October 25, 2011
Climate change skeptic changes mind
Global-warming deniers eagerly embrace anyone who supports their cause, however much of a crank that person may be. So any respectable scientist who expresses skepticism about global warming or who criticizes the work of those scientists who have warned us about it is makes them delirious with joy.
They were particularly pleased when Richard Muller did so because he is a physicist at the University of California-Berkeley and thus comes with good credentials. Based on preliminary work he had done, Muller had said that he thought the previous studies that said global warming was happening were wrong. Republicans invited him to testify to Congress and in 2010 many right wing groups, including the Koch brothers, were willing to fund his Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project, which aimed to do a new and independent study as a check on all the other global warming studies, no doubt expecting him to contradict them.
But things didn't go quite according to plan. In a press release announcing the first set of four papers that they have submitted to journals, Muller says, "Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK." In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism: There were good reasons for doubt, until now, Muller reinforced that message, adding:
When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn't know what we'd find. Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections.
Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate.
One has to be a bit concerned that Muller announced his results in a press release and in a newspaper op-ed and not after the papers had undergone peer review. Bypassing the normal processes of science and going straight to the public tends not to have good results.
The problem for climate change skeptics when they try to co-opt real scientists to their cause is that real scientists deal with the data they have and not the data they wish they had. Whatever the private beliefs of scientists, they cannot go outside the bounds allowed them by the data, unless they are dishonest and suppress or fabricate them.
As Kevin Drum comments:
The BEST report is purely an estimate of planetary warming, and it makes no estimate of how much this warming is due to human activity. So in one sense, its impact is limited since the smarter skeptics have already abandoned the idea that warming is a hoax and now focus their fire solely on the contention that it's man-made. (And the even smarter ones have given up on that, too, and now merely argue that it's economically pointless to try to stop it.) Still, the fact that climate scientists turned out to be careful and thorough in their basic estimates of temperature rise surely enhances their credibility in general. Climategate was always a ridiculous sideshow, and this is just one more nail in its coffin. Climate scientists got the basic data right, and they've almost certainly gotten the human causes right too.
Those deniers, like James M. Taylor of the Heartland Institute who had earlier embraced Muller as one of them are now disowning him, calling these new results "meaningless" and attacking his credibility, saying that he might be having the "intent of deceiving casual observers about the true nature of the global warming debate." Other deniers are also edging away from their earlier embrace of Muller.
Global warming deniers will probably still give a platform to people like the Briton Lord Monckton, who has made quite a name for himself talking about this subject even though he has no expertise whatsoever in this area and makes outrageous statements such as calling an Australian government climate adviser a Nazi. The Australian comedy show The Chasers interviews Monckton and he clearly has no suspicions until the very end that his leg is being pulled and that he is being made to look a fool.