I am genuinely astonished at some of the reactions to this story:
The academic at the centre of the ‘Climategate’ affair, whose raw data is crucial to the theory of climate change, has admitted that he has trouble ‘keeping track’ of the information.
Colleagues say that the reason Professor Phil Jones has refused Freedom of Information requests is that he may have actually lost the relevant papers.
Professor Jones told the BBC yesterday there was truth in the observations of colleagues that he lacked organisational skills, that his office was swamped with piles of paper and that his record keeping is ‘not as good as it should be’.
The data is crucial to the famous ‘hockey stick graph’ used by climate change advocates to support the theory.
Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.
And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.
Perhaps the source of my surprise is that I think that people are having difficulty in distinguishing between what’s important and what’s not important in the issue of climate change.
Is it important whether the climate is changing?
It definitely is. Climate affects what parts of the earth are habitable, how many people can be supported where, and what parts are arable. Of course it’s important. If warming causes the level of the sea to rise, whole countries could cease to exist.
However, the climate has always been changing (one of those things that you wouldn’t think would need to be pointed out). In the 11th century oranges could be grown in southern England. They can’t now.
For a brief period during what we refer to as the Middle Ages, Europeans could live in Greenland with a fairly normal European-style habit. They abandoned it when climate change rendered that impossible.
Over the great length of time there have been periods when portions of what are now the Sahara or the Arabian Desert could support grazing herds. Climate change altered that.
Of course the climate is changing. Climate change is a permanent part of life on Earth. That has not changed. What has changed are the political realities that govern has we respond to climate change.
Is it important whether climate change is anthropogenic?
I don’t think it does. Whether human beings have caused climate change or not or to what degree they have caused it makes no difference whatever to whether climate will change, whether that will affect people’s lives, and whether it will have political consequences. Nor will it change the sort of consequences that climate change will bring.
As the sea level rises on a low-lying island will the residents there say Not anthropogenic. In that case I’ll just sit here and drown! Or will they do precisely the same things with precisely the same consequences because of the fact of the change rather than alternating them with the cause of the change?
I can already see the obvious report: if it’s not our fault why should we do anything about it? There are any number of answers to this including that it’s the right thing to do. However, in the final analysis I doubt that can avoid the consequences of climate change whether it’s our fault or not. Mass migrations of displaced people will inevitably affect us whether we’re causing the climate change that impelled their migration or not. The question is what we will do not whether we’ll do anything.
Does what is proposed to cope with climate change matter?
I think the answer to that is Yes, too, and, indeed, it’s one of my greatest problems with the prescriptions for coping with the effects of climate change. When, for example, people advise us here in the United States to make changes, small or large, in how we live, work, and play in the name of coping with the effects of climate change while ignoring how, for example, the Chinese live, work, and play when China’s production of greenhouse gases is growing at such a pace that there is nothing whatever solely within our power to alter whatever climate change induces on the basis of conservation alone, it’s hard for me to see that as an effective way of addressing climate change. I should note, however, that it is an excellent way to move people to question your motives.
Cost is an important consideration, too. You can only spend each dollar once and (except for the Federal Reserve, of course) there isn’t an infinite supply of them. Choosing to subsidize solar power means you’ll subsidize other alternatives less.
And then there are the secondary effects, which have differing implications of their own.