Why Climategate doesn’t matter (II)

House falling over in Shishmaref, Alaska
House falling over in Shishmaref

The series explained.

For hundreds of years, the small village of Shishmaref, an Alaskan village on the Arctic coast, has survived, if not exactly thrived, because it was frozen for much of the year. Now it is literally melting away, as the permafrost that had propped it up for generations turns to mud. Offshore, the nearly year-long ice has given way to water.

The fate of Shishmaref is told by Boston Globe reporter Charles Pierce (lately the scourge of Tiger Woods) in his book “Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free.” Pierce writes:

The formation of the ice allowed the people of Shishmaref to go out on the sea and hunt. The permafrost guaranteed they would have a place to which they could return. Nowadays, though, the ice is late and soft. The permafrost is thawing. And Shishmaref is falling, bit by bit, in the Chukchi Sea….

There is no question about the cause of Shishmaref’s whittling away. Global climate change — specifically, what has come to be called global warming — is gradually devastating the Arctic. Alaska’s mean temperature has risen five degrees in thirty years and the permafrost is receding everywhere. The Arctic Ocean’s ice pack … is shrinking about 10 percent a year, and the pace of that shrinkage is accelerating.

In February 2008, Tom Kizzia of the Anchorage Daily News reported on what global warming was doing to Shishmaref and other northern villages, writing, “Alaska has lagged behind some other states in targeting emissions, even though the effects of rising temperatures have been pronounced here.”

And at that time, Kizzia wrote, then-governor Sarah Palin was looking into ways of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases in Alaska. Things change.

Update: For more on Palin’s rightward journey on global warming, see the addendum to this post.

You can learn more about the issue from the Shishmaref Erosion and Relocation Coalition, whose Web site is the source of the above photo.

46 thoughts on “Why Climategate doesn’t matter (II)

  1. It’s illogical to conclude this is caused by global warming, as the term is generally understood. It could also easily be caused by sun spots or changes in solar system radiation. What you’re arguing against is a scientific fraud of significant proportions — the deliberate falsifying of information and conclusion to support a political and financial agenda. No amount of anecdotal reports (such as above) are going to argue away the fraud.

    And I’m not even necessarily saying global warming isn’t true. I’m 50/50 on this issue. My only issue is that it’s wise to be skeptical and apply solid logic to this issue.

    We live on a very old planet that went through significant climate changes (far, far more significant than anything we’ve seen over the past 200 or 300 years). To attribute the relatively minor changes of our life times to man made global warming is nothing but species hurbis. We made be contributing to changes, but the evidence is far from conclusive, as climategate now proves.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Howard Owens: I’m afraid your logic is faulty. Keep in mind that Climategate enthusiasts say the scientists falsified their data to make it appear that global warming is real even though it isn’t, or at least to make it appear worse than it really is. You’re talking about causation.

      There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than there has been at any time since the peak of the dinosaur age, when the earth was very warm. We know for a fact that human activity is responsible for the rise in CO2. The effects of atmospheric CO2 are well understand. It is hardly “species hubris” to observe that the CO2 we put in the atmosphere is doing exactly what we would expect. And yes, it’s possible that human-caused global warming is being compounded by natural warming.

      You write, “No amount of anecdotal reports (such as above) are going to argue away the fraud.” Agreed, if there was fraud. Perhaps careers will be ruined. I seem to be having a very hard time getting it across that the fate of those scientists is no concern of mine.

  2. One phrase that springs to mind that journalists seem to forget when it comes to global warming: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

    Apparently, it’s only good journalism to be skeptical of things that don’t fit within a certain orthodoxy.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Howard Owens: If you’ll pay my ticket to Alaska, I’ll gladly go check it out! More seriously, there is a real problem with how journalists should cover science. I actually don’t think it’s good journalism at all to be skeptical if your skepticism leads you to take fringe theories as seriously as the overwhelming scientific consensus. We’re really not qualified to do more than follow the discussion and note the credentials of the participants.

      I’m trying to think of how many journalists actually follow the check-out-your-mother dictum. Not too many, that’s for sure.

