Hackers Leak e-mails, Stoke Climate Debate

Daily News Article   —   Posted on November 30, 2009

(by David Stringer, AP writer, YahooNews.com) LONDON – Computer hackers have broken into a server at a well-respected climate change research center in Britain and posted hundreds of private e-mails and documents online – stoking debate over whether some scientists have overstated the case for man-made climate change.

The University of East Anglia, in eastern England, said in a statement Saturday that the hackers had entered the server and stolen data at its Climatic Research Unit, a leading global research center on climate change. The university said police are investigating the theft of the information, but could not confirm if all the materials posted online are genuine.

More than a decade of correspondence between leading British and U.S. scientists is included in about 1,000 e-mails and 3,000 documents posted on Web sites following the security breach last week.

Some climate change skeptics and bloggers claim the information shows scientists have overstated the case for global warming, and allege the documents contain proof that some researchers have attempted to manipulate data.

The furor over the leaked data comes weeks before the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, when 192 nations will seek to reach a binding treaty to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases worldwide. Many officials – including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – regard the prospects of a pact being sealed at the meeting as bleak.

In one leaked e-mail, the research center’s director, Phil Jones, writes to colleagues about graphs showing climate statistics over the last millennium. He alludes to a technique used by a fellow scientist to “hide the decline” in recent global temperatures. Some evidence appears to show a halt in a rise of global temperatures from about 1960, but is contradicted by other evidence which appears to show a rise in temperatures is continuing.

Jones wrote that, in compiling new data, he had “just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline,” according to a leaked e-mail, which the author confirmed was genuine.

One of the colleague referred to by Jones – Michael Mann, a professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University – did not immediately respond to requests for comment via telephone and e-mail.

The use of the word “trick” by Jones has been seized on by skeptics – who say his e-mail offers proof of collusion between scientists to distort evidence to support their assertion that human activity is influencing climate change.

“Words fail me,” Stephen McIntyre – a blogger whose climateaudit.org Web site challenges popular thinking on climate change – wrote on the site following the leak of the messages.

However, Jones denied manipulating evidence and insisted his comment had been taken out of context. “The word ‘trick’ was used here colloquially, as in a clever thing to do. It is ludicrous to suggest that it refers to anything untoward,” he said in a statement Saturday.

Jones did not indicate who “Keith” was in his e-mail.

Two other American scientists named in leaked e-mails – Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, and Kevin Trenberth, of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Colorado – did not immediately return requests for comment.

The University of East Anglica said that information published on the Internet had been selected deliberately to undermine “the strong consensus that human activity is affecting the world’s climate in ways that are potentially dangerous.”

“The selective publication of some stolen e-mails and other papers taken out of context is mischievous and cannot be considered a genuine attempt to engage with this issue in a responsible way,” the university said in a statement.

Associated Press Writer Meera Selva in London contributed to this report.

NOTE: This article was published at Yahoo News on November 21, 2009.

Copyright ©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. The information contained in this AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Visit news.yahoo.com/s/ap/eu_climate_hacked_e_mails for the origianl post.

Questions

1. What is the Climatic Research Unit (CRU)?

2. What did computer hackers do to the Climatic Research Unit?

3. What information do the leaked documents provide?

4. What do skeptics of the theory that human actions are causing the earth’s temperatures to rise say the CRU documents prove?

5. The CRU’s director Phil Jones wrote in one email that, in compiling new data on climate statistics, that he utilized a technique used by a fellow scientist to “hide the decline” in recent global temperatures. He said he had “just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline [in global temperatures].”
a) How did Mr. Jones defend this apparent falsification of global temperatures?
b) What do you think of Mr. Jones’ explanation?

6. a) Where is Copenhagen?
b) What is the purpose of the upcoming U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen?
c) How might the information from the CRU documents affect the conference?


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Background

Global warming is an important issue to understand.  The theory that man’s use of fossil fuels (burning coal, oil and gas for energy, which produces carbon dioxide, or CO2) is causing an imminent catastrophic change in the climate – global warming – is believed to be true by many scientists, climatologists, citizens, the mainstream media and Hollywood celebrities, and was made popular by former Vice President Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth.”  People who believe in this theory say we must reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced by limiting/reducing the amount of fossil fuels we use, or by purchasing offsets.

