Science has been changed forever by the so-called “climategate” saga, leading researchers have said ahead of publication of an inquiry into the affair – and mostly it has been changed for the better.
This Wednesday sees the publication of the Muir Russell report into the conduct of scientists from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), whose emails caused a furore in November after they were hacked into and published online.
Critics say the emails reveal evasion of freedom of information law, secret deals done during the writing of reports for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a cover-up of uncertainties in key research findings and the misuse of scientific peer review to silence critics.
But whatever Sir Muir Russell, the chairman of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, concludes on these charges, senior climate scientists say their world has been dramatically changed by the affair.
“The release of the emails was a turning point, a game-changer,” said Mike Hulme, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia. “The community has been brought up short by the row over their science. Already there is a new tone. Researchers are more upfront, open and explicit about their uncertainties, for instance.”
And there will be other changes, said Hulme. The emails made him reflect how “astonishing” it was that it had been left to individual researchers to police access to the archive of global temperature data collected over the past 160 years. “The primary data should have been properly curated as an archive open to all.” He believes that will now happen.
Bob Watson, a former chair of the IPCC and now chief environment scientist for the British government, agreed. “It is clear that the scientific community will have to respond by being more open and transparent in allowing access to raw data in order that their scientific findings can be checked.”
In addition, Bob Ward, policy director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said: “Researchers have to accept that it won’t just be their science that is judged but also their motives, professionalism, integrity and all those other qualities that are considered important in public life.”
Researchers outside Britain say a row that began in Norwich now has important implications for the wider scientific community round the world.
“Trust has been damaged,” said Hans von Storch of the KGSS Research Centre in Geesthacht, Germany. “People now find it conceivable that scientists cheat and manipulate, and understand that scientists need societal supervision as any other societal institution.”
The climate scientist most associated with efforts to reconciling warring factions, Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology, said the idea of IPCC scientists as “self-appointed oracles, enhanced by the Nobel Prize, is now in tatters”. The outside world now sees that “the science of climate is more complex and uncertain than they have been led to believe”.
Some IPCC scientists are in denial on this issue, she said, arguing that they would like to see the CRU incident as “an irrelevant blip” and to blame their problems on “a monolithic denial machine”, but that won’t wash.
Roger Pielke Jr of the University of Colorado agreed that “the climate science community, or at least its most visible and activist wing, appeared to want to go back to waging an all-out war on its perceived political opponents”.
He added: “Such a strategy will simply exacerbate the pathological politicisation of the climate science community.” In reality, he said, “There is no going back to the pre-November 2009 era.”
Curry exempted from this criticism Phil Jones, CRU director and the man at the centre of the furore. Put through the fire, “Jones seems genuinely repentant, and has been completely open and honest about what has been done and why… speaking with humility about the uncertainty in the data sets,” she said.
The affair “has pointed out the seamy side of peer review and consensus building in the IPCC assessment reports,” she said. “A host of issues need to be addressed.”
The veteran Oxford science philosopher Jerome Ravetz says the role of the blogosphere in revealing the important issues buried in the emails means it will assume an increasing role in scientific discourse. “The radical implications of the blogosphere need to be better understood.” Curry too applauds the rise of the “citizen scientist” triggered by climategate, and urges scientists to embrace them.
But greater openness and engagement with their critics will not ensure that climate scientists have an easier time in future, warns Hulme. Back in the lab, a new generation of more sophisticated computer models is failing to reduce the uncertainties in predicting future climate, he says – rather, the reverse. “This is not what the public and politicians expect, so handling and explaining this will be difficult.”
NEARLY a quarter of a century after the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in the Ukraine exploded and spewed radioactivity across the world, it has finally stopped making Scottish sheep too “hot” to eat.
For the first time since the accident, levels of radioactive contamination in sheep on all Scottish farms dropped below safety limits last month, enabling the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to lift restrictions. Controls on the movement and sale of sheep have been in force since after the explosion in 1986.
The Chernobyl reactor near Kiev scattered a massive cloud of radioactivity over Europe after it overheated, caught fire and ripped apart because of errors made by control room staff.
It was the world’s worst nuclear accident, and has been blamed for causing tens of thousands of deaths from cancers.
Peat and grass in upland areas of Scotland were polluted with radioactive caesium-137 released by the reactor, blown across Europe and brought to ground by rain.