  3. And BTW: I think the anti-global warming crowd is mostly a lot of fruitcakes who apply no amount of skepticism to their own orthodoxy. I’m not defending that view point. I’m just trying to make the point that is healthy, wise, necessary (especially for a journalist) to be skeptical.

  4. Newshound

    It’s like smoking. It doesn’t seem to bother some people. Stress is actually a bigger and faster killer than smoking. So, for some people, smoking might relieve stress and there are some people who continue to smoke well into very old age without dire consequences. The oldest who ever lived gave up smoking at something like 115, probably because he didn’t have enough wind left.

    Most of us are not that fortunate. Why take the chance to find out? The same applies with the environment.

    Maybe we’re wrong – and that house is falling down from lack of paint or some other reason, or our lifestyle is not contributing in a detrimental way to the planet, but why take the chance with so much evidence, even if uncertain and questionable?

    I know, it’s the same with diet, exercise, stress and diabetes, too.

    I can’t think of any other species that has done as much harm to the planet, or itself. But, perhaps that is opening another can of worms.

  5. O-FISH-L

    So for us laymen with a limited science background, we should find solace in the University of East Anglia material being fake but true? Paging Mr. Rather.

    Even if the rhetoric on manmade global warming is true, why the network news embargo on reporting how much damage the scandal has done to the credibility of the cause? It’s one thing for the nets to dutifully stay on message about global warming, but why not report the scandal?

    Back in the day, I think we got a story or two on Al Gore’s mansion using 20 times more electricity than the average home. We even heard how environmentalist/singer Dave Matthews’ tour bus emptied its toilets on unsuspecting boaters in the Chicago River.

    Why nothing on the University of East Anglia’s “prestigious” Climate Research Unit? The silence of the networks gives the appearance of complicity. How much more credibility are the nets willing to risk on pet candidates, causes?

  6. Dunque

    Dan – While you are cherry-picking stories to fit your already determined conclusions why don’t you put these two on your top 10?

    http://www.examiner.com/x-30789-San-Antonio-Headlines-Examiner~y2009m12d4-Record-early-snow-in-San-Antonio-and-Texas
    http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5huPkYk4bGVvo1Sa1tWeH-tgENiFw
    Of course, laughably, snowfall in Baghdad is linked to climate change also. It’s the universal theory!

    By the way, following your current approach to Climategate, I’m going through your archives to find your stories dismissing the Pentagon Papers because the body counts (released by the same institution whose data has been called into question) clearly show we are winning.

  7. Rich

    At this point, it doesn’t appear that even something as significant as intentionally manipulated data from scientists is enough to make Dan or any other global warming believer change their mind. It reminds me of the response by global warming believers after a major snow storm or a prolonged period of cold: “It is supposed to get cold or snowy as global warming happens….”

  8. Rich

    And by the way, wasn’t acid rain supposed to have killed off all of our lakes by now? I also remember being warned of the coming ice age when I was an elementary school student back in the 60’s. What happened?

  9. Harrybosch

    “I can’t think of any other species that has done as much harm to the planet, or itself.”

    I recall hearing something about a time in Earth’s distant past (long before humans) in which an algae growth ended up covering most of the world’s oceans and did a good job killing most sea life and a good bit of it on land, but your point is well taken.

    I do wish anyone commenting on global warming would provide their own climate science or other related discipline credentials, though. Would help me know who to take seriously.

    Anyway, Glen Beck just told be that it’s snowing in Houston so that means global warming is a scam.

  10. > I also remember being warned of the coming ice age when I was an elementary school student back in the 60’s. What happened?

    What happened is that you heard a short-lived news story that was not taken seriously by scientists.

  11. Steve Stein

    The Washington Post reports that the UN will conduct an investigation of the University of East Anglia “to determine whether there is any evidence of the manipulation or suppression of data which is at odds with acceptable scientific practice.”

    Of course, Fish will claim that this article doesn’t exist, because it contradicts his notion of a media cover-up. 🙂

  12. charles pierce

    I can assure your readers, Dan, that nobody in Shishmaref thinks that global climate change is a hoax. The ice forms later and disappears earlier than it ever has, and the permafrost — in which the residents used to bury meat for storage in the winter in what they called “Eskimo freezers” — is disappearing.
    Anyone who believes that some hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia — most of which say nothing like what they are now purporting to say — trump thousands of other studies is welcome to fly to Shishmaref and check it out themselves.

