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The Guardian responds

Filed under: — group @ 24 March 2010

We recently ran two articles that were quite critical of aspects of the Guardian’s coverage of the stolen emails. This is a response from Dr. James Randerson, the editor of the Guardian’s environmental website.

I edit the Guardian’s environment website and was part of the editorial team that produced the 12-part investigation by veteran science journalist Fred Pearce into the hacked East Anglia climate emails. I’m very grateful to RealClimate for giving us the opportunity to respond to the recent posts on the investigation: “The Guardian Disappoints” and “Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind”.

I should say first that we hold RealClimate in very high regard. The site is part of the Guardian Environment Network, a collection of more than 20 hand-picked websites including Grist and Nature’s Climate Feedback blog with whom we have a mutual content sharing agreement. Under the arrangement, the Guardian website republishes RealClimate blogs regularly. We take seriously your criticisms and are considering them carefully. The Guardian has a commitment to accuracy and correcting factual errors.

Such is the public interest in this story that ever since the emails were released in November, there has been a strong demand for an in-depth journalistic account of what they tell us about how climate scientists operate. As RealClimate rightly pointed out, the response from much of the media has been lazy to the point of “pathology”.

No other media organisation has come close to producing such a comprehensive and carefully researched attempt to get to the bottom of the emails affair. The investigation tries to reflect the complexity and historical context of the story, and runs to some 28,000 words – of which around half appeared in the printed newspaper.

Dr. Schmidt did not mince his words though when he said that Fred’s investigation falls, “well below the normal Guardian standards of reporting”, while Dr Ben Santer wrote, “I am taking this opportunity to correct Mr. Pearce’s omissions, to reply to the key allegations, and to supply links to more detailed responses.” Both have also criticised our experimental online exercise to harness the expertise of people with a special knowledge of the emails in order to create a “peer reviewed” account of what they tell us.

More on that later, but it is wrong to suggest that this is a lazy substitute for traditional journalistic standards and that key protagonists were not invited to respond prior to publication. On the contrary, the investigation was subject to rigorous editorial checking and Fred contacted numerous individuals in the course of his research. Many (particularly those at UEA) declined to comment.

The other side of the story

The RealClimate commentary reads like a distorted fairground mirror of the Guardian investigation – one that highlights the uncomfortable bits but blurs the rest. The posts did point out that “Some of the other pieces in this series are fine” but do not reflect the large amount of analysis in the investigation of the way the emails have been misused by those with a political agenda and the extensive context we included to indicate the pressure scientists writing those emails were under from time-consuming requests for data.

In part 2 (How the ‘climategate’ scandal is bogus and based on climate sceptics’ lies), for example, we detail how the “hide the decline” email has been misused by Sarah Palin, Senator James Inhofe and others to create, apparently deliberately, the impression that climate scientists had fiddled the figures.

Almost all the media and political discussion about the hacked climate emails has been based on soundbites publicised by professional sceptics and their blogs. In many cases, these have been taken out of context and twisted to mean something they were never intended to.

In part 1 (Battle over climate data turned into war between scientists and sceptics) and in a separate piece that appeared in the newspaper (Climate scientists have long been targets for sceptics) Fred outlines the tactics and motivations of some on the “sceptic” side of the debate.

All this happened against the backdrop of a long-term assault by politically motivated, and commercially funded, climate-change deniers against the activities of many of the key scientists featuring in the emails.

Similarly in Part 7 (Victory for openness as IPCC climate scientist opens up lab doors) Fred explains how the emails give a special insight into what being on the end of that assault was like.

In the leaked emails, [Ben Santer] is seen sharing those experiences with other victims of hectoring and abuse by the more rabid climate sceptics. Others had their own horror stories, including Mike Mann over his hockey stick graph, Kevin Trenberth over his analysis of hurricanes and warming in the aftermath of Katrina, and later Jones over his escalating data wars. In each case, they argue, legitimate debates about scientific analysis and access to researchers’ data have been turned into vindictive character assassination.

And in the concluding part of the investigation (Part 12: Climate science emails cannot destroy argument that world is warming, and humans are responsible), Fred lays out unequivocally that nothing in the emails casts doubt on the case for climate change being attributable to human actions.

Is the science of climate change fatally flawed by the climategate revelations? Absolutely not. Nothing uncovered in the emails destroys the argument that humans are warming the planet. None of the 1,073 emails plus 3,587 files containing documents, raw data and computer code upsets the 200-year-old science behind the “greenhouse effect” of gases such as carbon dioxide, which traps solar heat and warms the atmosphere. Nothing changes the fact that carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere thanks to human emissions from burning carbon-based fuels such as coal and oil. Nor the calculations by physicists that for every square metre of the Earth’s surface, 1.6 watts more energy enters the atmosphere than leaves it.

And we know the world is warming as a result. Thousands of thermometers in areas remote from any conceivable local urban influences tell us that. The oceans are warming too. The great majority of the world’s glaciers are retreating, Arctic sea ice is disappearing, sea levels are rising ever faster, trees are climbing up hillsides and permafrost is melting.

These are not statistical artefacts or the result of scientists cherry-picking data.

Looking under every rock

There are few, if any newspapers in the world with a stronger commitment to action on climate change than the Guardian and our sister paper the Observer. We have a team of 6 full-time environment correspondents as well as three editors and a collection of bloggers and columnists.

It was the Guardian that orchestrated a global editorial carried by 56 newspapers in 45 countries on 7th December 2009 to call for action from world leaders at Copenhagen. [RC: Also at RealClimate]

And we have been instrumental in supporting the 10:10 climate change campaign which aims to inspire individuals, organisations and businesses to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. The UK branch of 10:10 has signed up nearly 60,000 people and over 4000 businesses and organisations.

