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 Richard Tyrwhitt-Drake (CRU 37a)

  I am extremely concerned about the conduct of the UEA Inquiry into the leak from CRU led by Sir Muir Russell. On 10 February I delivered a submission to your own select committee's inquiry about that inquiry, with some autobiographical details, which I attach again for your convenience. It seemed extremely strange for that deadline to have passed before the announcement by Sir Muir on 11th, after more than two months silence, of many highly salient details of his efforts this year. This seemed designed to give those of us in the UK no recourse to the best democratic option for registering any concerns we might have. As it happens I believe, like many, that it's highly inappropriate for Geoffrey Boulton to play a part in the Russell Inquiry, because of the various conflicts of interest that have been revealed in the last 10 days. But I write to you now about one highly disturbing aspect of the original leak from CRU. I use email so that you can follow any links that seem of interest to you.

  I was extremely grateful to read on the "Bishop Hill" blog on 25th January that you had replied to Martin Brumby very promptly that day, concluding as follows:

    I'd also like to add that I accept that my use of the phrase "Climate Deniers" was a mistake, and I shall endeavour not to use it in the future. I apologise for any offence caused by my error, although I assure you that none was intended.

  I've read this morning that you are retiring from Parliament this year. If you've done nothing else in your last year as an MP you have done something of great worth here.

  There are broadly two views taken of the trouble at CRU: (1) corrupt scientists exposed by those concerned for the truth or (2) blameless scientists harrassed by those with particular heinous vested interests. It probably won't surprise you that I believe (1) to be much closer to the truth. But one of the very worst features of the public debate of global warming has been the use of term climate deniers and its cognates, because this term without question started as a direct and deliberate comparison with Holocaust deniers. And that was always outrageous, highly offensive and bound to corrupt all aspects of the public discourse once it became accepted as legitimate.

  As you will be well aware, a major issue in the debate about anthropogenic global warming has been whether scientists have become "too political". Consider then if labelling those that disagree with your interpretation of one piece of science as akin to holocaust deniers isn't about the most politically charged statement it's possible to make in the Western world. Then recall this statement from Mike Hulme, copied to Phil Jones and others, in one of the leaked emails, on 8 May 2004:

    I must say that when I first read this paper a couple of weeks ago I wrote it off as so bad (so, so bad) that it didn't even deserve a response. To pretend that the Sahel drought didn't happen (ie, a pure artifact of wrongful use of rainfall data) is the most astounding assertion, almost on a par with holocaust denial. Try putting that proposition to the millions of inhabitants of the Sahel in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, many of whom died as a direct consequence and whose livelihoods were devastated. Adrian Chappell may never have visited the region, but I know Clive Agnew has (many times)—and he should know better. I did my PhD research in the region in the early 1980s and I know exactly what the rainfall conditions were like and how much oridinary people suffered as a consequence. My PhD was on rainfall variability and local water supplies in Sudan and I visited and talked to many villagers in the region.

  I've done my own Internet researches for a while in the origins of this woeful abuse of the English language but this was completely new to me—and earlier than anything I'd been aware of. Here are a few key points on my own timeline:

    Jun 05: Richard North in a piece for the Social Affairs Unit complains about "climate change denier" as "a phrase designedly reminiscent of the idea of Holocaust Denial—the label applied by nearly everyone to those misguided or wicked people who believe, or claim to believe, the Nazis did not annihilate Jews, and others, in any very great numbers." This shows it must have become common currency in some circles by this point.

    Nov 05: Margo Kingston (ironically prompted by now-notorious reports of melting of the Himalayan Glaciers): "David Irving is under arrest in Austria for Holocaust denial. Perhaps there is a case for making climate change denial an offence—it is a crime against humanity after all."

    Mar 06: Scott Pelley of CBS News: "If I do an interview with Elie Wiesel," he asks, "am I required as a journalist to find a Holocaust denier?"

    May 06: Mark Lynas as quoted by Brendan O'Neill in Spiked: Others have suggested that climate change deniers should be put on trial in the future, Nuremberg-style, and made to account for their attempts to cover up the "global warming|Holocaust".

    Oct 06: Al Gore as reported in the Seattle Times: "You know, 15 percent of people believe the moon landing was staged on some movie lot and a somewhat smaller number still believe the Earth is flat. They get together on Saturday night and party with the global-warming deniers."

    Oct 06: US Senators John D Rockefeller IV and Olympia Snowe in an open letter to Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil: "Obviously, other factors complicate our foreign policy. However, we are persuaded that the climate change denial strategy carried out by and for ExxonMobil has helped foster the perception that the United States is insensitive to a matter of great urgency for all of mankind, and has thus damaged the stature of our nation internationally. It is our hope that under your leadership, ExxonMobil would end its dangerous support of the `deniers.'"

    Feb 07: Ellen Goodman in the Boston Globe: "I would like to say we're at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let's just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future."

    Aug 07: Sharon Begley in a cover story for Newsweek entitled The Truth About Denial: "Boxer figured that with `the overwhelming science out there, the deniers' days were numbered."| But outside Hollywood, Manhattan and other habitats of the chattering classes, the denial machine is running at full throttle—and continuing to shape both government policy and public opinion| Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers)|"

  Some of those references were discovered from Brendan O'Neill's excellent discussion of the issue in Spiked in October 2006 entitled Global warming: the chilling effect on free speech.

  The leak of on 17 November 2009 provided an instance of this tactic of comparing those with whom you disagree with Holocaust deniers, over a year earlier than any others in my database. And the context, from what I can tell, is appalling. Professor Hulme disagreed with the emphasis of a new paper on the vast Sahel region in North Africa, which is known to have experienced terrible droughts in the 17th century and more recently. But it's quite clear from the abstract that the authors, one a Professor of Geography at the University of Manchester, weren't denying local droughts which may have caused great suffering and death during their period of study (1931-90). They were calling into question the accepted wisdom that overall rainfall on the Sahel had declined during the period, not least because the set of climate stations being used had changed, but also because of the statistical techniques used thus far.

  To take such a serious technical critique and label the authors "almost on a par with holocaust denial", when they weren't denying local droughts within the Sahel region and the suffering that went with them, was utterly disgraceful. But it sheds light on two things: (1) the origins of this terrible slur, which became so mainstream, may not have been, as I expected, some dark PR agency or spin doctor but from UEA scientists and (2) the tightly-knit group of international scientists who apparently accepted this kind of language without complaint had clearly become hopelessly political, in the worst sense (the sense of partisan or what the Bible calls "party spirit"), at least by May 2004. This has absolutely profound ramifications, whatever Muir Russell and his team have to say on the matter.

  To end on a happier note, though, there is much better news about the Sahel itself. From the very year that Chappell and Agnew's study finished it has experienced a remarkable greening, due to increased rainfall. For a little amusement, the article in National Geographic is also worth pondering for the light it also sheds on the awesome predictive power of climate models:

    "Now you have people grazing their camels in areas which may not have been used for hundreds or even thousands of years. You see birds, ostriches, gazelles coming back, even sorts of amphibians coming back," he said.

    "The trend has continued for more than 20 years. It is indisputable."

  An explosion in plant growth has been predicted by some climate models.

  For instance, in 2005 a team led by Reindert Haarsma of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute in De Bilt, the Netherlands, forecast significantly more future rainfall in the Sahel.

  A 20-year trend is finally predicted, 15 years in, in 2005. That sounds par for the course.

  Thank you again, sincerely, for your disavowal of this kind of terminology last month.

February 2010

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