This grass was eaten and recycled by sheep, and has persisted in the environment far longer than originally anticipated.
In 1987, the restrictions covered 73 farms across southwest and central Scotland. Animals that contained more than 1,000 becquerels of radioactivity per kilo were banned from being slaughtered for food.
In April 2009, there were still 3,000 sheep at five farms in Stirling and Ayrshire under restrictions. But now, according to an announcement from the FSA, there are none.
An FSA spokesperson said: “Since the early 1990s an annual post-Chernobyl sheep monitoring programme has been carried out on restricted areas in Scotland.
“Over time, radioactivity levels have continued to decline, and, as of February 2010, only two areas in Scotland remained under restrictions. Of these, one area has been taken out of agricultural use, so is no longer being used to farm sheep, and the other area was removed from restrictions on 21 June 2010.”
Dr Richard Dixon, the director of environmental charity WWF Scotland, pointed out that a whole generation had been born and grown up since the Chernobyl disaster.
“It has taken nearly 25 years for the contamination of Scottish soils to decay to officially safe levels – and we’re 1,400 miles away,” he said. “This is a timely reminder of the folly of the UK government’s enthusiasm for a new generation of nuclear reactors.
While Mann claims his hockey stick science to be “vindicated”, we have this from World Climate Report, a new peer reviewed study that illustrates that the current warm period we live in is neither unique nor unprecedented. They also manage to point out the key issue, the uncertainty of proxies such as used by Mann et al. – Anthony
We constantly hear that the warmest years on record have all occurred in the most recent decades, and of course, we are led to believe this must be a result of the ongoing buildup of greenhouse gases. In most places, we have approximately 100 years of reliable temperature records, and we wonder if the warmth of the most recent decades is unusual, part of some cyclical behavior of the climate system, or a warm-up on the heels of a cold period at the beginning of the record. A recent article in Geophysical Research Letters has an intriguing title suggesting a 2,000 year temperature record now exists for China – we definitely wanted to see these results of this one.
The article was authored by six scientists with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, the State University of New York at Albany, and Germany’s Justus-Liebig University in Giessen; the research was funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the United States Department of Energy. In their abstract, Ge et al. tell us “The analysis also indicates that the warming during the 10–14th centuries in some regions might be comparable in magnitude to the warming of the last few decades of the 20th century.” From the outset, we knew we would welcome the results from any long-term reconstruction of regional temperatures.
The authors begin noting that “The knowledge of past climate can improve our understanding of natural climate variability and also help address the question of whether modern climate change is unprecedented in a long-term context.” We agree! Ge et al. explain that:
“Over the recent past, regional proxy temperature series with lengths of 500–2000 years from China have been reconstructed using tree rings with 1–3 year temporal resolution, annually resolved stalagmites, decadally resolved ice-core information, historical documents with temporal resolution of 10–30 years, and lake sediments resolving decadal to century time scales.”
However, the authors caution “these published proxy-based reconstructions are subject to uncertainties mainly due to dating, proxy interpretation to climatic parameters, spatial representation, calibration of proxy data during the reconstruction procedure, and available sample numbers.”
Ge et al. used a series of multivariate statistical techniques to combine information from the various proxy methods, and the results included the reconstruction of regional temperatures and an estimate of uncertainty for any given year. They also analyzed temperature records from throughout China over the 1961 to 2007 period and established five major climate divisions in the country (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Types, lengths, and locations of proxy temperature series and observation used in the Ge et al. study. The five climate regions were based on a “factor analysis” of the 1961–2007 instrumental measurements. Grey shading indicates elevation (from Ge et al., 2010).
The bottom line for this one can be found in our Figure 2 that shows the centennially-smoothed temperature reconstruction for the five regions of China. With respect to the Northeast, Ge et al. comment “During the last 500 years, apparent climate fluctuations were experienced, including two cold phases from the 1470s to the 1710s and the 1790s to the 1860s, two warm phases from the 1720s to the 1780s, and after the 1870s. The temperature variations prior to the 1500s show two anomalous warm peaks, around 300 and between approximately 1100 and 1200, that exceed the warm level of the last decades of the 20th century.” The plot for the Northeast shows warming in the 20th century, but it appears largely to be somewhat of a recovery from an unusually cold period from 1800 to 1870. Furthermore, the plot shows that the recent warming is less than warming that has occurred in the past.