But only by looking thoroughly under every rock can those of us pressing for action on climate change maintain with confidence that the scientific case remains sound. Fred’s investigation shows that confidence is indeed well placed, but to claim that the emails do not throw up some troubling issues looks like the inward-looking mentality that is sometimes (perhaps understandably) expressed in the emails themselves.

The two posts published so far on RealClimate come to over 8500 words and it has been suggested that a line by line response to each of the points made would not be productive. I say again that we are totally unembarrassed about correcting genuine errors, but many of the points raised at RealClimate are differences of interpretation. There were implications that the investigation omitted some key information which in fact appeared in Fred’s pieces – for example that the data on Chinese weather station locations from the Phil Jones et al 1990 Nature data were eventually released publicly and that the two studies Jones had threatened to keep out of the IPCC AR4 report were in fact cited there.

However, I would like to make four points:

  • Dr Phil Jones, the head of the Climatic Research Unit at UEA has said in an interview with Nature that the handling of the records of the Chinese weather station data from his 1990 Nature paper (which Fred wrote about in part 5 of the investigation) was “not acceptable… [it’s] not best practice,” and he acknowledged that that stations “probably did move”. He added that he was considering a correction to Nature. To our knowledge, no other media organisation or blogger had used the emails to shed light on the controversy over the 1990 paper so a correction would not be on the table without the Pearce investigation.
  • Dr. Schmidt states that we imply Dr Tom Wigley supported allegations of “fabrication” from climate sceptic Douglas Keenan. We do not make that assertion in the piece. Also, Dr Schmidt does not reproduce the most eye-catching quotes from a May 2009 email from Wigley to Jones in which he raises serious doubts about the quality of Jones’s scientific team and his handling of the Chinese weather station data.The hacked emails do not include a response from Jones if there was one.
  • As Dr. Schmidt pointed out, we have made three small corrections to the piece “Controversy behind climate science’s ‘hockey stick’ graph” at the request of Dr Michael Mann, but none changed the main point the article was making, which was that in 1999, Mann’s hockey-stick reconstruction was the subject of intense academic debate amongst climate scientists.
  • Neither of the RealClimate blogs dealt with Fred’s piece on FOI requests, but a statement from the UK’s deputy information commissioner Graham Smith has made clear that he believes that FOI legislation was not followed correctly. He wrote, “The emails which are now public reveal that [climate sceptic David] Holland’s requests under the Freedom of Information Act were not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation. Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act makes it an offence for public authorities to act so as to prevent intentionally the disclosure of requested information.” This is a serious issue worthy of discussion and debate.

Peer-reviewed journalism

I mentioned above our attempt to create a definitive account of the emails by leveraging the expertise of people involved or with a special knowledge of the messages and the issues they discuss. This account will eventually be expanded into a book. In practice, this means us adding annotations from people to the online versions of the articles so that readers can watch a form of living peer-review in progress. Click on the yellow highlights in the pieces themselves to read the annotations.

This represents an extraordinary commitment to transparency that we believe is unique in journalism. What other news organisation would open itself to direct criticism in this way including, for example, annotations that read “this is absolutely false” and “this is really bad”? The respected Columbia Journalism Review has praised the approach. “Regardless of whether you agree with Pearce or Schmidt, the Guardian’s approach appropriately acknowledges that evidence leaves room for some degree of interpretation. It is this kind of detailed, intellectually honest (even technologically innovative) reporting that news outlets like The New York Times should be striving for,” it wrote.

In the same spirit we have showcased diverse critical opinions on the issues and our own coverage of them, including from Dr Myles Allen, Dr Vicky Pope, Dr Mike Hulme and the Guardian’s environment correspondent Dr David Adam. Again few newspapers would have reflected such diverse viewpoints.

The reaction from some to our online annotation exercise has been hostile though. On our letters pages Dr Myles Allen and Dr Ben Santer wrote last week:

Claiming to produce “the definitive” analysis now is a brazen attempt to pre-empt the inquiries’ conclusions…What is wrong with the old-fashioned approach of checking facts before publication? When the final version is published, you will no doubt make much of the fact that “everyone had a chance to comment”, implying that any statement that was not challenged must therefore be true.

Our intention is not to undermine or pre-empt the ongoing inquiries into the CRU emails. Each of those has a very specific remit and none is attempting to produce a detailed account that uses the emails to shed light on recent climate controversies. Nor is this an exercise in blackmailing scientists into fact-checking on the cheap – if it were then it would be a monumental false-economy.

In truth, this is a serious-minded attempt to make sense of a large volume of new information about a complex and highly charged issue. No other newspaper has ever offered its journalism up for very public and exacting scrutiny in this way. We sincerely invite those involved who know the issues most thoroughly to contribute.

507 Responses to “The Guardian responds”

  1. 251

    Gerry, (#245) please go back and read the RC post on “CRU hack: more context.” As I recall, it answers your question fairly directly.

  2. 252
    Geoff Wexler says:

    If this is how the friends of AGW get treated, no wonder anyone with any doubt at all is labelled a “denier” or a straight up shill for [insert industry] interests.

    You need to learn to count beyond two. Your disregard of the substantive points being made above just illustrates the failure of your binary model to cope with whats going on here. As far as I remember, Fred Pearce was criticised in one of the Emails for being too sensational. You may classify that behaviour as being friendly to AGW but I would call it sloppiness.

    The accuracy (up)/sloppiness(down) axis is at right angles to to the friendly (right)/unfriendly(left) axis although I have noticed that most contrarian contributions belong to the lower left quadrant. The Guardian needs to make a much greater effort to stay in the upper half of the plane. The friendship bit will then look after itself.

  3. 253
    Hank Roberts says:

    So — would the Guardian care to come out with one more installment, one written with Gerry Quinn in mind as the audience?

    Seriously, Guardian people — what can you say to Gerry Quinn?

    Gerry Quinn, would you believe the Guardian if they told you what happened?

    If not the Guardian, would you name _any_ source you consider likely to give you an honest answer about what happened?

