Goodbye to 2009

Posted by TonyN on 31/12/2009 at 9:04 pm The Climate Add comments
Dec 312009

A year ago I signed off my 2008 New Year post with the words:

Much has changed during the last year, and I have no intention of joining the current fashion for prediction by trying to anticipate what will happen next, other than to suggest that next year will probably yield surprises, in the same way that last year did.

Goodbye to 2008

Overall, I suppose I was right about there being surprises in store it was a pretty safe bet but there is no similarity between the occurrences of the last couple of months of 2009 and anything that has preceded them in the course of the climate debate.

Most of what I wrote on that occasion had to do with the controversy about a decade long standstill, or even decline, in global temperatures. During the last twelve months, that has ceased to be controversial except for a few diehards who resolutely try to keep the myth of a steadily warming planet alive.

Any admission that global warming has stopped whether temporarily or permanently, no one knows was of course unthinkable in the run-up to the Copenhagen conference. In the aftermath of its failure anything would seem to be possible. Already there are voices suggesting that the IPCC has run its course and that responsibility for coordinating international policy on climate change should be taken away from the UN.

The extent to which Climategate played a part in the Copenhagen debacle is still not clear. There were certainly many commentators and politicians who were eager to downplay any influence that it may have had, but the term ‘Climategate’ is now firmly embedded in the language, and it is now a routine consideration into any general discussion of climate change.

But the initial shock waves caused by the revelations in the CRU emails are likely to be no more than a prelude. Climategate in November was soon eclipsed by the initial hype, and eventual disaster, of Copenhagen in December. Both were overtaken by the Christmas and New Year holidays before their full impact could really be accessed. As we move forward into 2010 there is much unfinished business in the pipeline.

Politicians and the media alike must realise by now that the public are pretty sick of climate change, and that another hard winter in the UK and across much of North America is unlikely to help with the task of getting scare stories across.

The University of East Anglia has set up an ‘independent review’ of the type where the institution under investigation appoints the chairman and decides what his terms of reference will be.  A report is expected in the spring, and that must put Climategate back in the headlines, probably with calls for a proper investigation into what has been going on in climate science during the last decade.

In the meantime, attempts to pretend that the CRU affair is a storm in a teacup that affects just a few scientists and some minor areas of climate research are likely to be thwarted.

An inquiry into the activities of Professor Michael Mann is also to take place at Penn State University, and this is likely to be an altogether more serious affair. Already crusty old senators are demanding that funding should be suspended until the result is known. Given what is already in the public domain about the Hockey Stick graph, it seems unlikely that such a process can be completed without there being a considerable amount of blood on the carpet.  With the two inquiries taking place concurrently, the international scale of the scandal will become all too apparent.

There are also moves afoot in the US to use freedom of information legislation to force NASA to provide documentary evidence of its relationship with the Real Climate blog. Details of NASA’s internal discussions about the corrections to temperature records resulting from Steve McIntyre’s audits are also being sought. The furore resulting from the revelations about the CRU’s attitude to FOI legislation will make it impossible to disregard these requests. Will the documents reveal a similar mindset at NASA when dealing with embarrassing challenges to climate orthodoxy? It would not come as a surprise to sceptics if they do, and many mainstream climate scientists must be concerned about the probable fall-out too.

In the immediate aftermath of the CRU media storm, IPCC chairman  Ravendra Pachauri announced that his organisation would also carry out an investigation. Little more has been heard about this, but in the meantime the spotlight has shifted to Pachauri himself, with embarrassing revelations about the extent of his extra-curricular activities. With politicians and even some scientists muttering that it may be time to take climate change away from the UN, we can expect 2010 to provide some very uncomfortable moments for the IPCC, and for many of those who have figured largely in both its reports and in the CRU emails.

Any suggestion that Climategate may have run its course and will now be relegated to a blip in the inexorable rise of climate alarmism is futile. Press converge of the investigations, and the likelihood of new revelations, are likely to feed the story for months to come.

The backwash from the failure of the Copenhagen summit is already having effects that extend far beyond climate change. Recently the British media has focused on the case of a UK citizen of doubtful sanity who has just been executed in China for drug smuggling. Pleas for clemency were rejected, in part at least, because of the hostility that Copenhagen has engendered between China and the developed world. This may be a small, if no less tragic, footnote in international affairs, but it is also an early warning that the debacle at Copenhagen will have an impact on international relations that extends far beyond negotiating a successor to Kyoto. China does not like being leant on, nor is it prepared to be made a scapegoat.

