‘Climategate’ should raise our temps

You may not hear too much about “Climategate” on your favorite TV news channel €“ depending on which one that is, of course €“ but there’s a lot of talk going on out there about the leaked e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.

I’m talking about the incident recently in which someone hacked into the university’s server and dug up a thousands of e-mails and other documents written by scientists in the school’s renowned climate research program. The e-mails included what appeared to be discussions of how to combat arguments from climate-change skeptics, unflattering comments about those skeptics, keeping scientists who have contrary views out of peer-review literature, and talk of destroying various files in order to prevent data being revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.

Within two weeks after the term was coined by a British columnist, Google was showing “Climategate” appearing across the Internet more than 3 million times earlier this week.

It’s not just conservatives. Even the so-called mainstream media are having trouble ignoring the obvious issues raised by the fact that the e-mails revealed how respected scientists, who have for years been among the most influential in the world in driving the alarm over global warming, were knowingly skewing the numbers to make their argument work.

Why should we care, out here in Sweet Home?

Global Warming has been one of the hot topics in science and politics for the last decade or so and the prevalent theory, espoused by the media and politicians, is that recent increases in the earth’s temperature have been caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases resulting from human activity such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation. It’s been the reason behind nearly all the most recent “green” initiatives proposed in our nation and others in recent years.

What we don’t hear much about, though, is how many scientists haven’t bought the argument at all. More than 31,000 scientists, all of whom have master’s or medical degrees or Ph.D’s and some, considered eminent in their fields, have signed a petition urging the U.S. government to reject the Kyoto Agreement of 1997 because “there is no convincing evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere or disruption of the earth’s climate.” (The petition, which goes on to express concerns that limits on greenhouse gases would cause all sorts of harm, is viewable at http://www.petitionproject.org/.)

Not surprisingly, given the extent to which concerns about Global Warming are dictating the political agenda in Salem, Washington, the U.N., etc, a lot of the reaction to the publicizing of the e-mails has been ire directed at the fact that the e-mails in question were stolen by a hacker.

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said last week that the release of the e-mails should be treated as a crime.

Yes, hacking is certainly illegal and those responsible should be brought to justice. But isn’t there a more pressing issue here?

There are many elements of modern science as a whole that require a great deal of trust. We expect scientists in general to be honest in their handling of data and their drawing conclusions from that evidence. Unfortunately, in a field in which cause and effect is supposed to be objective, it is only so as much as the scientists themselves are.

This East Anglia situation makes us wonder how many other scientists are making the data fit their presuppositions or their conclusions. And scientists often don’t welcome contradictory views €“ particularly in this area of climate change.

Witness the fate of George Taylor, former head of the Oregon Climate Service, who boldly and widely known for questioning the causes of climate change.

Taylor is a major reason why we in Sweet Home and other Oregonians should pay attention to the storyline being played out before us on the Global Warming front.

Taylor openly expressed his view there are signs of global warming, but that burning fossil fuels aren’t necessarily to blame.

He suggested that natural changes have a bigger influence, and the world has been warmer in the past €“ that, overall, it has actually been cooling somewhat since 1934.

That stance rankled other scientists, the public and Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who has energetically promoted measures to combat global warming. It is amazing how many Web bloggers went after Taylor on the grounds that his title of “state climatologist”

was not official and clamoring for his removal. That’s dealing with the issue.

With his views and positions under intense fire, Taylor retired in the spring of 2009 and was replaced by Philip W. Mote,

Washington’s state climatologist, who was appointed to lead the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, which was created by the state Legislature. (Taylor and Mote, by the way, held a public debate on the topic of Global Warming at OMSI in March of 2007.)

Gov. Kulongoski and other state lawmakers have bought heavily into the global warming argument and have mounted an aggressive campaign to forestall global warming by reducing carbon emissions. This has played out in planning transportation projects, setting aggressive goals and policies for the operation of power companies, utilities and gas stations, and setting aggressive goals for increasing renewable energy supplies, and they required biofuels at Oregon gas stations.

Under Kulongoski, Oregon is working to become a world manufacturing center of solar energy materials, and a hotbed for wind and wave energy development, though the governor last week backed down on a plan to offer subsidies for wind and other green energy projects.

But the governor and other Oregon politicians who have bought into the Global Warming mentality are pushing for a regional “cap and trade” system that, by 2012, would cap carbon emissions and use market mechanisms to reduce them, in tandem with several Western states and Canadian provinces. They also want to ban new coal plants in Oregon and take a variety of steps to encourage production and purchase of electric cars, cleaner-burning car engines and to toughen building codes and require an “energy performance certificate” for new homes and commercial buildings that would summarize a structure’s energy efficiency, similar to the certificates on new cars and refrigerators.

The fact that a group of scientists were apparently cheating to make their case for Global Warming doesn’t mean the phenomenon doesn’t exist.

But the extent to which this topic dominates our state’s agenda, and the extent to which a lot of this is not solidly established other than in the minds of certain politicians, academics, media organizations and some scientists, should cause us to caution our own representatives about the fervor with which they shut things down to save the air €“ which may not need as much saving as they think.

Referring to the limits proposed by the Kyoto Agreement, one of the concerns expressed by those scientists who signed the petition mentioned earlier is this: “The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.”

That’s a warning that we should all take to heart.