    Then we can ask them what they’d say, to explain it to you.

  4. 254
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Gerry Quinn says, “Not all the world reads Nature.”

    Well, clearly, YOU don’t, but politicians and policy makers have advisers who do–and as you say, the problem was well known. What is more, I would contend that the figure showing a decline would be much more misleading than one that changed to instrumental data.

    Frankly, I think the fact that even YOU can’t come up with a motivation for Jones to be doing something underhanded really ought to tell you something. But I suspect it won’t.

  5. 255
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Gerry Quinn says: 27 March 2010 at 5:18 PM

    This is irrelevant obfuscation.

    True, that. Obsessing about Phil Jones, jamming one’s entire consciousness into the mental space occupied by an ancient email message is indeed the very picture of swerving into irrelevance and allowing minutia to obfuscate awareness.

    Here’s a an article you ought to read, Gerry, about the degrading and even dangerous effects of pernicious obfuscation and irrelevance. I suggest you do read it and then spend some time reflecting on how it relates to your focus on Phil Jones.

  6. 256
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Frank Giger says, “Here’s what’s missed in most AGW discussions: nature. Excluding natural background CO2 emissions from discussion is an illogical approach, and counter-intuitive to the average layman.”

    Huh? Uh, Frank, you do realize that anthropogenic (e.g. fossil fuel) CO2 has a different isotopic signature than CO2 from other sources, don’t you? And you do realize that atmospheric CO2 has shifted strongly in that direction, right?

    Look, nobody is asking you to sing Kumbaya with Greenpeace. Just accept the established science, realize that there is a credible threat and start trying to come up with solutions. If you truly believe in markets, then shouldn’t there be some market based solutions out there? Shouldn’t industrialized nations make “punishing their citizens” a moot point by moving past carbon to a real 21st century energy infrastructure? Shouldn’t they also realize that assisting developing nation in doing the same is in everyone’s interest–not to mention a potentially very profitable venture?

    And perhaps you might want to avoid the passive voice when making accusations. WHO has billed the IPCC reports as infallible? They are merely a fairly good summary of the best science available on the subject–and as such a reasonable starting point for policy.

    And I’m sorry, but I would consider the need to pass on a functioning society to our progeny a much greater imperative than any sort of canonical declaration. Maybe that’s my heathen nature showing?

  7. 257
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Martin and Theo, I hold out less and less hope that science will get any help from popular media in explaining the science to the public. To start with, the reporters do not understand the science–neither the content, nor how it is done nor why it works. Media operations are cutting back if not eliminating their science desks, and in the future, we’ll be seeing mainly unedited PR releases masquerading as science reporting.

    At one point, I had held out hope that papers like The Guardian might stem that time. However, their willingness to place more faith in releases from nameless and faceless hackers than in scientists has pretty much crushed those hopes. Randerson’s utter failure to even realize that this is an error has done nothing to increase my optimism.

  8. 258
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Politicians and policymakers get their scientific information from reports prepared by people like Jones.

    Which policies would have been affected by the divergence problem and why?

    Anyway, Ray was correct at #254. The rest of my original comment is therefore unecessary.

  9. 259
    John E. Pearson says:

    Ray Ladbury says:
    “I would consider the need to pass on a functioning society to our progeny a much greater imperative than any sort of canonical declaration. ”

    You’re just the type that would favor that sort of social-istic nonsense. Worse yet is that you’re not satisfied to give stuff to our current loafers you advocate give-aways to future loafers!!!

  10. 260
    JiminMpls says:

    3244 John

    You make good points. Having the universal dividend would probably make it easier for the general public to accept. And those making wise purchasing decisions will still save money and those that don’t won’t.

    What is essential either way is that the fee or tax be assessed at each stage of production and passed on through the entire supply chain to the end consumer.

  11. 261

    #250 Frank Giger

    Huh? The first thing I bring up in a discussion is natural cycle, so what are you talking about.

    I, nor anyone I know of have ever said climate is static, so again, what are you talking about?

    I also travel in conservative circles, because I am a conservative. As I said, when there is enough time, depending on the audience, people almost always get it.

    Carrots and sticks can work. Sometimes a feather is more effective than a hammer, and sometimes not. It depends on circumstance. Carrots are important though but it helps to know why the carrot is the tastiest option.

    The reasons the stolen emails cut so deeply is because the message was spun out of context and repeated ad infinitum in the media and denialist circles. I call it irresponsible reporting in the media. What do you call it, misunderstanding.

    No where has any scientific publication been considered canonical. That is ‘your’ straw-man.

    Understanding climate is about reasoned science and the error bars surrounding that as well as potentials and that can inform policy.

    Our best chance for a better future ‘Fee & Dividend’
    Understand the delay and costs of Cap and Trade
    Sign the Petition!

  12. 262
    Ray Ladbury says:

    John Pearson says, “Worse yet is that you’re not satisfied to give stuff to our current loafers you advocate give-aways to future loafers!!!”

    Sir, I take issue with with your aspersion. I have always favored tennis shoes!

  13. 263

    Frank Giger (#250), I don’t think that mainstream climatology is assuming climate to be static. In fact, I’m damn sure it doesn’t: CO2 climate theory arose in the the first instance out of attempts to understand the Ice Ages. That was in fact Svante Arrhenius’s research question back in 1896, and his buddy Nils Ekholm took an even more sweeping view a couple of years later.

    For popular accounts, see:


    Ice ages past and future have rarely been out of the climate discussion since.

    For example:

    <a href="; rel="nofollow"(The Long Thaw–Review)

    It’s not clear to me how you intend your statement about “tinkering with dynamic systems”–but if you mean a 30% augmentation of the atmospheric concentration of CO2, I’d say that qualifies, all right.

  14. 264

    Sorry about the busted HTML! I do miss preview for stuff like that. . .

  15. 265

    #260 JiminMpls

    As written, fee is collected at point of origin or point of import.

