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Environment

John Holdren Spanks "ClimateGate" Email Mongers

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyDecember 9, 2009 2:35 AM

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Nick Sundt of the World Wildlife Fund was present in a recent congressional hearing in which members of the administration were asked to respond to questions about "climate gate." You should read Sundt's whole report, as it is very impressive, but I particularly enjoyed White House science adviser John Holdren's incredible refutation of all the overreaching concerning "ClimateGate":

The e-mails are mainly about a controversy over a particular data set and the ways a particular small group of scientists have interpreted and displayed that data set. It is important to understand that these kinds of controversies and even accusations of bias and improper manipulation are not all that uncommon in science – in all branches of science. The strength of science is that these kinds of controversies get sorted out over time as to who is wrong, who is right, and how much it matters, by the process of peer review, and continued critical scrutiny by the knowledgeable community of scientists.

Of course openness in sharing of data and methods is very important in this process. And as I think you all know, this administration is a strong proponent of openness in science and in government, and Administrator Lubchenco will have things to say about public access to the climate data maintained by her agency and maintained by other agencies in the United States.

In this particular case, the data set in question and the way it was interpreted and presented by these particular scientists constitute a very small part of the immense body of data and analysis on which our understanding of climate change rests. The question being addressed by these data was have there been natural periods of warming in the last one or two thousand years in particular, that have been stronger than the episode now being experienced.

That is an interesting question and because of the controversy around it at the time most of these emails were written, that is in the early 2000s, the National Academy of Sciences undertook a thorough review of all of the relevant datasets, and all of the methods of analysis not just the dataset used by these particular authors or the methods used by these particular authors. The National Academies report on this matter [Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years] was published in 2006 and it concluded that the preponderance of available evidence points to the conclusion that the last 50 years have been the warmest half century in at least the last 1,000 years and probably much longer.

There is and there will remain after the dust settles in this current controversy a very strong scientific consensus on the key characteristics of the problem. Global climate is changing in highly unusual ways compared to long experienced and expected natural variations. The unusual changes match what theory and models tell us would be expected to result from the very changes in the atmosphere that we know have been caused by human activities, above all burning fossil fuels and tropical deforestation.

Significant impacts on human wellbeing from these changes in climate are already being experienced and continuing with business as usual in the fossil fuel burning and the tropical deforestation activities that are the largest contributors to these changes in the atmosphere is highly likely to lead to the growth of the impacts to substantially unmanageable levels.

That, folks, is what a scientifically serious person, expert and deeply informed on the issue, has to say about the significance of "Climate Gate." (Not that we won't have a lot of commenters here who feel fully entitled to dispute it....)

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