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I thought this article by Steven Hayword on the scandal on climate change science was a helpful overview of what’s gone on in recent weeks. If you don’t know about the scandal, this is a helpful place to catch up. I think this is a key line in his piece: “The biggest hazard to serious climate science all along was not so much contrarian arguments from skeptics, but rather the damage that the hyperbole of the environmental community would inflict on their own cause.”

When thinking through this issue, I think it’s important to make distinctions and to discern what is and is not being claimed, and what is and is not being proposed in response. Toward that end, this article by Kevin Williamson helped to break these things down. He lists the following propositions, in “ascending order of unlikeliness”:

  1. The planet is getting warmer.
  2. The planet is getting warmer, and human activity is the reason.
  3. The planet is getting warmer, human activity is a main factor, and the consequences will be catastrophic.
  4. The planet is getting warmer, human activity is a main factor, the consequences will be catastrophic, and some U.N.-style climate policeman is going to be able to manage a mitigating response.
  5. The planet is getting warmer, human activity is a main factor, the consequences will be catastrophic, and some U.N.-style climate policeman is going to be able to manage a mitigating response -- in an economically efficient manner.
  6. The planet is getting warmer, human activity is a main factor, the consequences will be catastrophic, and some U.N.-style climate policeman is going to be able to manage a mitigating response -- in an economically efficient manner that also is consistent with our political liberties and national sovereignties.

Read the whole thing for his evaluation of each proposition.


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26 thoughts on “Climategate 101”

  1. Roberto G says:

    Even without the incriminating emails, more people should be aware of the scientific fallacy behind man caused global warming:
    “If we are significantly contributing to global climate change by “x” behaviors, then global temperatures would be significantly rising.
    Global temperatures are significantly rising.
    Therefore, we are significantly contributing to global climate change by “x” behaviors.” Perfectly scientific. Perfectly fallacious.

  2. Kevin Boling says:

    Justin, my guest tomorrow, on the Wed. (Dec. 9th) edition of the Knowing The Truth radio program will be Daniel James Devine – Science Correspondent for World Magazine. We will be discussing Climate Change: The Chilling Effect of the Truth. See http://www.SermonAudio.com/KnowingTheTruth for details.

  3. jstainer says:

    Climategate is no big deal but is being made out to be. Put this one in the “Oh No Obama is Bowing” pile with the rest of the overhyped nonissues.

    For the sake of argument though, even if it turns out that climate change is completely independant of human activity, there are still other good reasons to continue on with the policy changes that are climate change focused. Like damage to our own health and the seriously bad economics of relying on oil to support a country longterm.

    1. ChrisB says:

      @jstainer,

      Even if it is true that the things that would need to be changed to fight global warming need to be changed either way, we might be able to make the changes in a more moderate manner than the global warming hysterics are insisting. They’re willing to gut our economy on the off chance that it will make a dent in global warming; that’s both insane and unnecessary.

      1. jstainer says:

        Simply by using the word hysterics you’re cutting yourself out of reasonable discussion on the issue.

        But again, even if it is hysterics as you claim the reality is that issues such as peak oil make this a highly important issue to take a hard look at.

  4. Simon says:

    @Roberto:That’s not how global warming has been generally postulated. Instead, the greenhouse effect, known since the 1820s is known to contribute significantly to the warmth of the planet. The gases which contribute to that effect have increased hugely (most of it by “x” behaviours ;-)), and, oh look – global temperatures are rising.

    Whilst the recent scandal is shocking, it does very little to discredit the many scientists doing serious work and finding data which does lead to the conclusion that man-made global warming is increasingly problematic. Believe it or not, most of that data did not come from the University of East Anglia, and suggesting that the claim that we are significantly contributing to climate change is discredited by this is as fallacious as showing climate change skepticism was discredited by Martin Durkin’s documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle.

  5. Michael S. says:

    Bottom line: There is NO such thing as global warming! It is a political agenda at best, religious agenda at worst. 1) Santa Claus 2) Tooth Fairy 3) Global Warming — Myths!