  13. mike_b1

    *sigh* Rich, you can read, can’t you? And I really mean that. Because if you can read, you certainly could know that 1) several lakes were poisoned during the 1970s and 80s and 2) tens of millions of dollars have been spent to upgrade factories so that what they do emit is less toxic and damaging to the environment.

    Let me ask you this: Is it OK if I come throw my trash in your yard? Or if I take a dump in your sink? And if not, how come?

  14. Newshound

    Harrybosch – good point. You can’t use my credentials on whether or not humans are contributing to destroying the planet. By my observation though, it appear so.

    I can’t predict either, if any of us conduct daredevil events that it will always end in tragedy.

    It seems though, if we don’t know for sure, one way or the other, it is best to use caution.

  15. lkcape

    “What happened is that you heard a short-lived news story that was not taken seriously by scientists.”

    History and science are full of this sort of track record!

  16. O-FISH-L

    Steve, since the NYT and WaPo have had bit pieces on the scandal, I was careful to stress the TV network news embargo, not an MSM embargo.

    Are you claiming that WaPo is a TV network?

  17. Harrybosch

    “It seems though, if we don’t know for sure, one way or the other, it is best to use caution.”

    My sentiments exactly, newshound. Better safe than sorry.

  18. mike_b1

    Here’s what I don’t get about the naysayers: If all these climatologists lied, why?

    What did they stand to gain? They get paid regardless of the direction the climate moves.

    The truth is, there was nothing to be gained by fudging the data. The right, as usual, is resorting to scare tactics and diversions to obscure the facts and protect the rich.

    So we are supposed to believe a handful of ideology-driven non-scientists who bloviate on everything — all while ignoring decades of research by hundreds of apolitical Ph.D.s?

    Wow, that’s … stupid.

  19. Harrybosch

    “The right, as usual, is resorting to scare tactics and diversions to obscure the facts and protect the rich.”

    Indeed, and ironic, in that erring on the side of caution when it comes to climate change is the only true “conservative” position.

    Unfortunately for the Earth, it is Al Gore who is perceived as first championing this cause, and for reasons I certainly can’t comprehend, nothing makes the right more apoplectic than Al Gore. He is the left’s corollary to Dick Cheney.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Harrybosch: I hope that you will consider moving forward from the environmental equivalent of going to church just in case in turns out that God really exists. Why do you suppose the Northwest Passage is open for the first time in centuries? Why is the permafrost melting in northern Alaska? I’ve got eight to go, and they’re all good.

      One aspect of this that I find both amusing and frustrating is the way skeptics shift their ground depending on the argument. First they’ll assert that there has been no warming, which is what the Climategate brouhaha is about. Push them a bit, and they’ll concede that there’s warming, but argue that it’s not caused by humans, as though carbon dioxide didn’t matter. Finally, they start inserting the word “catastrophic,” as in, There is no evidence for catastophic global warming.

      One of my favorite examples of the last is MIT scientist Richard Lindzen, who is probably the most intellectually respectable of the skeptics. Except that he’s not a skeptic. Instead, he has conceded everything and sought refuge in asserting, on the basis of nothing more than his opinion, that global warming will be good for us: “A warmer climate could prove to be more beneficial than the one we have now.”

      That’s not science, it’s religion. Most of us go to a different house of worship.

  20. O-FISH-L

    Dan, for balance, why not counter the photo of “House falling over in Shishmaref” with a photo of “Car flipping over in Houston” due to the earliest ever recorded snowfall?

    It’s the first time that accumulating snow has occurred in back-to-back years in Houston. Maybe a shot of the record snow this weekend in Michigan, too. Just to show you’re not in the tank or anything.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @O-FISH-L: For the millionth time, weather ain’t climate. The balance you’re looking for would be accomplished by running photos of snow in Houston and folks lounging on the beach in Boston this past Thursday.

