The Runaway Climate Train

I have been awfully quiet about climate change issues since the “Climate Gate” scandal broke on November 17th 2009. But by now there are several associated issues, such as “Glacier Gate” (1) and “Amazon Gate” (2), and it is time to figure out what it all means.

Climate Gate was the release (by a hacker or an insider) of thousands of e-mails and commented source codes from the Hadley Climate Research Unit (CRU). There is enough fascinating material to write books about it (3), but one of the e-mails that have attracted most attention is one from November 1999 where Phil Jones of CRU wrote to Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes (the authors of the famous “hockey stick” graph that suggested unprecedented warming during the last century) saying: “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” By itself, that could mean anything, but the source code of the related computer program makes abundantly clear that they substitute Keith Briffa’s original tree ring temperature proxy with Hadley’s instrumental record from 1961 onwards in order to hide the apparent decline in temperatures indicated by the tree-ring data (4).

The general impression that one gets from reading the material is that a small group of generously funded researchers have been torturing the temperature data from all over the globe to get it to show a 0.8ºC increase over the last 150 years, and, amazingly, they (together with Al Gore, IPCC and others) have managed to convince most people that such an increase is unprecedented, caused by human CO2 emissions, and disastrous for all life on the planet.

One of the other main issues in the climate gate scandal is that the Hadley Climate Research Unit has resisted releasing data and methods, so that other researchers could verify their results. The scientific method in general requires researchers to make their data and methods available for independent replication, and the British Freedom of Information Act specifically requires publicly funded institutions to do so, but the hacked e-mails make clear how the involved climate researchers have resisted and evaded legal and reasonable information requests.

Glacier Gate, on the other hand, is the debunking of the claim in the IPCC’s fourth assessment report that Himalayan glaciers are receding faster than in any other part of the world and could “disappear altogether by 2035 if not sooner”. This statement has proven to be completely unfounded, and one glaciologist, Professor Cogley at Ontario Trent University, believe the IPCC has misread the date in a 1996 report which said the glaciers could melt significantly by 2350. The IPCC has now officially retracted the statement (5), but what makes it particularly embarrassing is that the IPCC chairman had ridiculed Indian scientists who refuted the claim, calling their work “voodoo science” (6).

Amazon Gate is another example of the flimsy evidence on which the IPCC have based their claims of climate calamities. In the Working Group II report of 2007 they state that “up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation” on the basis of a non peer-reviewed WWF report whose lead author, Andy Rowell, is a free-lance journalist. If you follow the reference used by WWF, it leads to a 1999 article in Nature about the impacts of logging. IPCC could have used that reference, as it is at least peer-reviewed, but the problem may have been that the Nature-article mentions nothing at all about climate change (2).

However, by now it doesn’t matter much what the evidence shows or does not show. The Climate Change Train is going at full speed and it is difficult to get off. Many institutions, which jumped on the climate change bandwagon before the Copenhagen summit, have committed themselves and their budgets to climate change activities instead of their usual activities, and now find it difficult to backtrack.

Bolivia has planned a big
Peoples’ World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights for April, and I hope this conference will try to assess what are real threats to people and Mother Earth and what are imaginary threats concocted by headline grabbing journalists, researchers trying to get the results their employers wants, or bureaucrats trying to secure funds for their institutions. Admittedly, it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff in this area, but somebody has to fight for effective solutions to real problems rather than ineffective solutions to imaginary problems.

How can we contribute to this shift of policy priority? Leave your reply below.

Lykke Andersen is the Director of the Center for Economic and Environmental Modeling and Analysis (CEEMA) at INESAD.

(1) See summary at The Sunday Times “World misled over Himalayan glacier meltdown” (
(2) See summary by James Delingpole at the Daily Telegraph “After Climategate, Pachaurigate and Glaciergate: Amazongate” (
(3) That has already been done. See, for example, “
Climategate: Caught Green-handed” by Christopher Moncton or “Climategate: The CRUtape Letters” by Steven Mosher and Thomas Fuller.
(4) See analysis by Steve McIntyre
(5) See The Times:
(6) See The Guardian:


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