Last November there was a world-wide outcry when a trove of emails were released suggesting some of the world’s leading climate scientists engaged in professional misconduct, data manipulation and jiggering of both the scientific literature and climatic data to paint what scientist Keith Briffa called “a nice, tidy story” of climate history. The scandal became known as Climategate.
Now a supposedly independent review of the evidence says, in effect, “nothing to see here.” Last week “The Independent Climate Change E-mails Review,” commissioned and paid for by the University of East Anglia, exonerated the University of East Anglia.
That’s certainly the way many in the media are portraying the review. “Climategate Closed” declares the headline on an NPR blog post. Yet Michaels found that the “independent” review was no such thing—which is why it found no evidence of wrongdoing, even though such evidence was right in front of it. To take just one example:
Then there’s the problem of interference with peer review in the scientific literature. Here too Mr. Russell could find no wrong: “On the allegations that there was subversion of the peer review or editorial process, we find no evidence to substantiate this.”
Really? Mr. Mann claims that temperatures roughly 800 years ago, in what has been referred to as the Medieval Warm Period, were not as warm as those measured recently. This is important because if modern temperatures are not unusual, it casts doubt on the fear that global warming is a serious threat. In 2003, Willie Soon of the Smithsonian Institution and Sallie Baliunas of Harvard published a paper in the journal Climate Research that took exception to Mr. Mann’s work, work which also was at variance with a large number of independent studies of paleoclimate. So it would seem the Soon-Baliunas paper was just part of the normal to-and-fro of science.
But Mr. Jones wrote Mr. Mann on March 11, 2003, that “I’ll be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor,” Chris de Freitas of the University of Auckland. Mr. Mann responded to Mr. Jones on the same day: “I think we should stop considering ‘Climate Research’ as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues . . . to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board.”
Mr. Mann ultimately wrote to Mr. Jones on July 11, 2003, that “I think the community should . . . terminate its involvement with this journal at all levels . . . and leave it to wither away into oblivion and disrepute.”
Michaels, a climate-change skeptic, has had four pieces rejected by the journal since then, and says he’s heard from others with the same experience.
Walter Russell Mead, writing on his blog at The American Interest, agrees that the Climategate review did not exculpate the scientists involved. But he doesn’t think the leaked emails are the Green movement’s biggest problem.
Greens who feared and climate skeptics who hoped that the rash of investigations following Climategate and Glaciergate and all the other problems would reveal some gaping obvious flaws in the science of climate change were watching the wrong thing. The Big Green Lie (or Delusion, to be charitable) isn’t so much that climate change is happening and that it is very likely caused or at least exacerbated by human activity. The Big Lie is that the green movement is a source of coherent or responsible counsel about what to do.
Mead isn’t a skeptic, like Michaels. But that doesn’t mean he’s a fan of those who study and worry about climate change.
You can diagnose a disease but have no clue how to treat it. You can be an excellent climate scientist and a wretched social engineer. You can want to do good and end up furthering exactly the evils you most deplore.
He compares Green activists to Prohibition activists. He thinks both correctly identified problems, but caused harm with the solutions they proposed. Environmentalists are more dangerous, though, in that they’re impeding human progress of the very sort that could, through innovation, help solve the crisis with which they’re so concerned.
Alcohol abuse was a real problem in 1918, but the Prohibitionist belief that there was One Big Legislative Answer only made things worse. Over the years, we’ve made progress on reducing the effect of alcohol abuse on our society in various ways. Organizations like AA have helped millions stop drinking while leaving those who can drink responsibly to do so in peace. Strict enforcement of drunk driving laws has dramatically reduced highway deaths due to drink. Many of the most important advances had nothing to do with direct assaults on the alcohol problem. Increased economic competition ended the days of the three martini lunch. Attacks on discrimination against women have given women and children more economic choices when Daddy spends all his money at the corner saloon; enforcement of laws against domestic violence has helped curb the vicious spouse and child abuse that was once part of John Barleycorn’s toll on our society. We are not all the way there yet, and as long as human nature is what it is we may never get there, but once we had the good sense to ignore Carry Nation and the crazy Prohibitionist cranks, we were able to make significant and sustained progress dealing with the problem.
Something like this is going to have to happen on the climate front. Relatively small steps, or larger steps often undertaken for reasons that have little directly to do with climate, will have to see us through. Until more greens understand that, and until the green movement as a whole disabuses itself of the dangerous fantasy that the way to solve our environmental problems is to embrace Malthusian fantasies, utopian treaties and grandiose laws, the green movement will continue to be a drag on human progress — even as the computer models get better and the temperature goes up.