    Have you signed on yet? If not I encourage you to do so and please help others understand and join.

    Our best chance for a better future ‘Fee & Dividend’
    Understand the delay and costs of Cap and Trade
    Sign the Petition!

  16. 266
    Frank Giger says:

    My point about the static climate position is the notion that we have to “halt global warming.” No, we’re already on that trend naturally. We have to stop speeding it up.

    It seems somewhat pendantic, I know, but language matters, as it frames debate.

    While none of us are political decision makers, it was an error to plop down a date for emissions targets. Five percent below 1990 levels implies that in November of 1990 (or was it 1989? I can’t figure which end of 1990 they’re using) we were all a-okay on the emissions front. Yet in 1990 we were told we were emitting too many GHG’s.

    The casual observer then makes the incorrect leap that there is a climate ideal – a homeostatis of balance in climate – that is the goal.

    Hey, I’m just the guy that believes the science and disagrees with most of the solutions offered, particularly the international ones. That doesn’t make me a “denier,” or one who’s head is in the sand; it means I have a different opinion on the current proposals.

    Our family telecommutes, recycles, and lives somewhat frugally (though not when judged against the global median, which is pretty much abject poverty). Hammering us with additional taxes just for living in the First World is capricious and arbitrary.

  17. 267
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Go on digging Gerry… what dhogaza #246 said.

  18. 268
    Sou says:

    @ #209 Theo H says:

    Please step back and then tell us how, in light of the entire 12 article series, you feel about the entire series.

    The series of articles reads like an indepth background of climate scientists, based on hours of observations and interviews.

    But it’s not!

    Instead it’s based on a perusal of stolen personal emails going back several years, taken out of context (despite some attempt to place them in some context). It is not supported by hours of interviews or observations of interactions between scientists. It’s a distorted view from a narrow, out of context perspective.

    It also gives the impression that climate science = CRU. The Climatic Research Unit is rightly renowned for its excellent research of critical importance in shaping our understanding of the climate and their research has contributed hugely to policy development. However as far as I know the CRU employs only three full time researchers. There are thousands of scientists working in areas relating to climate research.

    There are special-ised climate research units in many research institutions around the world that have also made extremely important contributions. And thousands of researchers contribute to our understanding of climate change, including botanists, zoologists, entomologists, agricultural scientists, forest scientists, oceanographers, marine scientists, ecologists, glaciologists, inland water researchers etc etc.

    The series of articles could have been so much better had the journalist chosen to do an indepth series on climate scientists, even if it only focused on a few key scientists. Instead it chose to do a 12 part series on stolen emails, and ending up with a distorted picture as evidenced by the annotated comments and responses of people like Ben Santer.

    If there’s a book, I hope this series is merely a footnote at best, not the substance of the book. The scientists and the world deserve the whole picture, not a distorted view through the eyes of a thief.

  19. 269
    Ron R. says:

    A few comments for the Guardian. I’m not going to say anything new, but here goes anyway. Like many others I’ve done a lot of online reading from a wide variety of news sources. Some of them, like the WSJ really suck. Their spate of articles covering health care legislation was nothing short of Hearst style yellow journalism IMO. I mean you could really see Murdoch’s hand during the whole phase. Grossly distorted articles by anonymous authors screaming armageddon should it pass, the comments turned off of course. They have become the print version of Murdoch’s other notable “news” outlet at Fox. And the Moonie Times, well no need to even mention them. WaPo is another, albeit perhaps less extreme example. These are outlets that are firmly in the back pocket of corporate America.

    On the other, more honest side there are papers like the NYT, Newsweek and online alternative media. And there’s the Guardian and Observer. Over the years I’ve always been impressed with the coverage of the issues by your paper. You have fearlessly taken on the powerful when others were too afraid to touch them. Big Tobacco, Big Energy and Biotech come to mind. I want to thank you for that.

    You’ve a lot of competition and times are tough. Papers are closing their doors every day (which I happen to think is a good, no a great thing, at least as far as actual newsprint=trees cut down goes). There is obvious pressure to sensationalize stories to bring in the readers, and that sometimes translates into an overzealousness; an overzealousness to see scandals where none exists. To get ‘the scoop’ before someone else does. Of course you have a commission to seek out and print the news. And more than that, people like me expect you to dig up the ‘news behind the news’ as well. But please don’t sacrifice integrity for dollars, journalistic laziness for excellence or “balance” for truth. By no means squelch coverage of legitimate scandal, but please don’t throw Majorica before swine. As the wise man said, they will trample them under their feet then turn around and trample you. Nuff said.

  20. 270
    Edward Greisch says:

    Did anybody notice 155 Timothy Mason?:

    If the Guardian continues to get guest articles from climate scientists like Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rather than from journalists, the problem is solved for the Guardian. Now “all we have to do” is to get other newspapers and MSM to do the same. Let’s congratulate the Guardian for publishing the article by Rajendra Pachauri. As they say, sugar attracts more flies than vinegar does.

    Congratulations, Guardian! And THANKS!

    Notice that Pachauri says: “As inhabitants of planet Earth, our lives depend on a stable climate.”

  21. 271
    Martin Robinson says:

    And the sloppy reporting continues.

    This is from today’s Observer (effectively the Guardian’s Sunday edition):

    “Politicians and negotiators are preparing another assault on the issue, though this time talks will be very different. For a start, climate science has suffered damaging setbacks. There was the leaking from the University of East Anglia’s climate research unit of email exchanges between some of the world’s top meteorologists as well as the discovery that a UN assessment report on climate change had vastly exaggerated the rate of melting of Himalayan glaciers.

    The former revelation suggested some researchers were involved in massaging the truth, sceptics claimed, while the latter exposed deficiencies in the way the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – authors of the report – go about their business. The overall effect has been to damage the credibility of the large number of scientists who fear our planet faces climatic disaster. Trying to restart stalled negotiations will be very hard.”