Figure 2. Five regionally coherent temperature reconstructions with 100-year resolution; the dashed line is the part with fewer series used; and the solid line is the mean value. The shaded areas are the two coldest periods, during the 1620s–1710s and 1800s–1860s (from Ge et al., 2010).
The Central East region also has a 2,000 year reconstruction and Ge et al. state “The 500-year regional coherent temperature series shows temperature amplitude between the coldest and warmest decade of 1.8°C. Three extended warm periods were prevalent in 1470s–1610s, 1700s–1780s, and after 1900s. It is evident that the late 20th century warming stands out during the past 500 years. Considering the past 2000 years, the winter half-year temperature series indicate that the three warm peaks (690s–710s, 1080s–1100s and 1230s–1250s), have comparable high temperatures to the last decades of the 20th century.” No kidding – the plot for the Central East region shows that the warmth of the late 20th century was exceeded several times in the past.
Commenting on the Tibet reconstruction, Ge et al. state “The warming period of twenty decadal time steps between the 600s and 800s is comparable to the late 20th century.” In the Northwest, they note “Comparable warm conditions in the late of 20th century are also found around the decade 1100s.” Unfortunately, no long-term reconstruction was possible for the Southeast region.
In summarizing their work, Ge et al. report :
From Figure 3 [our Figure 2 –eds.] , the warming level in the last decades of the 20th century is
unprecedented compared with the recent 500 years. However, comparing with the temperature variation over the past 2000 years, the warming during the last decades of the 20th century is only apparent in the TB region, where no other comparable warming peak occurred. For the regions of NE and CE, the warming peaks during 900s–1300s are higher than that of the late 20th century, though connected with relatively large uncertainties.
We get the message – the recent warming in at least several regions in China has likely been exceeded in the past millennium or two, the rate of recent warming was not unusual, and the observed warming of the 20th century comes after an exceptionally cold period in the 1800s.
Declaring that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have pushed modern temperature beyond their historical counterparts disregards the lessons of 2,000 years of Chinese temperatures.
Ge, Q.-S., J.Y. Zheng, Z.-X. Hao, X.-M. Shao, W.-C. Wang, and J. Luterbacher. 2010. Temperature variation through 2000 years in China: An uncertainty analysis of reconstruction and regional difference. Geophysical Research Letters, 37, L03703, doi:10.1029/2009GL041281.
Swedish Radio reported on 23 June that home furnishings retail giant IKEA in Israel discriminately ships to Israel’s illegal settlements but not Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank.
Swedish Radio’s correspondent in Israel, Cecilia Udden, explained that she was moving to the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank and asked the staff at IKEA Israel if her furniture could be delivered there. She reported that behind the store’s counter was a huge map of Israel that showed no boundaries for the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, or the Syrian Golan Heights. Although IKEA’s cost of transport is calculated according to distance, to Udden’s surprise, transport to Ramallah was not possible. However, the store did inform her that furniture could be delivered to various Israeli settlements throughout the occupied West Bank.
Ove Bring, a professor of international law, explained to Swedish online magazine Stockholm News that IKEA’s policies discriminate against Palestinians. In addition, the shipping policies violate the company’s code of conduct, which is published on its website (“IWAY Standard” [PDF]).
IKEA stated in Udden’s report that because it relies on local transport companies for deliveries it is bound by local rules. However, Bring challenged the company’s assertion and stated that IKEA must examine whether the transport companies are truly unable to deliver to all customers who request the products. Indeed, when Udden insisted on an answer from the transportation company about why her furniture could not be delivered to Ramallah, she was informed that the Israeli military prohibits the deliveries to customers in Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank.
In its historic 2004 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice emphasized the illegality of activity that normalizes Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Indeed, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center — which is building a Museum of Tolerance on a historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem — told the California-based Jewish weekly J. that the opening of an IKEA store in Israel “will be another chink in the attempts that are still out there to boycott Israel” (““IKEA’s 1st Israeli store to open in spring,” 12 January 2001).
