Built on Facts

Leaked Climate Change Documents

Around ScienceBlogs, people who don’t accept global warming as a real phenomena tend to get called denialists. In the interests of full disclosure, I should admit that I’m not a denialist but rather a global warming defeatist. Doesn’t matter how bad or not CO2 is, ain’t nothin’ gonna stop it. People will not give up electricity and transportation in the developed world (nor should they), and people in the developing world will not be give up the quest for developed-world living conditions (nor should they). As such it’s either massive and immediate worldwide switches to nuclear power and electric transportation, or we’ll just have to live with whatever happens, wherever it is on the spectrum from “nothing” to “Day After Tomorrow”. CFLs and conservation and even the climate change bill currently stalled (and honestly pretty much admitted dead even by its supporters) in congress will only make the barest scratch in US emissions. The US is increasingly a side issue anyway – the 2,400,000,000 people in China and India will matter much more than the 304,000,000 in the US in terms of CO2 release.

And since such massive rollouts of nuclear power and electric transit don’t seem to be forthcoming, I’m a defeatist.

But that’s just disclosure. I know it’s a minority opinion around here, so you should at least know that I hold it.

All this is just preliminary because ScienceBlogs needs an open thread on these leaked climate change documents. They’re all over the web at this point, so you may have seen them mentioned already. (Here, for instance.) Allegedly there’s all kinds of nasty misconduct possibly constituting scientific fraud.

I make ZERO claims about the credibility of any site discussing this. Since I generally don’t follow the subject (on defeatist grounds), for all I know the sites discussing this might like to rail about the Illuminati and sell alien urine to pay their bandwidth bills. But it has been confirmed that the leaked emails are real by the Climate Research Unit, the organization that got hacked.

If the whole thing is overblown, I want to hear about it. If not, tell me about that too. You as a group of readers are pretty astute and I’m interested to hear your analysis of this mess. Thus: open thread.


  1. #1 Dr. Inevitagle
    November 20, 2009

    Inevitably, a house of cards is going to fall over at some point. Amazed they kept up the charade for so long. Kudos to the media for fooling all the stupid people for years.

  2. #2 Gerard Harbison
    November 20, 2009

    I hadn’t thought about it before, but I’m a defeatist, or at least an adaptationaist, too.

    The emails are disturbing. Collusion to delete emails subject to FOIA requests. Collusion to prevent the publication of scientific papers. Transfer of research funds to personal accounts to avoid taxation (admittedly, it’s nuts Russia wants to tax such funds, but still…). Discussions of how to avoid giving Steve McIntyre raw data and programs, and whether to ‘substitute’ some raw data for other data. Multiple discussions of how inconvenient data points can be concealed. Tacit admissions of failures of climate modeling. And I’ve only read about 5% so far.

    Some of these people are US govt. scientists. Many of the others are doing the research with federal government funding. There will, I’m sure, be congressional hearings.

  3. #3 Duncan
    November 20, 2009

    Evidence that global warming is all a hoax and the researchers have been making it all up? Don’t hold your breath.

    Evidence the researchers made every effort to blackball and ostracize skeptics? That’s not really news.

    Evidence the researchers looked for reasons the data didn’t fit with their modeled scenarios, and adjusted the data when they found pretexts? That’s not really news either – they were quite public about it.

    Evidence the researchers lived in a paranoid atmosphere of constant battle against people they accused of sockpuppets for big oil? Again, that’s not news. Arguably the paranoia is pretty understandable when people really are out to get you.

    The boys at CRU have consistently refused to make their data available so it could be reproduced. It will be fun to see whether any of the e-mail attachments contain the data they swore the dog ate.

    If the data is there and anyone’s careers are ruined by it, they have only their paranoid selves to blame.

  4. #4 Chester Burton Brown
    November 20, 2009

    Aside from the sphere of public opinion, is it really damaging to the facts of the situation if a bunch of sloppy fools made some ethically questionable moves (or discussed the possibility of said moves)?

    Or is this leak somehow suggesting that *everybody* working on climate modelling is similarly nefarious in their methods?