As I write this, there is news that French plans for a carbon tax have collapsed. In Australia, the failure of the government’s   cap-and-trade legislation to get through parliament may yet lead to a general election. When President Obama returns from holiday he will have to address the task of bulldozing similar legislation into law in the aftermath of the Copenhagen meltdown and the repercussions of Climategate, while public scepticism about global warming grows.  Each month that slips by brings him nearer to mid-term elections.

In the UK, scepticism seems to grow and grow in spite of or perhaps because of ever increasing media hype and blatant propaganda from politicians and climate activists. Elections are going to be in the forefront of everyone minds here too.

In a Sunday Telegraph article before Christmas headed, ‘With one accord, the political class proclaim their downfall’, Matthew d’Ancona wrote about the climate debate for the first time so far as I remember in the aftermath of Copenhagen. As a political commentator with considerable influence on Conservative Party policy his views are likely to be heeded.

D’Ancona compares the disconnect between politicians and the public over global warming with our MP’s apparent inability to understand the general revulsion caused by the expenses scandal. In both cases, he argues, it is the politician that ‘just don’t get it’. They are as oblivious to the perfectly rational doubts that many have about what they are being told about global warming as they are to voter’s perfectly reasonable expectation that their representatives should not cheat on their expenses.

If you want a “green revolution” and the evidence suggests that you don’t it must truly be from the bottom up. This Government’s strategy to sneer at the doubters is doomed, not because doubt is the cornerstone of democracy but because, on this specific issue, the doubters are in the majority. Copenhagen marked the end of an era: it demonstrated the poverty and self-regard of elite politics, the introspection and self-congratulation of a political class still in love with itself because nobody else will love it.  The lesson of 2009, from duck house to green summits, was that kind of politics was dead, and a new kind is needed.

This breakdown in understanding between government and the governed cannot survive an election campaign. The electorate appears to want new leaders who are prepared to listen to their concerns rather than attempt to twist public attitudes to comply with predetermined policies. The days when a  nannyish insistence that everything will be fine so long as we all believe whatever government tells us are over.

As midnight approaches and we lurch into a new decade, there will be much to be concerned about: wars that no longer seem justified, economic instability in the shadow of massive debt, and the constant threat of terrorism among others. These are unavoidable challenges that we must face resolutely in the coming year if our security and prosperity are to be preserved.

A year ago I would have added climate change to that list, but now it has become a problem of a very different kind; one which is no longer clearly defined. Climategate and Copenhagen have taken their toll. The old certainties on which climate politics has thrived since the publication of the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report in 2007 are gone. No doubt a new attitude to global warming will emerge, but if it is to have popular support then it must be radically different to what has gone before.

The legacy of 2009 is that in a few months time those who do not recognise the new dispensation are likely to look ridiculous.

A very happy New Year to everyone.

25 Responses to “Goodbye to 2009”

  1. Great post – thanks. Will link on my blog

  2. […] Harmless sky – year ahead, Burt Rutan says AGW a fraud, German Physicists trash global warming […]

  3. Tony, a very good summing up. Interestingly apart from the obligator statements of disappointment there has been silence from the main opposition parties since Copenhagen. Definitely Cameron has the most to think about and the most to lose by not understanding given his standing in the polls. Presumably manifestoes will be all but finished now, and just the final touches needed, which gives him very little time to “get it”
    As for AGW, I believe that scepticism has become mainstream, it has moved from just those who are scientifically literate to the population at large, and I guess there will be many and varied individual reasons for this change. There is a kickback against celebrity culture as well that has been prompted by the financial crisis that is playing its part in changing people’s attitudes. Questions are will the MSM respond or will they continue on their current path to irrelevance? Will political leaders respond or continue to peddle their own agenda’s?

  4. A very worthwhile assessment, Tony – thank you. I see our friend the Bishop liked it too. I hope you’re right and that the vested interests involved don’t manage to re-group and quash further dissent, though. Normally, I would have more faith in the forces of truth and reason, but less so lately, and the stakes are rather high this time.

    I also found the comments of Burt Rutan (a practical scientist who is worth a whole faculty of theoretical ones, IMHO) succinct and unarguable. How we have got to this position given the available facts is something that will doubtless occupy analysts and writers for decades to come. It will be interesting to see how long it takes the MSM to ‘get it’…

  5. TonyN

    Excellent summary of what has happened in a very short time this past year, and what may occur in 2010, as a result.

    Has an awareness “tipping point” been reached?

    Max

  6. Peter, James & Max:

    IMHO the next few months will be crucial, but I do not see how things can ever be quite the same again.

    So far as the MSM is concerned, I’m told that the Murdoch’s have a strong personal commitment to the AGW cause, yet at the same time when d’Ancona’s piece appeared I saw this in a leader in the Sunday Times:

    There is unfinished business on climate change, where the outcome of the Copenhagen summit was messier than even the climate sceptics expected.