  21. Harrybosch

    Hilarious, Dan. Just between you and me, I am way beyond going to church “just in case,” however have learned over time that I will never change anyone’s mind on the subject (though I very much admire your current and ongoing attempt to do so.)

    I too have noticed the tap-dancing the climate skeptics have done: “It isn’t happening . . . it is happening but we’re not doing it . . . it is happening and we may be doing it, but even so, that ain’t such a bad thing . . .” And the “it ain’t such a bad thing” reasoning that it appears Lindzen is offering frightens me most of all.

    But as we’ve discussed, I’m a Republican and have always considered myself a conservative, so you’ll perhaps forgive my skittishness on this particular subject, finding no port in this storm. But if I can convince a few “conservatives” that, as I’ve said, caution on the global warming front is the only intellecually honest position, I’ll have done what I could.

    And we’ll never really know, but I bet that’s what Ronald Reagan would have thought as well.

  22. Harrybosch

    Ireland also offers interesting and visible proof of what is going on. It is becoming — literally — tropical.

    I forget the numbers, but recorded temperatures there have increased markedly over just the past few decades.

    Tropical birds who roost in the Mediterranean and have never been seen before in Ireland are finding a home there.

    Strange days, indeed.

  23. @Dan wrote: “More seriously, there is a real problem with how journalists should cover science. I actually don’t think it’s good journalism at all to be skeptical if your skepticism leads you to take fringe theories as seriously as the overwhelming scientific consensus. We’re really not qualified to do more than follow the discussion and note the credentials of the participants.”

    I agree with you up to a point. That point being, who decides who is fringe? There was a time when Galileo was considered fringe.

    Strict objectives approach (essentially “he said, she said” reporting is just as bad as “I’m convinced its true, therefore it must be” reporting.

    I also agree with the point made by another writer above that doing sensible things for the environment, whether you are sure about man-made global warming or not, is a smart thing to do.

    I’m a radical locaist. For me that is a political stance and an economic stance, but I’m also mindful of the environmental benefits of localism.

    I regret that I drive a big ass truck at this point, both for practical reasons, but also because I’m more mindful that I should be contributing less of a footprint to the planet.

    I’m not one of those: Global warming is all bunk types.

    I’m just not convinced. I’ve always distrusted the absolutists, especially when they start citing what I find purely anecdotal evidence.

    And think journalists make a mistake when they act as absolutist and consider anybody who disagrees with that absolutist view to be fringe.

    Which brings me back to my original point: who decides who is fringe, but it seems to me that the absolutist consider anybody who disagrees to be fringe, a nut case, or ill informed. And to me, that’s just wrong.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Howard: You’ve used the phrase “anecdotal evidence” several times. Could you explain what you mean? To me, I’d be guilty of using anecdotal evidence if I wrote about the weirdly warm weather we had on Thursday. The two stories I’ve posted so far document a decades-long warming trend in the Arctic. How is that anecdotal? Yes, that’s just one part of the world, but you know that by the time I’m done with this I’ll have visited many corners of the planet.

  24. Here’s an example of the kind of absolutist rhetoric that drives me nuts, from @harrybosch: “Ireland also offers interesting and visible proof of what is going on. It is becoming — literally — tropical.”

    What’s going on in Ireland, if anything is going on, is not proof. It might be a piece of evidence that _something_ is going on, but it is not proof that IT is going on.

    Further, there’s always been portions of Ireland that are tropical, going back hundreds of years, because of interesting and historic gulf stream patterns.

    If there has been any change, it means there has been change. It doesn’t prove its manmade. It doesn’t even prove yet that it’s a long term change. Weather patterns fluctuate on a short term basis. That’s natural and to be expected. And in earth’s history, short term is measured in decades, not just years.

  25. Visit all the corners you can find, Dan. Anecdotal in the case you cite may not be the right word. Circumstantial would be better. Now a preponderance of circumstantial evidence in a trial can sway a jury, but there is also the counter evidence to consider, and I hope you’ll address that.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Howard: I’ll accept circumstantial. That’s much closer to what I’m doing.

      If you have some counter-evidence to offer, I hope you’ll do so here.

  26. Harrybosch

    “What’s going on in Ireland, if anything is going on, is not proof.”