    No, Guardian writers, the science itself has not suffered any setbacks (though the reception of the science may if they continue writing about it like this.)

    And proper reading of the hacked emails shows that the “revelation” does not in fact suggest any massaging of the truth. The caveat “sceptics claimed” does little to counteract the false impression conveyed here.

    Can the Guardian really not do better than this?

  22. 272
    Michael K says:

    But facts don’t matter anymore, especially not in a “war”, what matters is propaganda and ideology. Both of these trump facts.

    Rationality, science, facts… are all under attack because they increasingly and inevitably, question and scrutinize the fundamental structures of “marketed democracy” and the rapacious economic dogmas that underly the entire system.

    In this war, science will lose, simply because power doesn’t give a damn about “right” or “wrong”, but only what serves the interests of the powerful who own and control society. As long as science is willing and ready to serve power, everything is fine and smooth; but if science, as in relation to climate change, beigins to challenge fundamental aspects of how wealth and power and weilded and distributed, and the consequences of our socio/economic system; then science had better watch out, because, those who, for whatever reason, threaten the status quo are the enemy.

  23. 273
    Anonymous Coward says:

    It’s worth pointing out that “Fee & Dividend” is functionally a negative income tax. If implemented, it would tend to lower real wages for unskilled work (as well as the premium for skills and qualifications that are plentiful). Domestic businesses which do not emit much CO2 would therefore have an easier time competiting with foreign businesses and unemployment would most likely be curbed. Depending on the makeup of imports and exports, an import fee might not even be necessary to improve the carbon footprint of international trade as well as the national balance of trade.

  24. 274
    Completely Fed Up says:

    All this concern trolling about “hiding the decline” as the denialists phrase it, yet NOTHING on TGGWS when they posted a graph that seemed to show solar changes and temperature changes were concordant in the records beyond 2000, when the data shown never went that far.


    Where are all you concern trolls like Frank on that issue?

  25. 275

    Frank Giger (250): Punitive taxes just to tax people for living in a prosperous nation (in order to make them less prosperous and therefore less polluting) is politically and ideologically impossible to the majority of people – and yet this seems to be the prime solution offered for AGW (carbon taxes, etc.).

    BPL: No one has proposed “Punitive taxes just to tax people for living in a prosperous nation (in order to make them less prosperous and therefore less polluting).” Carbon taxes are not going to make the nation less prosperous, they are going to make it more so, since the economic damage from environmental degradation and pollution-caused diseases and death will finally be properly attributed in carbon prices. And carbon taxes can be rebated to the people. The aim is to raise the price of one commodity, not all commodities, thus making alternative sources of energy more attractive.

    If we do nothing and rely on the kind of jawboning you seem to prefer, very likely nothing useful will be done and human civilization will collapse altogether in the next forty years or so. That seems even more “punitive” to me.

  26. 276
    Kris says:

    #256 Ray: you do realize that anthropogenic (e.g. fossil fuel) CO2 has a different isotopic signature than CO2 from other sources

    This is irrelevant. The problem in communicating is this: human emissions are 26Gt/y, while natural emissions are 770 Gt/y, i.e. we contribute only about 3%. So it is counterintuitive that our 3% more does in fact pose a problem. You have to say that the nature can sink only 780 Gt/y, so out of our emissions 16Gt/y stays in the atmosphere and THAT slowly builds up the CO2 content. [My numbers may be off, feel free to correct me]. Only when you say that and throw in the isotope ratio as a bonus you get a coherent argument.

    Unfortunately, no mainstream media report I have seen frames it this way. So when people are confronted with the argument that natural emissions are over 30 times more they get confused and buy that. Because NOBODY, NEVER, has told them about SINKS.

    I had to start reading RC to learn these completely basic facts.

    P.S. If you need a nice graph for explaining this to someone see:

  27. 277
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Greg C, Kris #229,233:
    > WHOA! That’s a rare line to hear nowadays. :-)

    Indeed. But still, to rain on your parade, I disagree ;-)

    I don’t think it makes a whole lot of difference for culpability whether the deletion took place or not — for a leading civil servant to recommend legally or ethically questionable behaviour is bad, period. What I challenged was that it could be so construed. In fact I would argue a forteriori that protecting the integrity of scientific processes — in this case, the confidentiality of an authoring team’s internal correspondence — is a legitimate and proper thing for a scientis to do. And if you read the stolen correspondence — remember to shower afterward — you’ll see that they all feel very strongly about this: Jones, Wigley, Santer, Osborn, Ammann — the lot.

  28. 278
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re :#276.

    This is irrelevant.

    No it is not. Even to a beginner, because as you concede yourself, it is a vital finger-print.

    In addtion populist carbon accounting really makes no sense, especially as you have described it. If as you claim, their theory contained no sinks, the 660 Gt (or whatever) natural emissions would have appeared in Keeling’s measurements which show only a fraction of that rate of rise. Conclusion : there must be huge natural sinks . End of that version of story. We now have ‘improved populist theory’ (IPT) , in which large amounts of CO2 are going both ways.

    Question for IPT. If humans come along and add to the rate entering the atmosphere what happens to the human contribution? It could of course be absorbed by the natural sinks we have just invoked. If so where does the measured rise come from? Your populist will soon be having some difficulty.

    Next. Get your populist to explain the isotope effect and the ocean acid effect which reveals that the net CO2 flow is directed into the sea. That acounts for half of the human bit and disposes of a whole section of Channel 4’s Swindle.

    By the way the distinction between net flow and detailed flow occurs everywhere in science. In the case of electricity, it is the net flow of electrons which constitutes an electric current. The fact that this is tiny compared to the balanced flows in opposite directions is normally disregarded. You get a similar effect in many chemical reactions.

