Just a quick post about Fred Pearce’s book “The Climate Files” on Climategate and the Guardian podcast interview with him, in which he discusses some of what he sees as the main issues in the whole saga.
First, I was a bit disappointed that the core of the matter wasn’t addressed except tangentially — and to me, the core of the matter is this: do the emails show that climate scientists conspired to pull off a hoax? While he does dismiss this meme, he does play up on many of the denialist talking points. The CRU emails have been held up as evidence that climate scientists have conspired to withhold data, misrepresent evidence and manipulate the instrumental and proxy records in order to push the false claim that CO2 has caused the climate to warm in an unprecedented and potentially dangerous fashion. That to me is the crux of the matter but Pearce didn’t get around to discussing that in any detail.
Instead, Pearce discusses, at least in the interview, the issues that have been the favorite of the climate skeptic bloggers such as McIntyre and Watts and others — tribalism on the part of climate scientsts, withholding of data from critics, using power as reviewers to block critics from publishing works that are critical of the mainstream/consensus. It also paints McIntyre as innocent, not as a denier, but as a “data libertarian”, troublesome, persistant, and perhaps a bother, but not as someone who is part of the denialist camp. I think the jury is still out on that matter, but that’s just my opinion. Whatever his motives, the fact remains that McIntyre and his work have been used by denialists to achieve their ends so if they aren’t McIntyre’s views and funders, I’d think he’d try to distance himself from them as much as possible. I don’t see him doing so, at least not clearly. I know that if anyone tried to use my words and blog to support a position I disagreed with, I’d be yelling to the heavens in protest.
Anyway, interesting to listen and ponder on what Pearce concludes, at least in the interview. Can’t yet comment on the book until I can get hold of it and read it. Suffice to say that Pearce thinks that the CRU emails were likely leaked by an insider and that the identity of said leaker will likely not ever be known. He also indicts climate science in particular but science in general for being closed to outsiders in an age of openness and freedom of information and argues that perhaps science should open itself up to outsiders and non-scientists. He paints Jones and the CRU and other climate scientists as bringing this on themselves by being closed to outsiders, as misusing their power as senior scientists to block the work of critics, thus acting against the interests of science. While he admits this is endemic in science, he suggests that senior scientists like Jones and others should know better and strive for a higher standard.
So, from a listen, it seems that Pearce feels that there is justified criticism of climate science arising from the emails:
- They withheld data from critics without good reason
- They used their power to silence critics by influencing the peer review process
- They acted tribally in an age of openness and freedom of information
I’m not ready to agree with any of these yet, nor am I leaning that way. It’s more complex that the above criticisms would appear, but that’s for another post and perhaps Pearce was unable to deal with the complexity and nuance in a short interview. I will give him the benefit of the doubt until I am able to read the book.
What is most concerning to me is that there seems to be very little political insight expressed, at least during the interview. Perhaps there is more to be had in the book itself. Will purchase it as soon as possible and will post further on this when I have read it. My over-riding interest in this, besides coming to a personal understanding of the facts and real risks we face vis a vis global warming, is the politics and economics of the climate wars. This is a policy debate and it has very high stakes for humanity as a whole and for certain players in particular — especially GHG producers, politicians, and consumers of fossil fuels. To properly understand what is going on, you need to look at the political and economic underpinnings of the debates.
The science, for all its uncertainties and complexities, is much more straightforward. When we get down to understanding the social, political and economic foundation that underlies the debates, things get tricky.