Global warming (climate change) is not just a scientific subject but also a technical-social-political scramble. Several recent episodes illustrate this; just one has been widely reported.
First, most recent and receiving the greatest media attention: Just days after the appointment of Scott Pruitt as the new administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency came the reports on the court-ordered release of thousands of emails between Pruitt and “fossil fuel companies like Koch Industries and Devon Energy” when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general.
The Associated Press, noting Pruitt’s office contacted the lobbyist for his utility (AEP) after his power went out, reported the emails reveal “cozy ties” between Pruitt “and those that profit from burning fossil fuels. AEP generates about 60 percent of its electricity from coal, creating planet-warming carbon emissions that Pruitt is now charged with regulating.” Numerous environmental activist groups are quoted denouncing Pruitt, despite no evidence of wrongdoing.
Second, and highly downplayed, is an accusation of data fudging in a study published in the journal Science. The accusation was made by climatologist John Bates, principal scientist for the past 14 years at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Bates criticized Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s climate data archive, for rushing to publish a study in Science (June 2015) to disprove the levelling of global temperature since the 1990s.
Bates told Britain’s Mail on Sunday newspaper, “They had good data from buoys. And they threw it out and ‘corrected’ it by using the bad data from ships. You never change good data to agree with bad, but that’s what they did – so as to make it look as if the sea was warmer.”
The third incident is related to the second. Georgia Tech climatologist Judith Curry retired in January, in apparent frustration over the global-warming controversy. On her website, Climate Etc, she wrote, “A deciding factor was that I no longer know what to say to students and postdocs regarding how to navigate the CRAZINESS in the field of climate science.”
Bates is a longtime friend and collaborator of Curry’s, having served on committees supervising her graduate students. The two began discussing the problems with Karl’s article soon after it was published. She connected Bates with a Mail on Sunday reporter visiting Atlanta.
Finally, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has reset its “Doomsday Clock,” which dramatizes the danger of atomic weapons for civilization. In 1947, it was set at 7 minutes to midnight to indicate how close the earth was to destruction. In 1953, when the United States announced its hydrogen bomb project, the hand was moved to 2 minutes to midnight. (Highlighting the guesswork involved, during the 1960s and 1970s nuclear warheads increased from 20,000 to 50,000 globally yet the clock’s setback, ranged from 7 to 12 minutes before midnight.) Doomsday was “delayed” at times because of the greater contact and treaties among the nuclear powers.
Doomsday apparently doesn’t depend solely on atomic bombs. So in 2007, global warming went “nuclear,” so to speak, and the Doomsday Clock was moved forward from 7 to 5 minutes before midnight.
For the first time, the atomic scientists concluded, “Climate change… presents a dire challenge to humanity. … Flooding, destructive storms, increased drought, and polar ice melt are causing loss of life and property.”
Since January, the clock is at 2.5 minutes before midnight, the closest to Doomsday since 1953. The reason: the 2016 elections and what they mean for nuclear security and global warming. The group mentioned the incoming Trump administration more than a dozen times in reporting its rationale for moving the clock so close to Doomsday.
Who says politics is not tainting climate science?
(Harold Brown, University of Georgia professor emeritus, is a senior fellow with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and author of “The Greening of Georgia: The Improvement of the Environment in the Twentieth Century.”)