Climategate, who is really tilting at windmills?

Responsible citizen and responsible politicians should ask questions about climategate and whether the science was manipulated.
Brian Lilley | Dec 5 2009 | comment  



When news of climategate first broke and spread across the blogosphere, the reaction from the scientists involved and their many supporters was much like Frank Morgan in The Wizard of Oz, "Do you presume to criticize The Great Oz?" Now that Toto has pulled back the curtain by posting emails, computer codes and other materials online for Dorothy and the world to see, things in the world of climate science will never be the same.

Phil Jones, the man whose emails are now open for all to see, has stepped down as Director of the Climatic Research Centre at the University of East Anglia. East Anglia says it will review the leaked material "to determine whether there is any evidence of the manipulation or suppression of data which is at odds with acceptable scientific practice." Climate scientists who support global warming and the Copenhagen process continue to say there is nothing in the leaks to show data was manipulated and that nothing has changed. Yet the university, one of the premiere institutions for climate science and the one which provided the research backbone to many reports on global warming, says it sees enough to investigate.

So does the United Nations. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says the United Nations will do its own investigation, citing serious concerns raised by the leaks. Pachauri says, "We will certainly go into the whole lot and then we will take a position on it. We certainly don't want to brush anything under the carpet." Just to add a third investigation to the mix, Penn State, the university that is the home of Jones' American counterpart Michael Mann, is also investigating to see if there was any academic misconduct.

Meanwhile, politicians are trying to continue to act like the Wizard, telling everyone to ignore the man behind the curtain. There have been several prominent people in Britain who question climate change and who say these emails deserve greater scrutiny. Javier Cuadros and Nigel Lawson say the leaks show problems with the accepted wisdom, and Britain's climate change secretary Ed Miliband calls the leakers “climate saboteurs","flat Earthers" and “irresponsible”.

In Canada, where the scandal has barely registered in the media, politicians are simply saying there is nothing to see here. Jim Prentice, Minister of the Environment says that, “The science overall is relatively clear on all of this.” Prentice’s environment critic David McGuinty says that the email leaks are a ruse; the fact that they are now public and raising questions about the science should change nothing.

From the Great White North to the Land Down Under, the difference could not be starker. While the Canadian Parliament tells its citizens that there is nothing to see or be concerned about in the climategate revelations, Australian politicians stymied a government cap and trade bill. The push to curb carbon emissions by Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was deferred at least until after Copenhagen by a group of emboldened climate sceptics teaming up with Greens looking for stricter emissions. Rudd's main opponent in Parliament is a climate sceptic, Tony Abbott, elected as Liberal Party Leader just this week because the former leader was too enthusiastic in his support for tough action on climate change.

In the United States, reaction to climategate is even stronger. Reaching far beyond the confines of blogs and talk radio, the scandal has reached Washington, where Republicans have written to the Environmental Protection Agency and questioned President Obama's top science advisor John Holdren over what the leaks reveal he said in the emails. It should be noted that these moves in Washington come from people who already question climate science. Those who fully back global warming and the move to curb carbon emissions through legislative means are taking a different tack. Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, says that if there is to be an investigation it should be a criminal investigation into who hacked into the CRUs computers and took the emails. She calls this scandal "E-mail-theft-gate."

The United Nations, the University of East Anglia and Penn State University are investigating this because to refuse to do so would bring all future research into question. To ignore this would destroy their reputations. Meanwhile, the politicians pushing for a deal on climate change at Copenhagen next week can't afford to push for an investigation, because to do so could destroy their reputations and plans for wealth distribution under the guise of global warming.

The reactions of most politicians reminds me of a woman I interviewed years ago. Her husband, a terror suspect, was being detained based on information from Canada's spy agency CSIS. As she marched around the grounds outside of the spy agency headquarters, the woman carried a sign with the slogan "question authority"; yet when I asked what proof she could offer that her husband was innocent, she became indignant. Our political leaders want us to follow the science; unless that science has been compromised, we should just trust them. What responsible citizens must do is continue to act like Toto and pull back the curtain to see if there is a wizard or just an old humbug hiding behind smoke and mirrors.

Brian Lilley is the Parliamentary Bureau Chief for radio stations Newstalk 1010 in Toronto and CJAD 800 in Montreal, Canada. Follow Brian on Twitter to get the latest as it happens.



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