Copenhagen and Climategate: When Hard Work Meets Lazy Science/The Climate Dilemma

Post CopenhagenCopenhagen and Climategate: When Hard Work Meets Lazy Science

By Philip Shaw M.Sc.

With Dr. A.K. Enamul Haque Ph.D

Sometimes things come along the change everything.  You can call it “climate gate “.  What I’m talking about is evidence that scientists at the Hadley climatic research unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia had tampered with scientific evidence to manufacture a “hockey stick “graph showing a dramatic warming trend in the late 20th century.  It is referred to as “climate gate “.

It came to light when a hacker or somebody in the scientific community expose thousands of e-mails and data from a climatic research unit and put them on the Internet.  Those e-mails show the private admissions of doubt and the uneven scientific foundation in global warming theory. In essence it is the smoking gun for those climate change critics who believe the idea of climate change is all hot air.  With the Copenhagen global warming conference starting this week, “climate gate” is surely making things interesting.

This came to my attention from a local farmer in southwestern Ontario who is an avid listener and reader of all things American.  For instance he listens to a lot of shortwave American radio where right-wing idealists constantly spout their views about everything un-American.  Global warming has certainly been one of those targets.

Of course I had never heard of “climate gate “but.  So I did what every good researcher does when he doesn’t know something.  I googled it and if you’ve never heard of it I would expect that you do the same thing.  Needless to say you will learn more than you ever wanted to about problems with global warming science.

Needless to say, “climate gate “caught wind in the Western media earlier this month.  For instance one of the lead commentators on the CBC national news referred to the problems at East Anglia has a tremendous black mark against the science of global warming.  It is one thing to be interested in an idea and to study it profusely but it is another to manufacture something to keep the “global warming “revolution going.  “Climategate” is all news pointed toward the billions of dollars going toward maintaining “climate fraud “.

I think the inclination is for all of us to treat “climategate” as some type of aberration.  For instance it would be a lot easier if it hadn’t happened but still it tells us something about society.  That is once something gets so big it starts rolling like a snowball and when people are making money with it sometimes it’s very hard to expose for what it really is.  It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy and nobody wants to hear about it not being real.  In the case of the scientists at East Anglia, it looks like you there was no room to hear the contrary argument.

If you really wanted to be a deep cynic, maybe it was just bad science or even worse lazy bad scientists.  I don’t know because I am an agricultural economist by trade. I just know when I made research findings; they always have to be backed up with statistical significance.  I never invented data which wasn’t there.  If I did it would discredit everything that came after.

I’ll say this.  As a Canadian journalist there is really no room for me to talk about global warming in any sense other than it is a terrible environmental hazard.  If I wrote anything else in this country it would be seen as buffoonish and not credible.  Whither Arctic ice cap melting it has become fashionable in 2009 to take almost any global warming theory as gospel.  So when the leading Canadian commentator on the subject talked about “climate gate” the other night in the news it was like a total reboot on global warming for Canadian society.

Critics of global warming have always mused about what the world was doing 789 years ago.  In other words the thought was that how can we measure global warming if we didn’t have records from hundreds of years ago.  The thinking was that maybe the present global warming was all about cycles and natural ups and downs in the global climate.  My feeling was the deep ice core samples taken on the Greenland ice sheet rendered those musings mute as they showed a warming over time.
This has all happened at a time when the world gathered at Copenhagen to work out another global warming protocol.  We’ll see what happens.  Part of this big solution will surely boil down to domestic politics within each individual country as well as the bigger more industrialized nations.  “Climategate” will surely muddy those waters and make the politics that much harder in many of those nations.  Did it have the effect of derailing Copenhagen?  I dunno.  However, it certainly turned a large part of the population against a greener world.

Urbanites vs Ruralites – the Climate Dilemma

A.K. Enamul Haque PhD

The Copenhagen climate discussion just finished with an agreement which is nonbinding to any of the participating countries. Towards the end it seemed like there would be no agreement and it was not until when President Obama extended his hands to the leaders of the world to reach an agreement. It is not yet fully clear what the leaders had finally signed but it is evident from the deliberations later that many were not very unhappy with the result.

To many Bangladeshi farmers the discussion in Copenhagen meant almost nothing to them in terms of what they are going to achieve at the end.  They are not concerned as much as the other agencies are for global warming [because they are not fully aware of it yet].  On their behalf the NGOs did the pushing to find an agreement. Yet I could not fully appreciate it.  Yes, it might have been a technique used to forge a deal but it might not deliver what we like to have in the agreement. Furthermore, I am not sure whether we at all expected a deal in Copenhagen.  To me, the world is not ready for a deal yet. We need a lot of mutual understanding, not just the science part of it but also we need more understanding on the human part of it.  Who gains, who loses, at whose costs?  These are important questions and must be clearly answered to achieve the best agreement.

What is true is that “climate change” is real from the science point of view but it is difficult to separate “climate change” phenomenon from other competing phenomenon like globalization, development and economic integration.  The IPCC report of 1995 predicted a rise of world temperature between 1 and 3.5 degree Celsius by 2010. We understand that not a lot has been done yet to combat climate change because the largest polluter – the USA – did not sign it yet. Consequently, there must have been a rise in world temperature as predicted earlier.  I assume that we can now say with our weather data that the world is warmer than before.  Al Gore showed it few years ago in his movie. So, if we agree the world is now warmer than before, the next logical step is not to ask who is responsible or irresponsible but what to do next? I guess, many would answer that we – the humankind – must do “something” to reduce the continuation of it.  It will have disastrous impacts on many countries who have been trying hard to feed its population.  I am not sure whether we have an agreement on this yet?

Last week in my class, a few students raised this issue to me.  They expected an answer.  I was not sure whether I could give a perfect answer to them.  So I described to them something which they were familiar with and told them to learn from it.  Let me describe this here for all of you.

The use of renewable energy is no longer a slogan it has become reality. Last week, my university, the United International University organized an International Conference on Developments in Renewable Energy Technologies.  A few of my students attended it.  They were there to learn about the solar energy as it is being propagated in remote rural areas to replace their kerosene dependence of the households. Our PM did mention it proudly in her speech at the Copenhagen conference.  She specifically mentioned how successfully Bangladesh was and how effectively they had embraced the alternative energies like solar and that 600,000 households in rural Bangladesh are connected to it now.

I told them that most of these 600,000 households are located in remote regions of the country where they did not grid electricity connections to hookup for electricity.  So these households paid a “huge” amount of money [relative to their income] to replace kerosene fuel for lighting. They did it by borrowing the capital from NGOs in Bangladesh at an interest rate of at least 20%. Moreover, the annualized cost of the using solar energy is more than 12 times that of electricity. They did it not because of their love for reduction of GHG emission; they did it because alternative fuel has become costly to them. They borrowed money at an interest rate which we the urbanites could never think of. After describing this, I asked the following question to my students: Would not it have been better if we had asked the urbanites to switch to solar energy for lighting and release excess electricity for the poor at 1/12th of the price? Would not it have been more equitable for us to borrow the capital at most at 15% rate of interest from Banks and install these technologies in our homes?

I end my discussion today with a note that if we replace the urbanites with the richer nations and rural people as the affected nations who are likely to absorb the impact of climate change, we see the same answer. To me, the poor and the affected people of the world will finally absorb the impacts of climate change before others would wake up, leave the discussion table, and do something real for them.