  29. 279
    Ron R. says:

    Martin Robinson #271. I agree. In most areas extreme care in the wording of an issue is not that critical, but with something as important and politically charged as climate change where there are powerful interests determined to make sure nothing changes and who freely manipulate public opinion through corporate outlets every word, every turn of a phrase, every nuance needs to be carefully considered. We’re not talking dishonesty here but, rather, the opposite, honesty to a fault.

  30. 280
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re #276.
    It should be “…disposes of a whole section of Channel 4’s Swindle and Plimer’s encyclopedia of nonsense”

  31. 281
    J. Bob says:

    #261 John, remember our talks on Arctic sea ice melting away. Seems the Danish graphs show it’s almost back to normal.

    Your thoughts, before I sign your petition?

  32. 282
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Frank Giger says, “My point about the static climate position is the notion that we have to “halt global warming.” No, we’re already on that trend naturally. We have to stop speeding it up.”

    Huh, where do you get the idea that the natural trend would be warming? Quite the contrary, in the absence of anthropogenic influences we’d on our way to a Stade.

    Seriously, Frank, someone is seriously misinforming you on the science. I do not blame you for that, but I would strongly recommend a perusal of sources closer to the original scientific literature.

  33. 283

    #266 Frank Giger

    Language does matter, but context is key.

    You can’t just rule out international solutions. This is a global problem and actually requires international solutions. I don’t like all the proposals either. Subsidizing corporations to pursue development of inefficient or inadequate ideas to bolster pockets, bottom lines, and green images is not a good solution.

    Your assumptions on dates also contains contextual problems.

    You do seem to have a First World centric mentality though and that is myopic. Example: America is not really first world, we were among the last country system to develop. Bit of a misnomer but I understand your point.

    Based on your post I must assume that you do not believe in taking responsibility for ones actions. Am I correct in this assumption?

    Our best chance for a better future ‘Fee & Dividend’
    Understand the delay and costs of Cap and Trade
    Sign the Petition!

  34. 284

    #275 Barton Paul Levenson Frank Giger

    Barton has made a most cogent point that you should take to heart. While large scale collapse of civilization as we know it could certainly occur by 2050 to 2100. The degradation of human civilization begins essentially right away. Effects of AGW combined with other large scale problems in the earth system (related or not), in relation to the human system such as peak oil, bees dying, ocean degradation, soil nutrient loss, soil moisture loss all point to the punitive effects of mankind’s collective tax upon himself.

    An effective fee on carbon that is returned to the public (Fee & Dividend) in an ailing economy is not punitive in this context. In fact, it is the opposite. It is better framed as the price of the ticket to a better future.

    Read the synthesis report on global security and I highly recommend downloading the security reports. They all indicate that international cooperation will be required.

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  35. 285

    #276 Kris

    You are mixing natural respiration of the carbon sink and absorption (natural systems) with humans CO2 emissions vs. volcanic emissions.

    It is not counter intuitive to see that humans emit, these days, around 7Gt to 9Gt per year, vs. volcanic emissions of around .13 to .23 Gt.

    It is important to separate the respiration and absorption systems from the emitting systems to explain it properly.

    Context is key.

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    Understand the delay and costs of Cap and Trade
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  36. 286

    #281 J. Bob

    If I read you right, you are asking about why the Arctic ice seems to be recovering every year. Important to note that ice extent is not ice volume/thickness.

    There is no sunlight in the Arctic in winter and thus the surface ice refreezes each winter.

    To get a clear picture of the context I made a video specifically for the Arctic Ice Melt. It may help you visualize what is happening up there:

    Also see:

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  37. 287


    Yes, after an autumn in which the sea ice extent curve has tracked pretty closely with 2007–which ended up with a record-low minimum–we have had a sharp increase in extent over the last few weeks. That doesn’t mean that we have some sort of “recovery” that we can feel secure about. Especially since the NSIDC graph show that we’re still close to two standard deviations below the long-term norm. (Ie., since ’79.)

    As John R. says, ice thickness is very important, and it’s doubtful that this new ice is very thick.

    I’d add that there is a lot of variability in the sea ice extent (or area, for that matter)–it can and does change quite capriciously in the short term. So it would be foolish to bank on this latest increase as meaning much. We continue (AFAIK) to have some high sea surface temps; the troposphere continues at record- or near-record levels; and we may or may not have reached the seasonal maximum yet.

    Let’s see what happens next.

    (One post-script thought: the next couple of months are typically the months with the lowest year-to-year variability. As the melt season progresses, the extent tracks usually diverge more.)

  38. 288
    dhogaza says:

    John, remember our talks on Arctic sea ice melting away. Seems the Danish graphs show it’s almost back to normal.

    Yes, just like last year, which it’s closely tracking, when your friends over at WUWT were trumpeting “recovery!”. Yet by summer’s end, the ice extent and area were both far below “normal”, if you take “normal” to mean within one or two standard deviations of the 1979-whenever average (different groups use different end dates for “whenever”).

    Never fear, minimum extent this year will be far below “normal”, because as someone above mentioned, ice volume has not “recovered”, and this thin stuff will melt like gangbusters as daylight hours lengthen up there.

  39. 289
    Brian Dodge says:

    “I rescind my previous position and admit that most likely there was no offence committed.” Comment by Kris — 27 March 2010 @ 1:27 PM

    I disagree.

    According to in an article titled “UK law makes hacking an act of terrorism”
    hacking “…will be a terrorist action only if it is both –

    Designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
    Made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.”

    The CRU hack has clearly been used to influence UK government policy on AGW, fossil fuel marketing, and international negotiations about these issues; it has clearly been used to intimidate climate scientists as well as the section of the public that thinks we should pay attention to the science they have presented; and it has clearly been used to advance the right wing anti science pro anything goes free market greed is good ideology.

    It is hard to imagine more cogent prima facie evidence that this was an act of terrorism. No doubt ICO deputy commissioner Graham Smith imagines different threats than I do.