    I don’t see how one pile of shennanigans casts any serious doubt on the good work being done by lots of different research groups around the world. It’s bad PR, but it’s not like we were winning any hearts and minds in the anti-science crowd anyway.


  5. #5 Abby Normal
    November 20, 2009

    I think the folks over at Real Climate have been doing a good job of answering people’s concerns.

  6. #6 Charlie Martin
    November 20, 2009

    It’s too early to say for sure. I’ve got the files, and there are certainly some things that are pretty questionable. Arguably, the emails discuss

    — conspiracy to delete emails haven’t heard about an FOIA request, which would be multiple Federal crimes

    — manipulating the data to preserve their expected results, in ways that they’ve apparently denied when it was reverse-engineered by Climate Audit, and discussing how they will hide data from being passed to McIntyre for his attempts to replicate, which would sure push the bounds of scientific misconduct

    — pushing a journal to remove an editor for publishing dissenting papers that passed peer-review, which is just unethical.

    The question is, how much of it is real? Phil Jones has already been quoted as saying the data appeared real; a number of people who were on one side of an email exchange had corroborated individual emails. The rest will have to wait for further examination.

  7. #7 Joel
    November 20, 2009

    I was astonished – astonished! – to learn that Uncommon Descent got its mangled and incorrect facts via Anthony Watts rather than, say, Real Climate.

  8. #8 D. C. Sessions
    November 20, 2009

    There will, I’m sure, be congressional hearings.

    Want to see me demonstrate my amazing prophetic powers?

    There will be much grandstanding. All of the statements by the assorted Members will be in complete accord with their present positions, and when it’s all over nobody will have changed positions.

  9. #9 Abby Normal
    November 20, 2009

    @D. C. Sessions

    It’s spooky how you do that. 😉

  10. #10 Peter Morgan
    November 20, 2009

    By “Day after Tomorrow” conditions I think you mean that only ten movie stars will be left alive in the US. Do you think it will be a cozy catastrophe, one that you, your family, and your friends will survive? I think real defeatists don’t have ‘”nothing” changes’ in the spectrum of their future worlds. Real defeatists are too desperate to let it slide.

  11. #11 dhogaza
    November 20, 2009

    I’ve read quite a bit of the e-mails, and I’d just say that Gerard’s accounting is hardly accurate.

  12. #12 Vangel
    November 20, 2009

    It has been clear for quite some time that the AGW hypothesis has been falsified and that there is no objective evidence to show that natural factors are not the drivers of climate change. The fact that the most important papers in palaeoclimatology were found to be the product of data manipulation and statistically invalid methods should have discredited the community but the media gave them a free pass and the PR firms did a wonderful job protecting what was an obvious case of fraud. The stalling, and the failure to archive data eroded much of what was left of the community’s credibility, as did the claim that CRU had destroyed the pre-1980s raw data for lack of filing cabinets. The latest fiasco is the last straw and I find few people who are buying the stuff that RC is selling.

  13. #13 dhogaza
    November 20, 2009

    — pushing a journal to remove an editor for publishing dissenting papers that passed peer-review, which is just unethical.

    Actually the e-mails show discussion of this, but the reality is that six editors – including the just-appointed editor-in-chief (appointed to that position to help fix the poor editing standards) – of the journal in question RESIGNED ON THEIR OWN without any prodding by those writing those e-mails.

  14. #14 Gerard Harbison
    November 20, 2009

    I’ve read quite a bit of the e-mails, and I’d just say that Gerard’s accounting is hardly accurate.

    Feel free to be specific about the alleged inaccuracy.

  15. #15 Fred
    November 20, 2009

    So can they take back Al Gore’s Nobel Prize?

  16. #16 John
    November 20, 2009

    You’re no defeatist, Matt. You posted this, and that’s damn well proof that you haven’t given up. So what, you’re not in a position to knock down the major players by yourself. Keep doing what you’re doing and continue supporting the community that can accomplish what you, alone, can’t.