    What is going on in Ireland, as temperature data over the past few decades clearly show, as well as the presence of tropical birds who have never roosted there, is that it is getting markedly warmer. This has indeed been “proven.”

    Hilarious that what I view as a mild observation would get you so worked up.

    This is what I’m talking about, Dan.

  27. Dan, have you ever been to the California desert? I suggest you take a trip some time. One of my favorite places is in the Anza-Borrego Desert, a placed called Ghost Mountain.

    A Depression-era writer by the name of Marshall South moved his family to Ghost Mountain in the late 1920s. He called his home Yacquitipec. He wrote quite a bit about his experience living off the land in the desert for Desert Magazine. I’ve always described him as “he was counter-culture before counter culture was cool.”

    I’ve read all of his writings on desert life. He would often write about the ancient sea that once covered the valley below his home. From his rock that served as his front porch, he could see the old shore line on the far mountain.

    I’ve seen that shore line.

    Or visit the petrified forest in Arizona. Look at all of those petrified tree trunks and think of the old growth forest that once stood where now hardly a drop of water can be found.

    Or read the history of the Salton Sea. Consider that in 1905 — long before “global warming” started — _extreme_ weather created the current lake.

    The fact of the matter is, the earth as a long, long history of changing weather patterns. It has a long, long history of extreme weather in season and out.

    That’s why the link on Ireland isn’t really proof of anything.

    Weather patterns change.

    What I find particularly perplexing is how some people think the change described on that page is bad. It is neither good nor bad. It just is. It is what the earth does. The earth changes. It always has. It always well. And it is nothing but species hubris to think we can do anything about it.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      The earth changes. It always has. It always will.

      True, @Howard, but I’ll ask you a question I’ve already asked you once. What evidence do you have that atmospheric CO2 does not cause global warming? No species has ever done what humans have with respect to pumping massive amounts of CO2 into the air — even to the point of feeding cattle toxic diets that cause them to emit far more CO2 than they otherwise would.

  28. @harrybosch. That simply isn’t a true statement. Weather patterns change hourly.

    And Dan, you’re asking me to prove the negative. Can’t be done. It’s up to global warming advocates to prove there is a manmade causation.

    Also, THIS concerns me a LOT more than global warming.

  29. Harrybosch

    “Or read the history of the Salton Sea. Consider that in 1905 — long before “global warming” started — _extreme_ weather created the current lake.”

    According to the link you provided, it was the breaching of a man-made dike that created the 1905 boundaries of the Salton Sea.

    Personally, I find the current state of the Aral Sea more instructive to the topic.

  30. Harrybosch

    “That simply isn’t a true statement. Weather patterns change hourly.”

    You supported your “Weather patterns change” statement by waxing poetic about ancient oceans that once covered the southwest, and petrified forests.

    All of those changes occurred over millenia, not hours.

    I stand by my statement that the temperature increases we’ve seen over the past few decades have historically occurred over millennia.

    Not decades.

    Or hours.

  31. And what caused the breach?

    And I fail to see any connection between the Aral Sea problems, which was caused entirely by manmade damns, with anything having to do with weather, whether climate change or extreme events.

  32. Harrybosch

    “And I fail to see any connection between the Aral Sea problems, which was caused entirely by manmade damns, with anything having to do with weather, whether climate change or extreme events.”

    Perhaps you used it subconsciously, but the keyword there is “manmade,” as in the manmade dike that breached causing the Salton Sea’s current boundaries.

    There are those who believe the Earth is too big for man to have any measurable impact on it (though it appears you are not necessarily one of those.) One need only look at the before and after pictures of the Aral Sea, once the fourth-largest inland sea in the world, to reject that argument.

    At any rate, as noted previously, I’m not ever going to change your mind. And honestly, I used to feel much the same way you do. But I had an epiphany when I learned that current CO2 levels in the atmosphere are higher than they’ve been at any time since man walked the Earth. That concerns me.

    Perhaps humans can evolve to deal with the new environment, maybe grow some gills on our neck or something, along with some new organs, to filter out the C02 and continue to survive. But I fear things are moving too fast for even that.

    At any rate, I appreciate the civil discussion. We’ll talk again!

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