Ironically, before the opening of an IKEA store in Israel in 2001, the retailer was threatened with boycott by the Wiesenthal Center because the company’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, was a member of the fascist New Swedish Movement in the 1940s. The Wiesenthal Center also suspected IKEA of complying with the Arab League boycott of Israel because it appeared to avoid commercial involvement in Israel despite possible opportunities. In a December 1994 letter to the Wiesenthal Center, IKEA President Anders Moberg stated that IKEA had not participated in the Arab League boycott and that the company was in the process of investigating the possibility of opening an IKEA store in Israel.
Today IKEA’s empire boasts 300 stores in 35 countries, including two stores in Israel; the company intends to open a third store in Haifa in 2012. The IKEA brand survived the revelations of its founder’s links to fascism during his youth and the company demonstrated its sensitivity to a possible consumer boycott.
In yet another irony, the boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel movement is already mobilizing in Sweden. At the end of June, the Swedish Dockworkers Union began a week-long blockade of goods to and from Israel. The action by the SDU was in response to a call by Palestinian trade unionists in the context of Israel’s three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip and its attack on the Mavi Marmara aid ship on 31 May. In this context, it remains to be seen whether IKEA will rectify the racist policies of its store in Israel before such practices inspire a new consumer boycott threat.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.
In another sign of the deteriorating ties between Israel and Turkey, the Turkish Defense Ministry informed the Israeli occupation army over the weekend that it has decided not to participate in a naval search-and-rescue exercise planned for next month.
Called Reliant Mermaid, the annual exercise began 10 years ago and included the Israeli, Turkish and American navies. The objective of the exercise is to practice search-and-rescue operations and to familiarize each navy with international partners who also operate in the Mediterranean Sea.
The exercise was held last summer despite the rift that erupted in Turkish-Israeli relations following Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. But defense officials told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the Israeli army had expected Turkey would cancel the planned drill following the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla on May 31 that ended with nine dead Turkish nationals.
The officials said that the Israeli and American navies will still conduct the drill.
This is not the first time that the Turks have canceled joint drills with the Israeli occupation army. Last year, Israel was removed from the Anatolian Eagle air force exercise, days before it was scheduled to begin. As a result, the US Air Force also dropped out.
Until Operation Cast Lead, the IAF frequently flew in Turkish air space and participated in several annual exercises with its Turkish counterpart.
Turkey’s foreign minister has warned that diplomatic ties with Israel will be cut in the wake of the recent flotilla crisis unless certain conditions are met, the Turkish press reported Monday.
“The Israelis have three options: They will either apologize or acknowledge an international-impartial inquiry and its conclusion. Otherwise, our diplomatic ties will be cut off,” Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters on Saturday during a visit to Kyrgyzstan.
The once-close Turkish-Israeli relationship has taken a steep nose dive following a tragically botched May 31 Israeli commando raid on a Gaza aid flotilla led by a Turkish non-governmental organization. Nine Turks were killed in the attack.
Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel after the raid. It has also closed its airspace to Israeli military aircraft in response to the incident.
Turkey has previously stated its demands that before relations are normalized Israel must apologize, pay compensation to the victims and allow for an international inquiry into the event.
Israel has so far refused to meet those demands. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week said his country would not apologize or pay compensation to the flotilla victims.
Israel has meanwhile set up its own inquiry, headed by a former Supreme Court justice. “We showed them an exit road. If they apologize as a result of their own investigation’s conclusion, that would be fine for us. But of course we first have to see it,” Davutoglu said.
“They are aware of our demands. If they do not want to apologize, then they should accept an international investigation,” he added.
Davutoglu also suggested that Turkey could impose further sanctions against Israel should it fail to meet Turkey’s conditions. “If steps are not taken, the process of isolation will continue,” he said.
Davutoglu also said that Turkey had closed its airspace to all Israeli military flights in reaction to the raid. “This decision was not taken for only one or two airplanes,” the minister said, adding that the closure could be extended to civilian flights as well.
Last week Turkey closed its airspace to two military airplanes, but authorities said that it was not a generalized ban.
On Friday, Israeli Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer refuted a report by Turkish daily Hurriyet, which claimed that he had indicated to Davutoglu during their clandestine meeting in Brussels last week that Israel was rethinking its refusal to compensate and apologize over the flotilla incident.
“We have no plans to do that, and the minister did not promise anything to that regard during his meeting with the Turkish foreign minister two days ago,” Ben-Eliezer’s bureau said in response to the report.