Posted by: climatewonk | November 30, 2009

Climate Gate: Post 1 – Some history

What follows is a very brief and inelegant history of this whole affair, with some personal observations to set the stage. Note: I am not a scientist (well, perhaps a social scientists with a BSc, MA and ABD PHD but I write this as a policy analyst, not a scientist).

I am not afraid of imputing motive or talking about politics. In fact, understanding the political motives and interests of stakeholders is a part of the policy process.

So, let’s start at the beginning.

In 1824, the theoretical underpinings for a future theory of global warming is discovered by a Joseph Fourier – the greenhouse effect.

Jump over 150 years later: scientists from around the world in many disciplines are pursing various lines of research geared to study the climate in search of evidence that global warming is occurring and that it is the result of the burning of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gasses — aka anthropogenic global warming.

In 1990, the United Nations Environmental Program or UNEP, working with the World Meteorological Program established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC is a scientific body designed to “review and assess the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change.”

In 1990, the IPCC produced its first assessment report. The report stated the following:

“We are certain of the following: There is a natural greenhouse effect…; emissions resulting from human activities are substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses CO2, methane, CFCs and nitrous oxide. These increases will enhance the greenhouse effect, resulting on average of additional warming of the earth’s surface. The main greenhouse gas, water vapor, will increase in response to global warming and further enhance it.”

The IPCC assessment reports inform the Kyoto Protocol, which advocates for global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Among other things, the protocols require signatories to do the following:

  • encourage reforms in relevant sectors aimed at promoting policies and measures which limit or reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses not controlled by the Montreal Protocol;
  • reduce greenhouse gasses not controlled by the Montreal Protocol (for CFCs) in the transport sector;
  • limitation and/or reduction of methane emissions through recovery and use in waste management as well as in the production, transport and distribution of energy;

You can see that this requires governments to regulate industries involved in the production, transport and distribution of energy in order to meet greenhouse gas emission targets.

That’s right — the Protocol would require signatories to reduce emissions in order to meet binding target levels through carbon markets, clean development mechanisms, and joint implementation. All of this would ultimately require some form and degree of government legislation and regulations of the industries that produce greenhouse gasses.

In 2001, with the publication of the third assessment report, or TAR, a very infamous graphic was used in the chapter on paleoclimate to represent temperature over the previous 600 years — the hockey stick graph, as it is know in climate parlance. The graph shows late 20th century warming and was based on a paper by Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) titled Global scale temperature patterns and climate forcings over the past six centuries.

Here’s a version of the pretty picture known as the “hockey stick”. Note the relatively long “stick”with the very abrupt “blade”:

Hockey Stick

Along comes Stephen McIntyre, owner of the skeptic blog Climate Audit, former minerals “consultant” who has undisclosed ties as a strategic advisor to CGX Energy Inc, an oil and gas exploration company. For some reason, he was suspicious of the graph, because it failed to show the Medieval Warm Period. This period of warming, which may or may not have been global in scope, had been apparent in the very first IPPC report, in a crude graphic reproduced below but superimposed on the hockey stick:

Note the huge bump in the graph between 1,000 and 1,400 in the red line and the absense of it in the other lines.

That’s what started all this.

If you compare the two graphs, you can see that in the MBH98 graph, there is no pronounced bump around the time of the MWP.

In other words, Climate Gate and controversy around the hacked Climate Research Unit emails and accounts started way back when because a retired minerals consultant with ties to the fossil fuel industry thought the new graph being used in the IPCC TAR was suspicious.

I want to start this review off with this point because it has a bearing on everything that follows — McIntyre was a businessman who founded a minerals exploration company, was a director of another, and has ties to CGX Energy Inc. His interest in climate change, his efforts to “audit” climate science, and in particular, his attacks on works used to inform the Kyoto Protocol, must be understood in this context.

His partner in many of these endeavours is Ross McKitrick, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Guelph, Ontario Canada. A Senior Fellow at the notorious right-wing think tank The Fraser Institute, which claims to be in favor of “impartial research, greater choice, less government intervention, and more personal responsibility”. [my emphasis] One of the very first statements the Fraser Institute published on global warming was authored by Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon, Can Climate Models Predict Future Weather? in 2001.

Baliunas and Soon were the co-authors of an article titled “Proxy climatic and environmental changes of the past 1000 years” in Climate Research that claimed global warming was not produced by greenhouse gas emissions but by the sun. The article was considered so shoddy that 13 scientists cited in the work wrote to complain about how their work was misrepresented in the piece. Half the journal’s editorial board resigned over what they considered a failed peer-review process, which allowed a sub-standard paper in because of the editor’s political position. The editor who handled the paper, Chris de Freitas, is notorious for his statements against the IPCC’s findings.

So, one of the two has ties to the petroleum industry and the other to right-wing think tank that promotes less government intervention and is critical of the Kyoto Protocol and IPCC.

You can see where I’m going with this.

More later…


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