  17. #17 Marion Delgado
    November 21, 2009

    Allegedly, you’re a despicable creep with no morals, and no grasp of science, too. I think I believe that allegation, moreso than the one you’re pushing by insinuation.

  18. #18 Marion Delgado
    November 21, 2009

    Since I said “allegedly,” it would be very bad form to take offense. It’s quite possible you DO realize that scientists don’t function in the same culture as big business does, with one eye on their lawyer’s phone number and the other on their bank balance. It’s possible you don’t habitually push the talking points of smear campaigns based on illegal activity. But anyway, i just pass on allegations, I don’t source them, and I am only trying to get at the truth. I welcome being set straight – don’t you?

  19. #19 Eric Lund
    November 21, 2009

    A bit of simple arithmetic tells me that whoever posted that file is unlikely to have posted the complete record. We know that the e-mails in question were sent over a 13 year period (1996 through earlier this month) and that the file is 62 MB in size. I can compare that with my own e-mail inbox: I have received 38 MB of e-mail in just the last 30 days (my e-mail reader is set to delete older messages from the server), and I’m not an especially prolific e-mailer. However, I often generate attachments (figures and data files) that regularly exceed 1 MB in size, and those attachments are included in that figure. So we have to assume that the attachments have been stripped out of the posted file (or more precisely, the inclusion of even one attachment would be strong evidence that the posted file was edited with malicious intent). Even then, 62 MB seems a bit small. Let me take a conservative guess that Dr. Jones (the head of the group that got hacked) deals with an average of 20 e-mails a day (and further assume, unrealistically, that Dr. Jones is the only person using that server). That comes to ~95k messages over 13 years, which is an average of less than 700 characters per message. That number includes headers, which by themselves take several hundred characters–even minimal headers would have to include sender, recipient, time stamp, and subject. That leaves fewer than 10 lines at an average 60 characters per line for message content. Less, if replies quote material from the message being replied to. That’s not a lot of room for discussing topics with any degree of complexity.

  20. #20 Uncle Al
    November 21, 2009


    How many high efficiency compact fluorescent lamps should Californians buy/year to offset 1.5 Mexicans/year flooding across the border? It makes no difference – climatology, the Carbon Tax on Everything, is a multi-$trillion fraud.

    In the future, everybody will agree with Uncle Al.

  21. #21 Matt Springer
    November 21, 2009

    Ok, I admit that’s a good point, John @16. I do agitate for nuclear, renewable, conservation, and at least an honest examination of geoengineering. So maybe I’m not quite completely a defeatist. Maybe, for instance, the final situation would change from “bad” to “only sort of bad” if my suggestions get taken at the very slow and unsteady pace of the moment.

    @#10, it doesn’t matter if the spirit of climate change manifests in physical form and personally hunts me down with a medieval flail. The developed world will keep emitting, and the developing will swamp those emissions. With the exception of the possible optimism in the previous paragraph.

  22. #22 Russ
    November 21, 2009

    I prefer the term realist over defeatist. I see no reason not to keep trying. May as well go down fighting, as the Spartans used to say. The future is notoriously difficult to predict.

    Back in 1974, when population growth rates were still increasing and about 1 in 4 human beings were starving, nobody predicted that fertility rates would suddenly drop and crop yields would go ballistic. Economists got busy in hindsight cobbling together theories but I suspect the predictions themselves are what changed the future. Some types of predictions tend to be self-nullifying.

    I recall a day when all of the news sources were predicting massive traffic jams because of some road closures. I have never since seen fewer cars on the road in this town.

    I recently convinced myself of the futility of personal effort with a spreadsheet that graphically depicts how little impact individuals can have:


    However, change can be exponential. Replacing fossil fuels for electric power combined with electrification of transport would eliminate coal and oil simultaneously.

    If having two kids instead of five can be a fad, so can smallish solar powered living spaces. Just sayin…

  23. #23 ppnl
    November 21, 2009

    Defeatists are worse than denialists. For what we spent looking for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq we could have built a hundred nuke plants. The spending would have made jobs rather than filled body bags and could have mostly been done with private money. Like maybe that money desperately looking for a place to park that caused the housing bubble? The money we don’t have anymore.