  40. 290

    #287 Kevin McKinney

    Yes. New ice is not very thick. The older the ice the thicker it tends to be. In the picture

    You can see that the ice is looked at, in this context, in terms of age. For example, ice >5 years old is not very rare.

    It is simply not cold enough to reform thicker multi-year ice in a sustainable fashion. That does not mean you won’t see thicker ice forming, but rather that it is becoming more and more improbably that the multi-year ice will form and sustain.

    It is safe to say we will be without the Arctic ice (virtually ice) free within 30 years, and there is a reasonably good chance we will be virtually ice free within 10 years, or possibly less.

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    Understand the delay and costs of Cap and Trade
    Sign the Petition!

  41. 291
    J. Bob says:

    #286, John, ice volume could be a good metric. However what is the accuracy of your final ice volume value?

    Remember in determining ice area or extent, with the long perimeter, area/extent accuracy might be around 5-10%. Determining thickness has a different wrinkle. As the beam is not looking at a nice flat surface on either side of the ice, but a discontinuous upper and lower surface, compounded by melt water.

  42. 292
    jo abbess says:

    @EdwardGreisch (#236)

    At the present time, I don’t see any journalists or Media organisation prepared to admit that they need to train their environmental reporters in the actual Science of Climate Change, so I very much doubt that my offer of free facilitation for workshops will be pursued.

    Interestingly, compared with weather forecasting, which needs complicated aerodynamic modelling, Climate Change forecasting has much more approachable mathematics. t’s quite simple to explain such things as basic models of the atmosphere with simple formulae, to explain in detail how the Greenhouse Effect works. I find David Archer’s book and video lecture series inspiring on that front. It’s true that to run a global Climate model takes up acres of computer racks, but the essential elements of the current situation are quite simple to portray : there are many helpful diagrams included in the IPCC reports and in a number of general readership books. I particularly like the work depicting radiative forcings – very simple to comprehend.

    I think the Statistics required are quite rudimentary. Climate Change sceptics often use arguments that sound like statistics, but are just bamboozling garbage (thinks : Monckton versus Lambert YouTube debate). Analysis of trend lines, over large enough sample sizes, and considerations of the bounds of uncertainty, and analysis of past data usually points the right way for people if they care to look at it reflectively. It really is quite straightforward to understand what is meant by “statistically significant”, although that didn’t stop the Daily Mail and several other newspapers getting it wrong recently, when quoting something probably mangled by a Climate Change sceptic first, wrongly based on what Phil Jones said to the BBC.

    The main stumbling blocks for the Media in my view are lack of appreciation of two things :-

    1. The ongoing narrative of evolving Science

    The quantity of research in geosciences is voluminous, literally, and it takes a constant dip into the current state of play to follow what is changing and emerging. Thus, it was unhelpful, in my opinion, for David Adam to write an about “wind-blown sea ice” in the Arctic recently without including the wider knowledge about what is happening to the volume of sea ice, and multi-year ice loss. Plus, he did not include anything about how the research on changes in Arctic weather patterns and climate, mostly due to Global Warming is affecting the winds there (which affect the sea ice accumulation or loss). The whole picture somehow has to be given, or the readership are receiving very few pixels, and cannot evaluate what may or may not have changed or be significant. However, it’s a huge area of knowledge, so one writer cannot be expected to have a general overview. Why don’t reporters take it upon themselves to make teams, and split their research and then co-write articles ?

    2. What the Climate Change denier-sceptics do

    The use of language is essential to be careful about, as a poorly worded report can be mis-quoted, twisted, spun, then that analysis replicated and recited until the end of the world.

    The Climate Change denier-sceptics also have a modus operandi that seeks to (a) take attention away from important emerging truth by making unwarranted attacks on people and research and (b) focus attention on disputed details to stop people seeing the wider picture. They have been able to shape the story of Science very nicely to suit their purposes recently, as even very respectful journalists such as those at The Observer, are using the denier-sceptic framing of the world in discussing the situation. For Fred Pearce, George Monbiot and others at The Guardian to write about Climategate as if the problem is in the electronic mails is a complete inversion of the real issue.

    I do really think that Science journalism needs to improve as regards Climate Change. Journalists should be primed to dodge denier-sceptic tactics and have read widely enough to make sure they place their reports in the right framework in the ongoing development of the Science.

    The best way that The Guardian could support the work of Climate Change Scientists is to stop talking about Phil Jones’ informal communications and start reading the results of his extensive collaborative and personal research. He is a hero, not a scoundrel, and I want to hear The Guardian admit that.

  43. 293
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Kris, your education is not served by stating “That is irrelevant”.

    Explain why YOU ***think*** it is irrelevant.

    What about the isotopic signature of biological carbon as compared with the isotopic signature of fossil carbon is irrelevant to human (fossil fuel led) CO2 increases?

  44. 294
    Rod B says:

    Hank (216), No, I’m simply saying that the argument that the supporters of AGW are just like the good guys from the tobacco studies, or that the skeptics are just like the folks that didn’t buy off on the tobacco studies is not a compelling argument for or against, though for some reason it is viewed by some as a absolute proof of the validity of climate change studies.

  45. 295
    Gerry Quinn says:

    I was able to find the WMO report for which Phil Jones was preparing the series referred to in his “hide the decline” email (no thanks to RealClimate posters who directed me everywhere *except* to this report. For anyone interested, the URL is [URL][/URL]. When you look at it, you’ll have no difficulty in seeing why Phil Jones’s apologists would prefer you not to do so!

    The report is called “WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 1999”. The cover image consists of three temperature series, purportedly from Jones, Mann and Briffa (although in fact it appears they were all altered by Jones).

    On the inside, a vague and almost unreadable cyan legend gives no clue that the proxy data has been modified. The graph is discussed further in a sidebar on page 4. At no point whatsoever is any indication given that Jones has dumped the last twenty to forty years of each proxy series and replaced it with instrumental data.

