Climate Scientists Just Don't Get It
Desperate to put the bad days of Climategate behind them, climate scientists are pronouncing the matter over and done with. After all of the revelations and disclosures surrounding Climategate, and all of the public mea culpas, a change in attitude by those in the climate science community would be welcome. A turn to greater openness regarding methods and data, along with less overt political boosterism. But evidently, that is not in the cards. Starting off with an editorial titled “Climategate closed,” the journal Nature Geoscience presents a number of troubling statements from people involved with climate change. Though calling for scientists to “be humble,” the tone of the commentaries is that no wrong was really done and nothing has changed. The only change that needs to be made is making a greater effort to “inform” the public and skeptics. Clearly, climate scientists just don't get it—they cannot simply return to business as usual.
The Nature Geoscience editorial begins with the declaration: “the case of the alleged misbehaviour of climate researchers at the University of East Anglia is now closed.” This based on the three reports from independent investigations that concluded the scientific results produced at the University of East Anglia were sound, but that there are deficiencies in the transparency of climate research. Though admitting that more openness alone is unlikely to resolve tensions between scientists, the media and politicians—or between skeptics and alarmists (their term)--the editorial complains that critics are crying “whitewash.” Their only remedies are greater openness, flexibility and better presentation to the public:
Difficult as this may be, scientists have to maintain a disinterested perspective on the available information, be prepared to change their assessment when new facts come to light, and accept differences in opinion while taking counter-arguments seriously. Along with greater openness, a much more nuanced and multifaceted discussion of the physical aspects of climate change needs to be presented to the public to avoid future accusations of cliquiness and gatekeeping.
While the desire to avoid future accusations is believable, what is needed here is not more “nuance” but better science. The editorial introduces two commentaries, one by a real climate scientist and one by a social anthropologist, which focus on the lessons learned from last winter's “media frenzy.” They argue that climate scientists must “root their efforts in the global (and not just the scientific) community.” In other words, all of the past problems were due to a lack of clear communication. Scientists must learn to relate to the common man.
The commentary by Werner Krauss, a cultural anthropologist at the Ruhr-University Bochum, Center for Mediterranean Studies, is about what one would expect. In “Rooted in society,” Dr. Krauss flatly declares climate science a success story. “The development from identifying anthropogenic climate change to establishing it as a matter of global concern has culminated, so far, in the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore in 2007,” he states up front. “But the recent Copenhagen climate summit—which many considered a failure—and a series of scandals surrounding climate science brought this success story to a halt.” If the awarding of the hyper-politicized and scientifically meaningless Nobel Peace Prize is the greatest accomplishment that climate science can point to, then it is in big trouble. It would have been much more impressive to have correctly predicted the halt in global warming over the past 10 years.
Being a cultural anthropologist, Krauss is more about political correctness than scientific relevance. He summarizes climate science's fall from grace:
Initial success had not come without dispute. Before the award of the Nobel Prize, reconstructions of global temperatures over the past millennium — publicized under the term hockey-stick graph — had been hotly debated in the public and political arenas. Then just before the Copenhagen conference, climate change science was portrayed as the foundation for any global agreement on climate change policy. The release of illegally hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia plunged key climate scientists onto the defensive once again, in the course of a media frenzy dubbed 'climategate'. Following the first wave of excitement, errors were revealed in the 2007 report from the IPCC, most prominently on glacier melting in the Himalayas. As a consequence, the integrity of climate scientists and their assessment panels have been called into question. But there is more to this crisis than a lack of scientific scrutiny or political craftsmanship.
Openly admitting that the Copenhagen conference was a “crisis in climate policy,” he declares that attention needs to be shifted from “global goals to societally relevant, local and pragmatic countermeasures.” Countermeasures? Against global warming or its critics? Still, Krauss manages to identify at least part of the anthropogenic global warming alarmists' public relations problem:
Prominent climate scientists and mediators such as Al Gore illustrated scientific data with apocalyptic imagery to attract media attention and to catalyse immediate political action. As a consequence of this doom or salvation rhetoric, scientific results were transformed into political statements that left no room for doubt or uncertainties. In its extreme, climate science became an ideology and purity of doctrine turned into an obsession. Alarmists (and their counterparts, the sceptics) dominated public discourse.
Here is a not so subtle crack in the previously unbroken front presented by AGW believers. Some vocal climate change boosters are now pejoratively called “alarmists,” and likened to climate change skeptics. A more accurate comparison would have been to equate the alarmists to the climate community's favorite boogiemen—deniers. Still, it is progress when the existence of obsessed, doctrinaire alarmists is being publicly denounced in a peer reviewed, scientific journal.
