarly excluded over 40% of Russian temperature readings (from cooler areas) and used readings from only 25% of reporting stations (from warmer areas), again exaggerating apparent warming (9). These and a general failure to adjust adequately for urban heat island effects have resulted in depicting the late twentieth century as warming more, and faster, than it did (10). Indeed, since the failure to adjust for heat island effect by itself led to doubling apparent warming, the recent discoveries of cherry-picking at NOAA and Hadley suggest that the real warming was even less than half the claimed.
Second, historic temperature. Our knowledge of pre-twentieth-century temperature depends largely on the methods of paleoclimatology. Those, in turn, rest largely on the use of annual tree growth rings as a proxy for temperature. The work of a small group of dendrochronologists — who study such things — is the whole foundation for the claim of unprecedented recent warming.
OTHER AGW FRAUD
But Climategate — the disclosure (11) of thousands of emails, computer programs, and other documents from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in the UK — revealed scandalous scientific misconduct (12) of monumental proportions by the world’s leading paleoclimatologists, particularly the dendrochronologists — enough that it has crippled the credibility of the entire field of science and seriously tarnished the reputations of its inner cadre of researchers. Their own communications demonstrate unequivocally that they fabricated, fudged, cherry-picked, destroyed, and suppressed data, ran it through computer programs designed to show warming no matter what the underlying numbers, corrupted the peer review process, sought to intimidate scientists and journals that dared to dissent, and successfully controlled what information became accessible to the IPCC as the basis for its assessment reports.
By their mishandling of data, the paleoclimatologists were able to convince many people, including in the IPCC, that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and Little Ice Age (LIA) had never happened. The exposure of the frauds restores those well-attested phenomena — and demolishes the case that recent warming was the least bit unusual. On the contrary, the MWP was warmer than the recent warm period, and the LIA was much colder, and it now becomes clear that warming since the mid-nineteenth century is, as AGW critics have been saying for years, merely another natural cycle of Earth’s warming and cooling.
One of the consequences of Climategate appears to be the replacement of peer review with a different phenomenon: peer-to-peer review (13), a less formal but much more intense and, it appears, reliable way of discovering and correcting errors in scientific publications.
Why should all this be of interest to Christians? Partly because these findings support the Biblical revelation that Earth and its climate system are the product of a wise Creator — who would not be likely to design it so that a minuscule change in atmospheric chemistry (CO2 rising from 0.027% to 0.039%) could force catastrophic climate change. Partly, too, because they demolish the case for adopting climate control policies costing trillions of dollars: If anthropogenic CO2 emissions didn’t cause dangerous warming, curtailing them isn’t going to prevent it.
But partly, too, because these revelations should drive home two other Biblical points.
First, they illustrate the importance of the command in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “test all things, hold fast what is good.” Sad to say, even some evangelicals uncritically accepted claims of AGW, and on that basis recommended policies that would cause significant harm to many even in wealthy countries but would slow or stop economic growth in poor countries, condemning their peoples to more generations of the high rates of disease and premature death that abject poverty brings.
Second, they illustrate the Biblical doctrine of sin — particularly, what theologians call the “noetic effects of sin.” Sin can seriously hinder human ability to think straight. And crooked thinking is written in capital letters all over Climategate.
Christians Take a Biblical Stand
Even before Climategate became public in late November, the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation — a network of theologians, pastors, other Christian leaders, scientists, economists, and other scholars dedicated to applying Biblical world view, theology, and ethics coupled with excellent science and economics to economic development for the poor and responsible environmental policy — had finished a major new study, A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming (14), and An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming (15), based on it. The Declaration has now been signed by about 500 people, including over 150 leading pastors, theologians, scientists, economists, and other leaders (16).
The documents conclude that climate change is overwhelmingly natural, not manmade, and that wise policy will promote abundant, affordable energy to promote economic development to lift the poor out of poverty.
E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation (www.CornwallAlliance.org) and has written more about Climategate at http://www.cornwallalliance.org/blog/item/in-praise-of-scientific-piranhas-the-legacies-of-climategate/.