    Furthermore, both the legend and the sidebar talk about uncertainties in the proxy data being greater earlier in the millenium “due to the sparse and uncertain nature of the proxy data”. Uncertainties are quoted as a “95% confidence interval of 0.3 degC from 1000-15000 AD,reducing to 0.1 degC by the beginning of the 19th Century”.

    Given the recent proxy data that had to be eliminated because it contradicted the instrumental data by a large multiple of this supposed 95% confidence interval, how can this description of the accuracy of the data be described as other than blatantly false? If the data in all three series has dramatically spiralled away from the instrumental record over the last few decades, it cannot *possibly* be reasonable to claim an accuracy of 0.1 degC two centuries ago, when the instrumental records basically did not exist!

    I’m not trying to hang Jones or anyone else here, just trying to ascertain the facts relating to his “hide the decline” email. I think it’s very clear indeed that the purpose was precisely what I had first assumed, i.e. to produce a report in which the reliability of certain proxy data series – or at least, that of Jones’s preferred proxy data series – was overstated. What I had not realised until I followed up the issue was quite how grossly it was overstated…

    [Response: Aside from the fact that we’ve been down all topics on this road about 600 million times now and that the goal of the image was to portray the most likely temperature history up to the present, and that the increase in standard error going back in time is exactly to be expected as sample size drops, and that your post is off topic, and that you say you’re not out to hang Jones while you describe a litany of supposed dis-honesties and cover-ups on his part…

    Mann et al, 2008, PNAS

    READ IT!–Jim]

  46. 296
    Brian Dodge says:

    I cut the 2010 extent line (in red) from the arcticroos website given by J. Bob 28 March 2010 @ 10:02 AM, and pasted it to scale on a graphic from and posted the result at
    I posted a similar image to a WUWT discussion “What NOAA Isn’t Saying About Snow and Ice” where the skeptics were all excited about the heavy snow on the east coast earlier this year. Mr Goddards’ response was “I’m guessing that you aren’t located in Washington D.C.”

  47. 297
    Greg C. says:

    CFU: “Kris, your education is not served by stating “That is irrelevant”. Explain why YOU ***think*** it is irrelevant.”

    Your criticism of his post was incredibly unfair; Kris was not criticizing the science, he was making a clear point about communication and the misunderstandings people have and how they need to be addressed. He was explaining that no one will care *how we know* how much CO2 we are emitting if it seems like even if we got this right the number is so small that it couldn’t possibly be making a difference anyway; thus, the most important thing is to explain there are also carbon *sinks*, and even though our contribution is small it turns out to be just enough to overwhelm them so that the amount of CO2 is increasing.

    Now, I am not an expert in this so perhaps the point that someone here was trying to make is that by isotopic signatures allow us to trace the fraction of CO2 *currently in the atmosphere* that comes from people, rather than only giving us a tool to track the amount that is being *emitted*. In this case, Kris’s post would be wrong because it turns out that all you need to explain to someone is, “Look, we know exactly how much of the CO2 in the atmosphere is because we put it there because of it’s isotopic signature,” and then in theory discussions of how much we are emitting versus nature become irrelevant because we already know that we must be emitting enough to be significant. But if this is the manner of his mistake then it needs to be emphasized that he was not dismissing the science as you are making it sound like he did but rather he simply misunderstood the point that someone else was making.

    [Response: Guys, sounds like someone needs to be reading our posts on isotopes of carbon dating a few years back.–eric]

  48. 298
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Rod
    > skeptics are just like the folks that didn’t buy off
    > on the tobacco studies

    You misread that as an analogy?
    Many of the older ‘skeptics’ _are_ the folks
    who did PR for the tobacco companies.
    Not “like” — they are the same people.
    It’s called “advocacy science” for a reason.

    > “viewed by some as a absolute proof of the validity”

    Rod, some crackpot can probably be found using _anything_ you can suggest as “absolute proof of the validity” of some notion.

    This doesn’t mean the fact or observation has a problem.
    If it’s “absolute proof” then it’s someone’s theology or it’s mathematics.

    Radiation physics isn’t proof of a conspiracy for world domination, just because someone can’t understand it. Nor is the fact that some people _do_ understand it evidence they view it as “absolute proof” of anything.

    Science doesn’t do absolute proof.

    If you figure anything you can’t understand is someone’s conspiracy, you live surrounded by conspirators.

    Go with the probabilities.

    [Response: Hank, a slight correction: I don’t refer to what Fred Singer doesas “science”, advocacy or otherwise!

  49. 299
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Rod B says: the argument that the supporters of AGW are just like the good guys from the tobacco studies, or that the skeptics are just like the folks that didn’t buy off on the tobacco studies is not a compelling argument

    You might have a point, if it weren’t the very same people and organizations playing the denialist role, e.g., Fred Singer and Heartland Institute.

  50. 300
    Geoff Wexler says:

    re :#292.

    Good luck with your educational project.

    People are not only ill informed about the science but are unaware of the intensity of the propaganda against it. That is one reason why Channel 4’s Swindle and Plimer’s book got off so lightly. Many people know that the energy industry is funding anti-AGW views, but they balance that with claims that some environmentalists exaggerate. These people need to be educated about the type of distortions which are in regular use by the CO2 emitting lobby.

    Most people start life being trustful.. They might begin with the view that the Swindle is an expression of sincere alternative opinions and deserves to be given space. They might agree that TV programmes contain spin but would be reluctant to accept that any ‘documentary’ consists of one deception after another. That is because they start with too little prior knowledge.

    So it is with the email hysteria. The default position is once again that some but not all of the accusations may be wrong. That remains to be seen. But the propagandists have gone over the top with “in your face” misinformation, every step of the way. As someone wrote, they must eventually be made to own all this misinformation. This is rather tangential to an educational program about the science, but it may be important in helping researchers to do their job.