The second commentary, entitled “The climate change game,” was provided by Klaus Hasselmann, Emeritus Director of the Max-Planck Institut für Meteorologie. I must admit that I was flummoxed by Prof. Hasselmann's essay. “A cursory glance at the interactions between the main players—climate scientists, the media and climate sceptics—immediately reveals the elementary feedbacks that produced the climategate spectacle,” he boldly proclaims. It is not climate science that is in question in his view; public perception and conflicts of interest have sidetracked the debate:
Scientists cannot, of course, resolve conflicts of interest. But they can contribute to their resolution by objectively investigating the goals and beliefs of individual actors and presenting these in simple models that everybody can readily understand. Since the unforeseen onset of the global financial crisis, the limitations of the mainstream models that have been used by economists to assess the impacts of climate change policies have been widely recognized. The precrisis view of the market economy as a basically stable system is being replaced by more realistic dynamic models, in which the evolution of the economy is determined by the strategies of many competing actors pursuing conflicting goals.
These new economic models incorporate the key processes — multi-actor strategies, potential instabilities and government policies — that are needed as building blocks for modelling a controlled transition from a fossil-fuel-based to a decarbonized global economy. A stronger participation of climate scientists with experience in dynamical systems would provide a welcome boost to these efforts.
I had expected that most of the touchy-feely, sociological, politically correct dribble would come from the anthropologist's piece. Surprisingly, Hasselmann dips deep into the pseudo-scientific realms for a healthy dose of double-talk. Scientists “should now rise above the debate and help develop models of the coupled climate–socioeconomic system to advise policymakers,” he says, unabashedly.
To Hasselman, both politicians and the media are the willing dupes of climate skeptics. “If policymakers fail to realize the aspirations of climate scientists and the green lobby, it is not so much owing to their exposure to disinformation as to the conflict between their societal responsibility to balance the interests of present and future generations and their individual desire to become re-elected,” he opines. “They are thus strongly dependent on pressures from interest groups and, more importantly, on the interests and beliefs of the public (as they should be).” And the fourth estate is no better.
“The societal goals of climate scientists and the media are broadly compatible,” he states. “However, there is clearly a fundamental incompatibility between those societal goals and the private media goal of producing interesting stories.” Imagine that, politicians want votes and media people headlines. Perhaps to those ensconced in the ivory towers of academia this news comes as a shock. So, who is to blame?
Enter the climate sceptics (representing all interest groups, in particular the oil and coal industry, who fear negative impacts from climate policies). Their principal societal goal is to provide secure, affordable energy and other important products. Their individual interest is to minimize the negative impact of climate change policies on their own economic activities. The simplest strategy to achieve the latter is to reduce the public and political acceptance of the need for climate policies by sowing doubt on the integrity of climate change science. This is best accomplished by initiating a series of artificial controversies questioning the results of climate research and the motivations of climate scientists. These will then be gratefully taken up and amplified by the media...
It is understandable that climate scientists feel harassed by this strategy, because by activating the media, the climate sceptics circumvent the established scientific peer-review process that normally protects them from wasting time on pseudo disputes. However, it is counterproductive for climate scientists to complain that interest groups fail to abide by the scientific etiquette.
If Hasselmann is any indication, the climate science establishment has learned nothing from their recent trials and tribulations. “Climate scientists cannot take refuge from the sometimes unsavoury tactics of other players by fleeing into their ivory towers, but they can at least obtain moral support from other actors on the climate stage,” he states. Critics are “unsavoury” and scientists should seek support from “other actors.” Other actors means the current crop of eco-activists, the green lobby and professional fear-mongers like Al Gore.
So there is the climate community's proffered solution—socio-babel, greater sensitivity to the needs of “other actors,” and, above all, more openness. Interesting, neither of the two commentary articles nor the editorial are openly available from the Nature Geoscience web site. So much for openness from the scientific community. Essentially, the response of the embedded climate science establishment is to speak more clearly, adjusting their message to the needs of the public, while continuing to believe that they have all the answers.
As you can see, the climate alarmists' song remains the same—people are causing dangerous global warming. All the scandal and plummeting public belief is taken as an indication that they need to be more convincing, more sensitive, more connected to the societal needs of the public. If only they could get their message out! What utter balderdash.
It was not a lack of clarity in their message that has led to climate science's reversal of fortune—the belief in global warming was wide spread among both the public and the chattering classes (media and politicians). So enthralled were the masses that the Nobel prize was given to a failed American politician and a coven of UN bureaucrats. No, you blind fools. Belief in AGW began falling as people began to learn of the evidence behind your PR scare campaign.
If you are a mainstream climate scientist here is what you need to know: It is not your lack of humility or the unsubtle presentation of your beliefs that has turned the public against you. It is the lack of good science that has brought climate science into ill repute. The case for global warming simply isn't compelling, and the more the public learns about it the less inclined they are to believe you. All the networking and getting in touch with local concerns in the world will not save climate science from its own half-assed, slipshod work.
Climate science doesn't get it and probably never will. Judging from the sanctimonious drivel in the three Nature Geoscience essays, the climate science community remains insular and self deluding. In their careless hast to garner fame and grant money, climate scientists have become slaves to a lie. The only way to resolve the climate change debate will be to wait three or four decades and see what happens. Of course, by then all of the current crop of alarmists will have comfortably retired on their government and university pensions.
Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.