    We sceptics are understandably inclined to see what happened in Denmark in terms only of climate policy, but it is likely that there will be a far more general impact on international relations. Any mention of a replacement for Kyoto is now likely to sour relations between the developing and developed world with the EU and US at odds with China and India over the most pressing problem of the day: the balance of economic power.

    That kind of ‘unfinished business’ could lead almost anywhere, but probably not to a binding treaty with realistic targets and a timetable for reducing GHG emissions. Not unless someone wants a re-run of Copenhagen anyway.

    The days risk free gesture politics over AGW seem to be well and truly over. Diplomats in Washington, Brussels, Beijing, Delhi and a hundred other capitals must surely recognise this.

  7. The Burt Rutan angle is at IceAgeNow.com

    Maybe OT but my own journey to skepticism started out in engineering several years ago. I looked at the suggested problem: the whole planet’s climate going down the gurgler. Then the proposed solutions at the time: changing our lightbulbs.

    Something seemed out of kilter – the scale of the solution seemed far too modest by maybe 2 or 3 orders of magnitude.

    So I started looking and found a strange feeling: “climate science” was more like homeopathy or astrology or even meejah studies than a real science. There were no laws, no testable predictions. Just a lot of arm-waving. Feng shui with graphs.

    Climategate has blown the lid off and we can see what’s really been going on. The only real surprise for me has been that they knew among themselves that the whole thing was bogus.

    Before that I really thought they actually believed some of it – through a mixture of group-think and cargo-cult science. But no – they knew all along it was flakey.

    At best they had painted themselves into a corner where no-one could back down or start to dilute the message.

  8. “with the EU and US at odds with China and India”

    I know Pachauri’s Indian, but you’d think that the Indian and Chinese governments would have rounded up a few sceptical scientists to help make their case. Take CO2 out of the equation and they wouldn’t need any sort of treaty, after all.

  9. Very good summary of 2009, TonyN, and while I also like the d’Ancona article, I would go a little further. As well as being out of touch with the majority of the public on this issue, politicians (in the UK, namely Gordon Brown and the Milibands) have also, I believe, tried to fabricate (I’m trying to think of a kinder word) grass-roots public support for their climate policies. There has been the very odd situation where the public have been castigated for their lack of support (David Miliband back in the summer) but at the same time the government have bent over backwards to make it appear that there is a massive groundswell of public opinion behind them (think of the Science Museum’s “Prove It” exhibition, Ed Miliband’s Edspledge site and this totally spontaneous (not) meeting of minds between Gordon and Avaaz.com,) a groundswell which, going by quite a few recent polls, simply does not exist.

    While we probably won’t get an AGW-sceptic government this May here in the UK, all might not be lost if the Conservatives, who may well scrape in with a victory this year, also decide to replace David Cameron with someone more pragmatic. We’ll eventually get someone, I hope, who can put together a sane and realistic energy policy, at the very least. Imagine a few more winters like these, but with electricity and gas shortages as well; it doesn’t bear thinking about.

  10. Alex:

    I think that ‘fabricate’ is the perfect word. Going back to 2004-5, there appears to have been a clear intention of creating a broadly based ‘grass roots’ movement to save the planet where none existed previously. The brainchild of Blair and King, it didn’t take long for the Milibands to grasp the short term political advantages for a government that was under fire for just about every other policy it had. The appalling Warm Words was the instruction manual for motivating the public by using myth rather than facts.

    The question is, how durable will the fabrication prove to be? Can it survive without secure foundations, or is it only maintained by a constant output of propaganda?

  11. Jack Hughes

    Am looking forward to the complete Burt Rutan article, when it comes out.

    As an engineer myself (chemical), my journey also occurred gradually to becoming a rational skeptic of the premise that AGW, caused principally by human CO2 emissions, is a serious potential threat.

    At first, I accepted the GH theory, the concept that human CO2 emissions might cause an increase in atmospheric CO2 and that this might result in a slight theoretical warming of our atmosphere and planet.

    But doomsday predictions, such as the AGW premise, have always left me puzzled.

    We have seen them again and again, based on all sorts of unrelated imminent disasters, which almost always have one thing in common: the root cause of the imminent disaster is the transgression of “man”.

    “The end is near!”, “Repent now before it’s too late!” proclaim the crudely painted cardboard signs being worn by the bearded, delusional doomsday prophets one sees on the streets and in public parks.

