By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Why Climategate doesn’t matter (IV)

The series explained.

Carbon dioxide is killing the world’s coral reefs in two distinctly different ways. Indirectly, the human-caused build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere has led to global warming, which pushes these fragile ecosystems outside the narrow range of temperatures in which they can thrive.

In 2006, National Geographic put it this way: “Small but prolonged rises in sea temperature force coral colonies to expel their symbiotic, food-producing algae, a process known as bleaching.”

But CO2 kills the reefs directly, too. Because much of what doesn’t end up in the atmosphere is sequestered in the ocean, where it turns the water more acidic. As the Christian Science Monitor reported yesterday, Jeffrey Short, a scientist and environmentalist, told delegates at the Copenhagen conference on global warming that carbon-dioxide emissions should be drastically cut even in the unlikely event that they are not contributing to global warming.

Damage to the coral reefs, the nearest of which are off the coast of Florida, is not theoretical. They are already dead and dying, and some experts believe there’s little chance of their bouncing back. (The Miami Herald reported in 2006 that 90 percent of the reefs in that area had already died.) The reefs are important breeding grounds for fish. According to a study conducted several years ago, National Geographic reports, “fish diversity has tumbled by half in some areas.”

A particularly catastophic event took place in 1998, when a strong El Niño season led to devastating ocean warming. Yes, such natural occurrences show that there are limits to what humans can accomplish. But it also dramatized the effects of long-term, human-caused warming.

As David Adam wrote in the Guardian three months ago:

Within just a few decades, experts are warning, the tropical reefs strung around the middle of our planet like a jewelled corset will reduce to rubble. Giant piles of slime-covered rubbish will litter the sea bed and spell in large distressing letters for the rest of foreseeable time: Humans Were Here.

All this during a week when the World Meteorological Organization reported that the current decade appears to be the warmest on record — warmer than the 1990s, which in turn was warmer than the 1980s. The New York Times reports that the study “largely meshes with an interim analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States.”

Which brings me back to 1998. Global-warming skeptics such as syndicated columnist George Will are fond of saying that the earth has been cooling since 1998. Essentially what Will and others are doing is pointing to an unusual El Niño year and using it as their baseline. They’re playing a dishonest game, and the new studies make that clear.

All posts in this series.

Photo by Sarah Olmstead (a.k.a. Queen Esoterica) and published here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. LouC

    Unfortunately, the denialists ignore everything. The Washington Post had a terrific story about the farmers in southern Australia who still deny global warming despite its impact on their livelihoods.

    The very same day, the Post also ran a cynical column from Sarah Palin. I say cynical because of you, Dan. One of your earlier segments had an article from the Anchorage Daily News describing Palin’s “climate change” subcabinet working on the aftermath of the melting permafrost and its destruction of native villages. She is well aware of what’s going on. Or else she’s even more frighteningly clueless than we realize.

  2. Dan Storms

    I seem to recall here (several threads ago) and elsewhere the notion promulgated that global climate change (Great Cthullu, can we stop with the “global warming” tag? It just encourages the yahoos who point to early snow in Mississippi as proof that the world is getting colder) is somehow a scam to make money for climate scientists and Al Gore. While cui bono is as good as a ballpeen in any rational toolbox, thinking that scientists would go to the trouble of peer review of their evidence (gathered from actual research in hostile environments, then laborious digestion through excrutiatingly constructed computer models), all for the possibility of snagging a government grant or two for a couple 100K$ can only come from the thought processes of a moron. And if money is the motivator of supposed climate change fraudsters, well, what of the motivating power of billions of dollars of profit for those who would deny that we have screwed the planet to a faretheewell? Methinks Exxon and the oil patch boys might have a teensy bit more reason to fudge data then some lab-coated brainiac hoping to grub another stipend so he can measure ice cores where Shackelton once tread.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Dan Storms: I seem to recall that “climate change” was a euphemism seized upon by Frank Luntz’s polling operation, which is why I tend not to use it. But I could be wrong. In any case, I have noticed that more environmentalists are starting to use “climate change,” so I will try to work it in more.

  3. Dunque

    Actually, Dan Storms, it’s the avoidance of peer review and how laborious the construction of their computer models really was that are at the heart of the debate regarding the e-mails and data uncovered from the Climate Research Unit’s archives.

    By the way, good to see you can acknowledge that at leat one global behemoth can be motivated by money. But somehow another can’t.

    Does anyone really believe, by the way, that “hackers” somehow got into the e-mail servers at University of East Anglia and somehow mined through unimaginable volumes of e-mail to ferret out the ones that have been released to date?

    This has all the earmarks of an anonymous whistleblower releasing the e-mails. If that is the case it seems logical that disgust was a prime motivating factor.

    Which is, or ought to be, telling.

    A Moron

  4. Dan Storms

    @Dunque, as I understand it, the laddybucks in East Anglia have been studying one and only one facet of the entire “is man made Co2 release going to make Miami of Ohio the only Miami left” science. Even if every single piece of data analyzed by them was found to have been covertly monkeyed with (something that no one has proved), theirs is only a part of the puzzle. It does not invalidate other evidence.

    I think anyone of sound mind estimating the relative behemothness of industrial polluters like the oil and gas industry vs. environmental scientists (and hell, throw in everyone who believes in man-made climate change) in terms of profit to be made or power to be aggrandized would see the polluters as Godzilla to (at best) the environmental Komodo dragon.

    Hackers have pentrated the Pentagon, global banks, major health insurers, and many government databanks. Why would you assume (and for you, to assume seems to be tantamount to having Moses’ tablets in hand) that it had to be the work of some disgruntled born-again Ayn Rander? And if you do think the East Anglia email server wasn’t hacked, I know a Nigerian prince who needs your help getting some gold out of the country.

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