Elizabeth Kolbert, the New Yorker staff writer, did not know that Phil Jones, a climate-change scientist, manuevered to keep hidden information that disagreed with his conclusions. Here is what one of the damning emails gathered from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit said:
From Phil Jones [head of the Climate Research Unit]. To: Michael Mann. Date: May 29, 2008
“Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise.”
To keep them from being exposed via a Freedom of Information law. Robin Hanson and Tyler Cowen think this is no big deal. I disagree. Yes, I said before this happened that the consensus was likely to appear stronger than it is and that bloggers were a powerful force toward truth — both of which this episode merely supports rather than reveals. And, yeah, it’s just email; the really damning info is the tree-ring data reanalyzed by Stephen McIntyre.
The reason I think this is important is two-fold. First, this is not a smoking gun. Global warming does not equal the honesty of Phil Jones. But it is a powerful piece of evidence that climate skeptics can use to convince anyone that the consensus isn’t as consensus-y as it appears. Second, it exposes what Kevin Trenberth (a proponent of man-made global warming) really thinks. This is something that few knew until now. Here is what he really thinks:
The fact is that we canâ€™t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we canâ€™t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.
The data are surely wrong. Trenberth, being human, is going to put the best possible spin on things, the spin most consistent with what he has said many times . . . and this is what he comes up with. Support for the idea of global warming is entirely based on climate models. No one has created a mini-Earth and done experiments. If the data and models don’t agree, there is no reason to believe the models. And if you don’t believe the models you have no reason to believe in global warming. Is Trenberth an ignoramus whose honest assessment of the situation (the models and the data profoundly disagree) should be ignored? Of course not. He doesn’t draw the obvious conclusion (the models are wrong) but nothing prevents the rest of us from doing so.
Just to be clear: I completely agree with Robin’s larger point that this sort of thing supports prediction markets. And I think reduced reliance on fossil fuel would be a very good thing.