Supplementary memorandum submitted by
Dr Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen (CRU 26a)
I carefully listened to the above [oral evidence
session, 1 March 2010] last night and did some thinking. As both
the editor of several CRU/IPCC critical papers and a former science-policy
researcher into the IPCC and climate scepticism, I thought that
you and your committee, and perhaps Sir Russel, might be interested
in my reactions. I have recently co-edited a book (with A Kellow,
Hobart University) on the international politics of "Kyoto".
The book will be published by Elgar later this year.
As a general point, I regret the absence of
a fuller expression of the scientific contests over the causation
of climate, climatic change and climate variability in the S&T
Committee Hearing, but understand the reasons. It seems that the
Russell Enquiry will do likewise. No well known climate scientist
critical of CRU/IPPC work, like Lindzen, Singer, Christy, Rorsch,
Tennekes, Veizer, Stott, Barrett, von Storch, Plimer, Carter or
Veizer are likely to be heard. I have interviewed (and later published)
several of these people and am of the opinion that interviews
with at least a few of them would have deepened the understanding
of what your Committee and the public heard from the invited panels.
Empirical temperature reconstruction is but one among several
scientific issues that need "airing" and it would be
unfortunate, if Sir Russell also shied away from the actual debates
about, for example, the role of computer modelling in regional
climate "prediction", with results here already influencing
regional planning, and the impacts of a moderate degree of warming.
While I understand the limits of official and
University funded enquiries, I would like to make several more
specific and outspoken comments.
1. The peer review issue does indeed deserve
further exploration, but you should not expect too much from it.
Editors select their peer reviewers (which can be very difficult
and time consuming especially for small journals that do not advertise)
and scientists tend to select the journals they publish in. Journals
differ hugely in their means and impact. Nature and Energy
& Environment are very different indeed. "Cliques"
tend to form who review each other's work and write papers together
to increase their "citation index". This in turn leads
to a high impact rating. The impact rating of E&E is
very low, that of Nature very high. Peer review does not,
in my experience, involve the checking original data or, in many
cases, even of the "truth" of a paper. Reviewers can
only judge within the bounds of their own knowledge, resources,
and experience. Logic, readability and relevance are likely to
be more important selection criteria.
2. It does not take a political scientist to
point out that the three people you interviewed towards the end
of the Hearing (from the Met Office, DEFRA and central Government)
were not primarily scientists but civil servants. While presenting
themselves to you and to the public as "pure" scientistswhich
they indeed once were, briefly in one case,they are now
de facto administrators or managers bound by the doctrine of collective
responsibility and loyalty to a government. Government people
cannot be expected, in public, to make statements which may threaten
their job security and reputation because `honesty' might seriously
undermine bi-partisan government policy and beliefs. I do not
believe in dishonesty, however, but rather consider that most
humans tend to merge what they are expected to promote with their
private belief, hence the need for open debate and transparency
of research methods and raw data. It was certainly my research
experience that science managers will not challenge official climate
science consensus until retired, that is when they are no longer
responsible for funding an institution and attracting research
projects. Several of the "loyal" people who confessed
their doubts to me during the 1990s have since gone into print
3. What I cannot judge, but have no convincing
reason to believe without further debate, is the claim made by
your speaker for the UK Met Office that recent scientific advances
have resolved all earlier doubts aired by thesceptics. This is
certainly not the impression I get from listening to the debates
between "sceptics". I noted that two of these three
speakers avoided looking at the audience; one made some concessions.
One, "did not give an inch" but he had, after all, helped
to create the "mitigation" policy and later tried to
implement it via the World Bank.
4. It was not pointed out during the Hearing
that for almost two decades, the UK Government of all party-political
complexion expressed the ambition to lead the world in a "green"
energy technology revolution. This has huge implications for public
policy which is already in the process of painful implementation
and remains firmly tied to the assumption not just of man-made
global warming but to the assertion (proven only by computer models)
that this warming is rapid, dangerous to all of humanity and caused
primarily by emissions of carbon dioxide. Dangerous, anthropogenic
global warming, it is asserted on the basis of consensus science
negotiated by an intergovernmental panel, can be mitigated by
changes in energy policy and energy "behaviour". It
is of course precisely these two assumptions that IPCC critics,
or so-called "sceptics" query. CRU is therefore not
at the core of the science problem; it has become so central to
the climate discussion only because of the failure of Copenhagen
and the desire to move on regardless, the "email leak"
and wider resentment that the "hockey stick" (a "construction"
from empirical data sometimes "extended" steeply upwards
by computer model "predictions") has been misused by
5. In my understanding the dangerous warming
threat so widely used by policy-makers and some scientists, is
to some considerable degree "caused" emission scenarios
used in the climate models, and "visually" supported
by the "hockey-stick". The emission scenarios too have
been seriously criticised but do not involve CRU. Most science
educated critics of CRU/IPCC agree that there has been warming
for a few decades, but also that this seems to have stopped recently,
and that neither its causation nor the long-term consequences
are well understood. There is a group of scientists who does not
question the IPCC scientific paradigm or methodology adopted by
the IPCC (or CRU's empirical methodology), but who primarily allege
politically motivated exaggeration by "users". I would
certainly class the Met Office and DEFRA among the users.
6. I hope I noted correctly that the word dangerous
(warming) was not used during the Hearing. There is little debate
about warming as such, what is at issue are future warming and
its causation. The degree of danger and how fast it is approaching
are major matters for policy, and both danger and the speed of
approaching danger are likely to be exaggerated by those that
want to implement policy against considerable resistance. For
others, given time and good observationProf Jones once
told me (in 2002) that the empirical record was getting worse
not betterhumanity can surely adapt to a degree of climate
change without major global policy initiatives of the kind attempted
at Copenhagen. Twenty or so years of slight warming is neither
unusual nor necessarily "dangerous", unless of course
we believe the computer model prediction that major warming caused
by greenhouse gases is "90% likely" to be disastrous
for all nations. You forgot to ask how the IPCC arrived at that
disturbing figure, I am told that nobody knows.
7. What is at stake, as I am sure your committee
realises, is not "just" the truth, but the potential
of the UK to achieve its ambition as world leader in carbon-free
energy without doing serious harm to itself in a world that has
changes significantly since the early 1990s. The UK is a minor
emitter in a world where many other nations not only have similar
objectives, but all now face serious new constraints on public
finance. The policy response (to dangerous man-made global warming)
itself in now need of debate and this can be done by opening Parliament
to the science debate. I sympathise with your wish to keep "energy
policy" outside your realm of investigation and adhere to
scientific procedures and methods, but I wonder whether this will
not unavoidably lead to an almost complete "whitewash"
with CRU being perhaps reprimanded but "consensus science"
and the policy it justifies remaining unchallenged. Here is a
"prediction" for you!
However, in conclusion I would like to stress
that there is no consensus among the critics,which may be a political
disadvantage but, in my view, reflects the reality of climate
science and compares favourably with the complete confidence expressed
by our "government scientists". In my understanding
it is less the temperature reconstructions that are at issue,
though there are conflicts about methodologies and interpretation
here, than the use to which "the hockey-stick" were
put by assorted advocates of rapid "decarbonisation"
policies. If the desire prevails to enhance the existing international
reputation of (UK) climate science, a challenge to current policy
deliberately based on this (deserved) reputation may be delayed
as well. As so often in politics, it may be matter of serving
either to long or the short term.
Dr Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen
Reader Emeritus, Hull University
Department of Geography