The belief that man’s activities are not causing an imminent catastrophic change in the climate is held by many other scientists [see MIT’s Professor of Meteorology Dr. Richard Lindzen’s commentary in Newsweek here]. (This view is very unpopular in the media and widely condemned by those who believe man-made global warming is fact.)  Those who do not believe man is causing the global temperature to rise don’t believe it is necessary to reduce the production of CO2 by reducing our use of fossil fuels or to purchase carbon offsets.

  • Greenhouse gases are components of the atmosphere that contribute to the greenhouse effect. Some greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, while others result from human activities such as burning of fossil fuels such as coal.  Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. (from wikipedia.org)
  • Carbon offsetting  involves paying others to remove or [contain] 100% of the carbon dioxide emitted from the atmosphere – for example by planting trees – or by funding ‘carbon projects’ that should lead to the prevention of future greenhouse gas emissions, or by buying carbon credits to remove (or ‘retire’) them through carbon trading. These practices are often used in parallel, together with energy conservation measures to minimize energy use. (from wikipedia.org)

ON GLOBAL WARMING and the KYOTO TREATY (the treaty preceding COPENHAGEN):

  • The theory of global warming is that the earth’s temperature is rising due to man’s use of fossil fuels (gas, oil).  It is believed that this temperature change will result in catastrophic problems in the environment.  To prevent this man-made climate change, countries need to restrict energy use (reduce use of gas and oil).
  • In the Kyoto Treaty governments agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions (reduce their use of gas and oil).  They believe this will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions world-wide and will prevent global warming. 
  • President Clinton supported the Kyoto Treaty.  President Bush did not. He said it would harm the economy and cost jobs.  President Obama recently said that it would not make sense for the U.S. to sign it as it is about to end [in two years].
  • The U.S. and Australia are the 2 western countries that originally did not sign the Kyoto Treaty.  [Australia later signed the treaty.]  Great Britain did sign on.  China and India did not.
  • Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair believes in the theory of global warming and was a great supporter of the Kyoto Treaty. However, in November 2005 he backed away from the Kyoto Protocol (it is assumed he recognized that many countries would not live up to their obligations under Kyoto).
  • Australia’s newly elected [in 2007] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made signing the Kyoto Treaty priority for his new government.  Days after Australia’s delegation backed a plan at the climate talks in Bali to make deep cuts to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, Prime Minister Rudd said the Government would not support the target. This announcement came after the electricity industry reported that it may not be able to meet growing consumer demand and comply with the 2020 target. The expectation after Rudd unseated (conservative) John Howard last month was that Australia would suddenly be a strong advocate for carbon dioxide emissions caps that would pressure the United States to do the same.  With Rudd doing this surprising about face, there were no definitive results from the conference.

Global warming is a controversial issue.  Scientists today have two opposing views on global warming: 

  • The earth’s climate is warming as a result of human actions; an extreme change in the earth’s climate is going to occur, caused by greenhouse gas emitted by the world’s use of fossile fuels (coal, oil, gas).  This temperature change will result in catastrophic problems in the environment. Humans must drastically reduce the consumption of fossile fuels immediately.  To prevent this man-made climate change, countries need to restrict energy use (reduce use of gas and oil).
    Liberals generally hold this view.  Check out two liberal organizations which defend this viewpoint:
    Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace.
  • Human activity does not affect the earth’s temperature.  Burning fossil fuels (gas, coal and oil) does not cause climate change.  The earth’s climate changes naturally, but not so much that it will cause a change of catastrophic proportions.  An extreme change in the earth’s climate will not happen.  There are natural warming and cooling trends over time.  In the 1970’s a coming ice age was predicted, but now that scare has been replaced with the current global warming scare. 
    Conservatives generally hold this view.  Two conservative organizations which support this view are:
    FriendsOfScience.org and Junk Science.
    NOTE: The UN climate conference (of Dec. 2007) met in Bali to discuss global warming met strong opposition from a team of over 100 prominent international scientists, who warned the UN that attempting to control the Earth’s climate was “ultimately futile.” The scientists, many of whom are current and former UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists, released an open letter (Dec. 13, 2007) to the UN Secretary-General questioning the scientific basis for climate fears and the UN’s so-called “solutions.”
    Read the complete letter here and the list of scientists who signed the letter here.

Resources

View articles and videos discussing the emails and documents from the CRU at pjtv.com/?cmd=browse-events&event-id=1913&tab=4.

Read a commentary “Global Warming Consensus” at aei.org/article/101355.