  6. Simon says:

    Well that’s that resolved then – thanks Michael. Glad that we’ve got the bottom line. Except that you are giving a view which is agreed with by vastly more people who subscribe to a religion (particularly my religion), or are involved in politics, than by scientists.

    1. Michael S. says:

      Are these the same scientists who reported an “ice age” in 1974?

      http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,944914,00.html

      1. Simon says:

        Erm, no probably not. There are quite a lot of scientists around.

        Even so, the article you linked to shows the very reason the phrase “global warming” is generally eschewed in favour of “climate change”. Ie. the effects are various – in some places it becomes hotter, in others cooler. Climate change models show that where I live is likely to get considerable colder.

        Whilst you may be cynical about science and scientists, ultimately whether climate change is occurring, and whether it is natural or man-made are scientific questions, and the people best qualified to answer those questions are scientists. And yes, some people find results or come to conclusions which dispute current theories – which is why peer-review and consensus are so key. It’s all part of the process of clarifying exactly what is going on.

    2. threegirldad says:

      <emwhich is agreed with by vastly more people who subscribe to a religion (particularly my religion), or are involved in politics, than by scientists

      Ahhh, yes. Here comes that farcical distinction — again. Simply by employing it, Simon, “you’re cutting yourself out of reasonable discussion on the issue.” Pity, that.

      You feel free to worship your own particular “priestly class.” I’ll feel free to insist that you’re misguided for doing so.

  7. Matthaeus Flexibilis says:

    I am a global warming agnostic, and I found this post from the Freakonomics guys to be pretty accurate. In summary, it says that Climategate is merely a Rorschach test that reveals your previous presuppositions rather than providing much new information.

    As for me, I think the problems identified with the programming code are no worse than any other academic code out there. IME, academics typically (pun, get it?) write horrible code, so that point — if it should be raised at all — can probably be held against all sides.

    1. jstainer says:

      The Rorschach test is a great way to look at the incident, very interesting!

  8. Danny says:

    Gore 3:16 states, “if these things have not happened and the temperature has not increase, we among all people should be pitied.” Oh, nevermind. I made that up. There really is a difference between historic Christianity and religion.

  9. Roberto G says:

    The scientific argument for man caused global warming, however postulated, is always going to be tentative. The only thing “known” is that the scientific enterprise itself is by its very nature fallacious. No rock solid conclusions about climate change can be reached by limited observations and experimentations. Much less when the scientists themselves lack honesty in collecting and assessing their findings. Moreover, the moral imperatives for actions to be taken are outside the domain of science to stipulate. That we “ought” to do something to limit our supposed causal impact on climate change is certainly not derived from what select scientists say “is”.

    1. Simon says:

      The scientific enterprise isn’t fallacious, merely not a solid basis for building a philosophy. Likewise, one single institution lacking honesty is no evidence of the dishonesty of the entire scientific community, just as a number of climate-change denying lobbying organisations being dishonest about their links to energy companies isn’t evidence of dishonesty in climate-change-skepticism as a whole.

      Someone who believes that scientific enterprise is fallacious will have very little use for any of the artefacts whose use is suspected of contributing to climate change – cars and electrical appliances for instance, as they cannot consistently believe that such things can have any predictable practical value.

      I agree that the moral imperatives for actions to be taken are outside the scope of science – however such moral imperatives are self-evident given scientific observations. Do you believe that if science could convince someone that when they put their foot on the gas pedal of their car that it would move forwards, then there is no moral imperative for them not to take that action when somebody is standing directly in front of their car?

  10. Danny says:

    Simon,
    You sound like an teaching elder in the Church of Climate Change.

    1. Simon says:

      No, a straw man in the Church of Climate Change ;-)

  11. Paul says:

    I found the article very illuminating. Did those defending climate science read it? I know its a politically and emotionally charged issue, and the article made that clear.