    Germany was such a powerful country we should have just learned to adapt and speak German. When did America become such a nation of cowards? This is the last bitter fruit of the culture war.

  24. #24 CCPhysicist
    November 21, 2009

    What little content I found on those blogs was amusing but hardly a smoking gun for forged data. I know a meteorologist who thinks the claims about global warming’s impact on weather is nonsense and he has had to tweak and and smooth and reject data in his models. Data are messy and generally sparse. Sensors fail and malfunction. This is talked about all of the time in seminars, less so in papers, and is never in press releases or school-boy science classes.

    Count me in the Defeatist/Realist camp, even if I have yet to invest in future beachfront property. It is called inertia. Even if the entire world stopped burning coal tomorrow, the effects of what is there will persist for quite some time. And with China’s GDP going up at 8 to 10% during a global depression (doubling time of 7 or 8 years), even massive mine disasters like the one the other day will not stop them from burning more coal next year than this year.

    That is not to say that we should think about what we are doing, and maybe save a bit of that oil for your kids to use rather than drill for what is left around the US so a Norwegian company can sell it to the Chinese, but it is not just us that needs to change what we are doing if we want to limit the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    By the way, back in 1970 (during the ZPG movement days) I predicted what was discussed in comment 22. That change had already happened as our economy evolved, and it is no surprise that similar changes took place in other places as their economies changed.

  25. #25 ppnl
    November 21, 2009


    “Even if the entire world stopped burning coal tomorrow, the effects of what is there will persist for quite some time. And with China’s GDP going up at 8 to 10% during a global depression (doubling time of 7 or 8 years), even massive mine disasters like the one the other day will not stop them from burning more coal next year than this year.”

    That’s true but it misses the point. Global warming is the gift that keeps on giving. We have probably built a few degrees of unavoidable warming in already. But the longer we delay action the more warming becomes inevitable. We could easily change the global climate beyond recognition.

    And fixing it mostly involves accelerating technological changes that are already happening. There is great economic advantages to any country that is ahead of the technological curve here.

    On the right we have people with their head in the sand denying there is a problem and on the left we have people who want us to put down our dogs because apparently they have a larger carbon footprint than an SUV.

    Stop the nonsense and work the problem. The earth already absorbs about half of the carbon we put out. Coal accounts for more than half of what we produce. Stop burning coal and the problem is mostly contained. And we have the technology to do that.

  26. #26 Alex
    November 21, 2009

    Inevitably, a house of cards is going to fall over at some point. Amazed they kept up the charade for so long. Kudos to the media for fooling all the stupid people for years.

    I’m going to ignore the fact that you sound like a climate denier, and say this:

    Climate deniers have consistently made it into the media all the time.

    Even then, 62 MB seems a bit small.

    I seem to remember hearing that it was something like 3 times as big as that, and the 62 MB is just it all zipped.

  27. #27 smith
    November 22, 2009

    could someone please put these documents on something like for example rapidshare.com ?

  28. #28 CCPhysicist
    November 22, 2009

    ppnl, you are spot on about the need to make use of technological change, and correct to look at economics. It would definitely help the US to invest in better energy systems, but it might not be so carbon neutral if the stuff we invest in was made in China with coal power. For example, that may be the case for every battery in an electric car.

    Further, as big as the US is as an energy consumer, what we save by scaling back to EU levels of usage would be devoured by the growing coal usage in China. And it is far from clear that China could grow its GDP at 10% per year during a global depression if it wasn’t using the cheapest fuel as cheaply as possible.

    The irony I see is that the worst current offenders (US) and the worst future offender (China) have the most to use if the Antarctic ice sheet collapses. OK, Bangladesh probably has the most to lose (the entire country), but both the US and China have their major commercial and population centers within 10 meters of sea level.

  29. #29 ppnl
    November 22, 2009


    One step at a time. If the US can show that a developed country can address global warming without crippling its economy the world will follow.

