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New Climate Agency Head Tried to Suppress Data. They think they’re in Chicago..

February 23, 2010

Thomas Karl, the head of Obama’s new Climate Change office has been criticized for trying to suppress contradictory scientific data on climate change.

The scientist who has been put in charge of the Commerce Department’s new climate change office is coming under attack from both sides of the global warming debate over his handling of what they say is contradictory scientific data related to the subject e-mails from the University of East Anglia, but there was little in the e-mails that tied him to playing politics with climate data. Mostly, the e-mails show he was in the center of the politics of climate change decisions

Thomas Karl, 58, was appointed to oversee the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center, an ambitious new office that will collect climate change data and disseminate it to businesses and communities.

According to a school biography published by Northern Illinois University, Karl shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore and other leading scientists based on his work at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and he was “one of the 10 most influential researchers of the 1990s who have formed or changed the course of research in a given area.”


His appointment was hailed by both the Sierra Club and Duke Energy Company of North Carolina. Sierra Club President Carl Pope said, “As polluters and their allies continue to try to muddy the waters around climate science, the Climate Service will provide easy, direct access to the valuable scientific research undertaken by government scientists and others.” And Duke Energy CEO Jin Rogers said the new office, under Karl, will “spark the consensus we need to move forward.”

But Roger Pielke Sr., a climatologist affiliated with the University of Colorado who has crossed horns with Karl in the past, says his appointment was a mistake. He accused Karl of suppressing data he submitted for the IPCC’s most recent report on climate change and having a very narrow view of its causes.

The IPCC is charged with reviewing scientific data on climate change and providing policy makers and others with an assessment of current knowledge.

Pielke said he agrees that global warming is happening and that man plays a significant role in it, but he said there are many factors in addition to the release of carbon into the atmosphere that need to be studied to fully understand the phenomenon. He said he resigned from the IPCC in August 2005 because his data, and the work of numerous other scientists, were not included in its most recent report.

In his resignation letter, Pielke wrote that he had completed the assessment of current knowledge for his chapter of the report, when Karl abruptly took control of the final draft. He said the chapter he had nearly completed was then rewritten with a too-narrow focus.

One of the key areas of dispute, he said, was in describing “recent regional trends in surface and tropospheric temperatures,” and the impact of land use on temperatures. It is the interpretation of this data on which the intellectual basis of the idea of global warming hangs.

In an interview, Pielke reiterated that Karl “has actively opposed views different from his own.” And on his Web site last week, he said Karl’s appointment “assures that policy makers will continue to receive an inappropriately narrow view of our actual knowledge with respect to climate science.”

He said the people who run the agencies in charge of climate monitoring are too narrowly focused, and he worries that the creation of the new office “would give the same small group of people the chance to speak on the issue and exclude others” whose views might diverge from theirs.

Responding to the criticism, Karl told the Washington Post, “the literature doesn’t show [Pielke's] ideas about the importance of land use are correct.”

Calls to The Commerce Department and to Karl’s office went unanswered.

The IPCC in recent weeks has come under severe criticism after e-mails, hacked from a prestigious climate center, revealed some of the political infighting that occurred as its assessments were being put together and called into question its impartiality.

Climate change skeptics, meanwhile, say Karl’s appointment was unnecessary and pulls scarce resources from more pressing needs.

“The unconstitutional global warming office and its new Web site climate.gov would be charged with propagandizing Americans with eco-alarmism,” wrote Alex Newman of the Liberty Sentinel of Gainesville, Fla.

On the popular skeptic site “Watts Up With That,” Anthony Watts called the climate.gov site a “waste of more taxpayer money” and charged that it is nothing more than a “fast track press release service.” He wrote that putting Karl in charge was an issue, because he had fabricated photos of “floods that didn’t happen” in an earlier NOAA report.

Global Warming Debate Heats Up in Wake of Record Snowstorms

As snow-weary Pennsylvanians dug out, utilities struggled to restore power to thousands and crews worked to reopen closed roads after a record-breaking blizzard that dumped more than a foot of snow across the state.

Scientists and politicians on both sides of the climate change debate have been pointing to the record-breaking snowstorms in the Mid-Atlantic states to promote their theories on the earth’s changing temperatures — and the debate is getting downright nasty.

Joseph Romm, a climate change expert and former Energy Department official; Jeff Masters, a meteorologist who writes on the Weather Underground blog; and others argue that this winter’s snowstorms are, counterintuitively, evidence of global warming and not cooling.

“It’s absurd for the ‘anti-science side’ to say we’re in a cooling trend when we’re in an overall warming trend,” says Romm of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “Heavy snow is not evidence that climate science is false,” he added, noting that “the snow we’ve seen is entirely consistent with global warming theory.”

But Patrick J. Michaels, senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and state climatologist for Virginia for 27 years, disagrees. “Global warming simply hasn’t done a darned thing to Washington’s snow,” he wrote on National Review, adding that “if you plot out year-to-year snow around here, you’ll see no trend whatsoever through the entire history.”

Politicians are jumping on the bandwagon, too. “It’s going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries ‘uncle,’” tweeted Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.

Global warming advocates feel under attack as skeptics use the record-setting snowstorms — and the recent discoveries of errors in the U.N.’s climate science study, a growing scandal called climate-gate — to question the theory that climate change is a manmade problem.

Romm explains that cold weather doesn’t cause snow. What brings the flakes down is a combination of cold and precipitation. And since warmer air holds more moisture, global warming and heavy snowfall can coexist, so long as temperatures keeping dipping below 32 degrees.

Bill Nye, the Science Guy, agrees, going so far as to tell MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that scientists who doubt climate change’s manmade origins are unpatriotic. “If you want to get serious about it, these guys claiming that the snow in Washington disproves climate change are almost unpatriotic — it’s as if they’re denying science,” Nye said.

And though the science debate heats up, unlike the weather, the snowstorms have set off even more questions: Why is the East Coast getting hit, while Vancouver needs to truck in snow for the Winter Olympics? Can we accurately link extreme weather with global warming?

Not really, says meteorologist Jeff Masters of Weather Underground, an independent forecaster. “You can’t take regional events and link them to overall climate change,” he said. “There’s a huge amount of natural variance.”

But some skeptics say the science isn’t that innocent, even though they acknowledge global warming as a measurable anomaly. “As climate change critics, we’re not denying an increase in temperature,” says Dan Miller, publisher of the Heartland Institute, a group that favors free-market solutions to public policy problems. “We’re skeptical of the crisis level and the cause.”

Miller says climate-change scientists have a conflict of interest, as many stand to receive “a huge amount of money” from the government to support continued research. “There is no upper limit of money at stake,” he warns.

Conversely, Miller says his firm is impartial, having no financial investment in climate change; it would lose a mere 4 percent of its funding if it ends up on the wrong side of the debate. “There’s no money at stake for critics,” he points out.

Masters says in a perfect world he’d need “200-300 years worth of records” to accurately predict further climate change. But since that’s not available, “We’re forced to make decisions on a limited data set.” Nevertheless, Masters feels the possible dangers of global warming outweigh the risks of remaining idle. “We need to take action even in the face of inadequate data,” he says.

Miller disagrees, arguing that we should collectively return to the drawing board — in light of all the controversy, confusion, and potential conflicts of interest — before we draw any conclusions.

“The science isn’t settled,” he says. “Yes, the climate has warmed — that’s not a hoax. But can’t we go back and reconsider the science? Let’s just step back and reconsider.”


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