The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia - Science and Technology Committee Contents

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" scientists—which 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 as "sceptics".

    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 policy-makers.

    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 observation—Prof Jones once told me (in 2002) that the empirical record was getting worse not better—humanity 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

March 2010

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