    China depends on exports. This makes them vulnerable to pressure from the rest of the world. And if they drag their feet too long it just means they will have to import the technology to change from us. The longer they delay the more of their infrastructure they will have to replace.

    Global warming is like an overflowing toilet. Sure its too late to stop the carpet from getting wet now. But standing around and watching turds wash down the hallway is just stupid.

  30. #30 Eric Lund
    November 22, 2009

    OK, Bangladesh probably has the most to lose (the entire country), but both the US and China have their major commercial and population centers within 10 meters of sea level.

    Bangladesh would indeed be one of the biggest losers, but there would still be some of the country left. By contrast, several island nations (the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean and various Pacific countries) would be completely underwater. More generally, it’s the poorer nations which will be hit harder–not just from sea level rise but loss of glaciers (several tropical countries depend on melt water from glaciers in the Andes/the Himalayas/Mt. Kilimanjaro for crop irrigation) and overall reductions in food supply (many areas which are now breadbaskets will become deserts, so importing food from countries like the US that currently have a large surplus may not be possible). The last is going to be the biggest problem: to grow enough food to support the present world population, we need the climate to be not too different from what it is today. We can deal with a change of a degree Celsius or two. We could probably even deal with a 5-10 degree rise if it were spread out over a couple of millenia. A 5-10 degree rise in the space of a century will be catastrophic.

    The US and China would sustain some heavy losses with a 10 m rise in sea level, but they would still have several cities above water. In China, Shanghai would be submerged, but Beijing is 43 m above present sea level and Guangzhou is 11 m. On the US west coast, Los Angeles is at 71 m, San Francisco at 16 m, and Seattle ranges from sea level to 158 m. On the US east coast, Washington ranges from sea level to 125 m, Baltimore and New York City are right at 10 m, Philadelphia is at 12 m, and Boston is at 43 m. Even parts of the US Gulf coast are at least 10 m above sea level: Houston is at 13 m. (All elevations from Wikipedia, which does not give elevations for Hong Kong or Tianjin.) Both countries also have many secondary population/commercial centers well inland.

  31. #31 Bob Carlson
    November 23, 2009

    Matt Springer:
    >Doesn’t matter how bad or not CO2 is, ain’t nothin’ gonna stop it.

    Essentially same argument here:


  32. #32 Anonymous
    November 23, 2009

    Hmmm….must be the same argument as the one put forth here: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/WorldWithoutOzone/page2.php

    The world isn’t magic. What we do and don’t do have real, physical consequences.

  33. #33 Spaceman Spiff
    November 23, 2009

    I meant to post my moniker in #32.
    This article adds a bit more to the above result:
    http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/world_avoided.html , and this one has a lot of nifty computer graphic animations and stills of the simulation: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a003500/a003586/index.html

  34. #34 Lyle
    November 28, 2009

    The fundamental question on Climate Change is a moral and philosophical one, what do we owe the future? That is not a question that Science can answer. Note that the right wing is not consistent on this saying one thing with respect to climate change and another with respect to the national debt. Of course we do know that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” The answer to the question gets to fundamental belief issues, as well as if one has or expects to have offspring. I suspect that age may make a difference as well, as if you are 60 what happens after 2050 is not much of an issue to you personally.

  35. #35 Sam
    December 5, 2009

    Global warming is not so much a hoax as it is a vehicle.

    Like Matt I am a defeatist when it comes to the idea of our stopping global climate change if it is in fact as dire as the “scientific consensus” paint it to (possibly) be. But I don’t think that even the stiffest proponents believe the Day After Tomorrow scenarios that they do nothing to downplay. While climate change may or may not impact our ecosystems as severely as has been supposed, geometric growth of global consumption will. “Climate change” is a convenient vehicle to put political pressure on heavily consuming nations to slow things down a bit before we run ourselves over all manner of economic and enviromental cliffs. I think that this represents the motives of much if not most of the “scientific consensus” on global climate change. The goal is not to reduce emissions but to reduce consumption of resources which will be a convenient by product of reduced energy consumption.

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