    The second thing that ALL doomsday predictions throughout history have had in common: they NEVER really come to pass. The simple proof of this is that there has been no doomsday to date (or we would not be here today). A 100% failure rate is pretty hard to achieve on a consistent basis, but the doomsayers of this world have managed to do so.

    So, being rationally skeptical by nature, I began looking at the “science” supporting the AGW premise. Where were the empirical data from actual physical observations (as opposed to the virtual data from climate model simulations alone) to support the AGW premise?

    I suppose that the media lead-up to the issue of the IPCC 2007 SPM report in February 2007 started me looking at the many AGW claims more critically, and the report itself was probably my “tipping point”.

    There were so many erroneous and exaggerated claims, as well as outright falsehoods and claims made on the basis of “bad science” in this report that even a well-meaning high-school science teacher would have given it a failing grade.

    On top of all the errors, it was arrogantly worded, bringing to mind the quotation by Albert Einstein:

    “The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance.”

    Here you had both in one report.

    Then there was Al Gore’s Oscar (and Nobel Peace Prize) winning “AIT” movie and slide show, with it’s alarming predictions of 7-meter inundations of coastal regions, dying polar bears and other things too fierce to mention, which was actually being used by confused educators to frighten impressionable school children!

    And, of course, there were the scientists themselves, such as James E. Hansen, who had morphed from being government paid servants of the taxpayer with the brief of providing reliable weather and climate information to the public to becoming AGW activists, using a sensationalist press to spread their doomsday prophesies.

    A former IPCC Chair even proclaimed, “The science is settled”, and the press parroted different versions of this silly remark.

    This is “science”?

    Then, just recently, came the leaked emails, arguably just the tip of the iceberg, showing that a group of highly respected climate scientists were colluding to fudge the data, muzzle scientific reports that did not support the AGW premise, hide raw data from FOI requests, etc.

    The tide turned on AGW, as the dismal failure at Copenhagen showed.

    But it has become a multi-billion dollar big business, with the hopes of even larger sums of publicly funded money in the trillions of dollars being made available for the politicians and bureaucrats of this world to shuffle around to finance pet projects. As such, it has gathered an enormous momentum, with environmental activist groups, hedge fund operators, corporate executives, etc. all lined up along with the politicians to get a piece of the action.

    Hats off to courageous individuals like Burt Rutan to expose this hoax for what it is!

    Max

  12. Alex,

    The word you are looking for is Astroturfing.

    “Simulating grassroots support for a political movement”

    A technique perfected by Fenton Communications – a PR firm linked to Al Gore. Fenton started the RealClimate.org website.

  13. […] I en läsvärd artikel av Tony N, dras konsekvenserna av ClimateGate och Köpenhamn ut inför 1010. Till dessa lägger han två saker som kommer att hålla medias intresse vid liv; de igångsatta granskningarna av CRU och Michael Manns arbeten. Kanske kan även de tveksamma bisysslor som IPCC:s ordförande Rajendra Pachauri har bidra till att väcka allmänheten från sin AGW-slummer, menar Tony N. […]

  14. […] is a great essay that just about sums up the current mood on AGW. Harmless Sky – Climate, the countryside and landscapes

  15. An excellent summary, Tony. Thanks.

    I agree with you about prediction (don’t do it) but suspect that, in 2010, politicians (and the MSM) in the so-called advanced economies of the West will very slowly and painfully be obliged to come to terms with the three hard realities biting hard into their beloved man-made climate catastrophe theory:

    1. The public (i.e. the voters) doesn’t believe it, is fed up with being lectured about it and, in any case, is thoroughly bored by doomsday predictions.

    2. The “science” behind the theory, already thin, has – try as they may to ignore it – been seriously undermined by the scandalous content of the emails hacked or leaked from the Climatic Research Unit at UEA.

    3. As they found at Copenhagen, the so-called BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and especially China – all economies with momentum), plus interestingly the USA itself, have no serious intention of undermining their economic growth and global clout by reducing CO2 emissions – whatever lip service they may pay to the concept.

    It will be fascinating to see how long this process takes and how painful it proves to be. Even politicians cannot ignore reality indefinitely. They can, however, find ways of pretending there’s been no change of heart. The coward’s way would be to quietly forget the issue – and that may well be the course chosen. Another – and more welcome – solution would be to say that, as nothing can be done now to mitigate the feared outcome, we should focus exclusively on strengthening our battered economies thereby making us more able to deal with the many challenges we face today and to adapt to such climatic changes as may occur.

    We’ll see.

  16. Jack Hughes, re your #12, it actually hadn’t occurred to me to think of this as astroturfing, but you’re right, this is what it is.