    I thought one of the main points in the article was to show that the “hockey stick” graph/figure used by Gore and the IPCC was indeed produced by the under-handed “science” that came out of East Anglica. This figure has been used far and wide to show current temperature increases are above and beyond anything the Earth has experienced in the past. The proponents of GW go on to link this Temp. increase with anthropogenic CO2 emissions. However, if the Temp change isn’t more significant than experienced in the past, it could possible be a natural phenomena. Nonetheless, human-induced CO2 could be a major player, but it will probably be difficult to prove causality amidst the high variability/error in the Temp. predictions.

    Anyone else have thoughts on the article itself???

    1. Simon says:

      I agree with much in both articles. It has long been established that the hockey-sticked graph was flawed (in fact it was made clear from the very beginning by those who had supplied the graph). Hayword’s article makes clear that some of the calls for serious action against the scientists at East Anglia are coming from the climate change lobby, and also that “many honest scientists will now undeservedly bear the stigma of Climategate unless a full airing of the issues is conducted.”

      Where I feel Williamson’s article is flawed is his belief that it is at point 3 that “the claims cease being mostly scientific in nature and begin to become political and economic questions”. The whole argument from top to bottom is infused with politics and economics. Added to that the politics is infused with economics and vice-versa. It is a big mistake to think that this is news to anyone at all – that goes for politicians, scientists and the “general public”. Everyone involved will recognise that as the environment in which they have to do their work, hopefully trying to find truth and reality amongst the many mixed-motives. And you no doubt get much of your analysis from some news/media outlets and information sources, and so do I. A suggestion that actually there comes a point when it suddenly turns out “it’s all about politics” is neither true nor does it satisfactorily argue either way on the issue of climate change.

  12. chris says:

    Is it possible that man can actually destroy the earth? Is it possible to supersede the return and judgement of Christ?

    This is not an argument for irresponsibility, but many of the arguments from the Gore camp are framed in terms of cataclysm and end-game notions. The teleological ideas of judgment are laid out with the new plan of salvation: government dictatorship. This is just a new statism- state as Messiah.

    Science is not fail-safe, it is just men observing things. Interpretation is a religious endeavor as is anything else in life.

  13. Roberto G says:

    “I agree that the moral imperatives for actions to be taken are outside the scope of science – however such moral imperatives are self-evident given scientific observations. Do you believe that if science could convince someone that when they put their foot on the gas pedal of their car that it would move forwards, then there is no moral imperative for them not to take that action when somebody is standing directly in front of their car?”
    Depends on who that somebody is that is standing directly in front of the car.

  14. Richard says:

    All i can say is, if the evil climate change promoting scientist’s best case scenarios are right, I hope half you will be prepared to open your homes and borders to people from the Maldives, a number of Pacific attolls, and those living in the Bay of Bengal who currenlty already suffer dreadfully each time a typhoon hits their low lying river delta.

  15. Simon says:

    I do find it rather surprising that when much of mankind is coming to the conclusion that some of their behaviour has resulted in harm to the world which they have been born into, many of the people least willing to accept such a scenario are evangelical Christians. It has been suggested above that I belong to “the Church of Climate Change” and that I am worshipping a “priestly class” of scientists. No, I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ, and save my worship for him, as I guess most of you do. But when I look at the Bible it is quite clear that fallen man’s effect on creation has been poisonous – spiritually, emotionally, mentally and yes, physically. That on its own doesn’t convince me that man-made climate change is real, but it makes it clear that there is nothing theologically to suggest that it can’t be the case – in fact quite the opposite. That leads me to be open-minded to the science, and to recognise that generally scientists are better at science than non-scientists (like me). When I do that, and research the issues to the degree that I can understand them, I generally find the arguments for man-made climate change convincing.

    I also find it amazing that someone can suggest that even should the science prove correct which suggests that our behaviour could cause immense suffering to people in such places as those mentioned above by Richard, that there would be no moral imperative for us to change our behaviour. I suggest that if someone seriously could not find such an imperative then Luke 10:25-37 would be a good place to look.

    I believe that the responses suggested by the “environmental community” are far too humanistic. Targets probably are necessary, but the realstarting point for dealing with any of the damage we are doing to our environment needs to be repentance.

  16. jstainer says:

    Well said Simon.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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