Books and blogs, Part 4

Searching for information about climate change on the internet will quickly lead you to a set of weblogs that are clearly there to promote the alarmist extreme of consensus opinion. They link to each other, post on the latest scientific papers that claim ‘it is worse than we thought’ and talk trash about those in opposition, a cast of characters they deride as either skeptics (on a good day) or more commonly as ‘denialists’, a deliberate attempt to class opponents as one with the skinheads who deny the Holocaust ever occurred.

Many of these blogs also have very good scientific information on their sites and they can be extremely valuable, especially if you skip past the diatribes and attacks on the unholy. But at the time (2007 and 2008), that was getting harder to do. The climate fight was getting fiercer just as I was getting more involved.

The climate blogosphere is complex, and different stakeholders have different views. A few years back, skeptics painted the picture like this with Watts Up With That in the center:

Climate blogs WUWT

More recently the alarmists have come out with their own version. At least it’s labeled:

climate_blogs Real Climate

Opposition, or skeptical blogs were actually not that easy to find, although they existed in respectable numbers. They were literally shunned by those advocating decisive action to limit global warming, as shown by the activists’ own map. When finally found, they were in many ways much different than the consensus blogs—they tended to focus on one individual component of climate change and hammer away at it. They were low-traffic for the most part and the scientific background of many of the bloggers (and more of their commenters) was open to question. However, overall they were much more palatable than consensus blogs, operating with more open policies that didn’t censor commenters and being more welcoming to newcomers and strangers. And I was both.

I began to comment on the climate blogs, naively convinced that what I was reading (and writing, by that time) on renewable energy was relevant to the conversation and gave me a solid technology-based background for putting forward the point of view found in this book. Briefly, what I came to think was that climate change is real. It is probable that humans contributed to the dramatic warming of the last quarter of the 20th century. One of those contributions consists of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels. Burning of fossil fuels will accelerate rapidly in the 21st Century. This is likely to pose a problem for continued human development, and it would be wise to take steps to reduce the emissions and prepare for the impact of future warming. However, climate change is not solely caused by human actions. Moreover, fossil fuel emissions of CO2 are not the only human contribution to climate change and may not even be the largest (deforestation, changes in land use and land cover, black carbon and preparation of cement may, taken together, have a larger effect). Alarmist scenarios of very large temperature rises and sea level increase are not supported by mainstream science. Climate change should be considered a serious issue deserving of our attention, but it is not a ‘planet-buster’. I shall go into greater detail below.

I then set up shop myself, starting a short-lived weblog called The Liberal Skeptic in 2008. It was short-lived because I started writing for almost immediately thereafter and switched my venue there. I quickly hijacked the title ‘lukewarmer’ from a comment thread at a very good climate blog called The Blackboard (run by the even better Lucia Liljegren) and essentially started developing a ‘climate philosophy’ starting from the title Lukewarmer and working down. I was really enjoying it, blogging on climate change once or twice a day while writing reports on solar power or trends for hydroelectric expansion in the developing world, getting praised and criticized from increasingly larger numbers of readers, until my friend Steve Mosher phoned me to say he had a CD ROM with what appeared to be 1,000 emails between some of the most politicized climate scientists working in the field. Enter Climategate.

The emails contained some controversial statements, the most incendiary being a request by Phil Jones, head of the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University, for colleagues to delete all emails regarding an upcoming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as they had been requested under the Freedom of Information Act. The emails did not call the basic tenets of climate change theory into question, but they shed a lot of light on the lengths some players were willing to go to to smash the opposition, protect their personal theories and reputation and disregard most of what other scientists would regard as Ethics 101.

In December of 2009 Steven Mosher and I self-published a book about what had become known as Climategate. We wrote it in 30 days and put it up on CreateSpace, the self-publishing unit of Amazon. It was on Amazon within a few days and on Kindle a week later.

As I said, our book (Climategate—The CRU Tape Letters) was written in the 30 days following the release of the emails and it showed. In addition to two factual (if minor) mistakes, the book had typographical errors, some sloppy writing and the publication quality was substandard. Despite this, due to intense interest in the Climategate scandal, the book sold very well—in fact it continues to sell. It apparently managed to do what Steve and I set out to do, provide context for the emails and reconstruct the real world narrative in which the communications took place.

One predictable consequence of the book’s publication was a concerted effort to, if not demonize us, at least characterize us as bad apples who were either trying to grubbily profit from the troubles of the climate scientists or to contribute to the efforts of the many climate skeptics who ‘denied’ climate science. Some of that continues to this day, despite our efforts to forestall such accusations. Scathing reviews of our book were published before it was available for sale and couldn’t have been read by the reviewers, and much of the criticism we received was from people who admittedly never took the time to read the book and said they were pretty proud that they hadn’t sullied their hands with it. The simple fact that we criticized one group of climate scientists was sufficient to place us beyond the pale—in the group known as ‘deniers’, a term I have come to loathe.

Fast forward to January of 2015 and I find myself again in front of a word processor writing about climate change. A lot has happened since Climategate—but neither the email scandal nor the many events, publications and debates since Climategate have changed anybody’s mind.

My reason for writing this book is to claim a piece of territory in the climate debate—to show that there are more than the two extremes involved in the conversation. The Lukewarmer’s Way is meant, not to convince readers that our position is right—only the future history of climate will convince anybody about anything related to climate change—but to provide what I think is a sane piece of middle ground far from the Iron Sun skeptics who think that the Sun dominates recent temperature changes on the one hand, and alarmists who still are convinced that two meters of sea-level rise and 6 degrees Celsius of temperature rises will occur during this century.


2 responses to “Books and blogs, Part 4

  1. Tom, you have to give the commenters a chance to catch up.

  2. Hey, you’re tough–I know you can do it!

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