    Wikipedia has this: “Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt (“outreach”, “awareness”, etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by an individual pushing a personal agenda or highly organized professional groups with financial backing from large corporations, unions, non-profits, or activist organizations.”

    That last bit should really read: “… non-profits, activist organisations or governments.”

  17. Another important development in the noughties was the rise of Wikipedia as possibly the most influential reference tool worldwide but with interesting developments in late 2009.
    Unfortunately, as highlighted at WUWT, William Connolly (ex member of RC), has apparently had a massive biased effect on the entries relating to climate change, with some staggering stats being quoted, (see 1). However, according to WUWT, his administrator privileges have been removed, (2), following the Wikigate revelations, although there is some question as to who was who in making the very many changes and rejections of sceptical edits etc (3):

    (1) 19/Dec Wikibullies at work. The National Post exposes broad trust issues over Wikipedia climate information
    (2) 19/Dec More on Wikipedia and Connolley – he’s been canned as a Wiki administrator
    (3) 22/Dec William Connolley and Wikipedia: Turborevisionism

    Hopefully, this important info source will gradually become more balanced on climate change if sceptical contributors are allowed-in by those that were behind Connolly. (and any future covert actions by Connolley)

  18. […] SkyTony N over at Harmless Sky has a thorough and thoughtful essay on where things presently stand on the issue of CO2 and climate […]

  19. Just in case no-one found my 17 + 18, interesting enough to check-out, here are some stats attributed to William Connelly, extracted from; http://toolserver.org/~soxred93/ec/William+M.+Connolley
    (In which there is a great deal more analysis given.)
    Does anyone concede that Connolley, (perhaps assisted by others) has been very, very, busy according to that source, and that it may adversely affect the thinking of anyone studying climate change, particularly young people?

    How about; Users blocked: 2029, and pages deleted 510?

    Username: William M. Connolley
    User groups: autoreviewer, rollbacker
    First edit: Feb 07, 2003 11:46:59
    Unique articles edited: 5,483
    Average edits per page: 7.26
    Total edits (including deleted): 39,789
    Deleted edits: 1,300
    Live edits: 38,489

    Users blocked: 2029
    Pages deleted: 510
    Pages moved: 66
    Pages patrolled: 110
    Pages protected: 173
    Pages restored: 18
    Users unblocked: 223
    Pages unprotected: 29
    Files uploaded: 146

    Please read the three links in my 18.
    Comments anyone?

  20. Comments anyone?

    Nothing that AGW supporters do surprises me any more, but their deviousness undermines their case better than I ever could.

    I like Wikipedia and believe that it handles non-controversial subjects well, but the nature of the editing process makes it hopeless for anything that involves opinion or variable points of view. This isn’t helped, of course, by editors with axes to grind, like Connelley. Mr Wales should be more careful whom he employs.

  21. I wrote a piece exposing the activism of William Connelly about a year ago so nothing you say surprises me.

    Tonyb

  22. With a “tear in his eye”, William Connolley left RealClimate two years ago, writing::
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/12/goodbye-to-all-that/

    This doesn’t represent any disenchantment on my part with the state of the science, or with IPCC, or with RealClimate – all of which continue to have my respect. I’m sure that RealClimate will continue to deserve its high reputation as a source of accessible explanation and comment on important climate issues. It’s more a reverse of that – in some senses, much of the main areas of climate science have now become much clearer than when I began to be interested; the obstacles to progress are now very obviously political not scientific.

    I expect to continue my (now amateur) interest in climate; my pet blog will remain at least for a while – feel free to join me there.

    Still waiting to read about his departure from Wiki…

    Max

  23. “Already there are voices suggesting that the IPCC has run its course and that responsibility for coordinating international policy on climate change should be taken away from the UN.”

    Yes, they are no doubt in debate with the voices that are saying that representative democracy has failed to act in the face of this planetary emergency. The “global governance” movement in other words is starting at last to play its cards in the open.

    2010 I think, will be the year of the blogosphere, although the UN isn’t likely to ever acknowledge it. It will also be the year that organs such as The New Scientist do their best to reclaim some credibility after being shills for the green left for so long. The conversion process may have already begun, see

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18363-debate-heats-up-over-ipcc-melting-glaciers-claim.html

    An interesting time, and a great time too to be a small part of the vast right wing conspiracy opposing AGW.

    Salut.

  24. It seems the IPCC used the claim that glaciers “could disappear by 2035” to reinforce its arguments, but surely the word ‘could’ signifies almost nothing? We could be hit by a meteorite next Tuesday, but the odds are fairly long, and such speculation says more about the author than the subject.

    As for “right wing conspiracy”, I’m neither right-wing nor a conspirator, but I agree about the interesting times!

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