The Tree-Ring Circus Continues


The Copenhagen climate summit has devolved into an international farce, an episode of Carbon-Police Squad! as ridiculous as anything directed by David Zucker. In the run-up to the summit, hacked e-mails from Britain’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) depicted the scientists behind the alarmism as a cabal of bickering egotists and corner-cutters. Then another leaked document, the so-called “Danish Text,” angered developing nations and threatened to unravel the summit almost as soon as it began. Obama is scheduled to address the summit in Denmark today, a planned appearance that the press has chosen to interpret as a sign of his confidence in the summiteers’ ability to reach a deal. We think it looks more like his last trip to Copenhagen, when he mistakenly thought his personal charm would convince the International Olympic Committee to let Chicago host the 2016 Summer Games.

Let’s review the comedy, scene by scene. In the wake of the e-mail scandal, the head of CRU stepped down. Other institutions whose scientists were involved launched investigations. Yet some professional climate-change activists stamped their feet and decried “deniers” for launching a “smear campaign” that took the e-mails out of context. Others admitted that the e-mails demonstrated clear evidence of sloppiness and groupthink but nothing that altered the “scientific consensus” that global warming is caused by humans and presents a grave threat to the world.

In fact, the e-mails do call the most alarmist claims into question. In particular, they show collusion between several scientists to overstate the evidence for the argument, made by Penn State University’s Michael Mann, that “the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium.” This claim was allegedly supported by Mann’s famous hockey-stick graph showing a sharp increase in global temperatures, but the CRU e-mails show that some scientists were castigated for voicing doubts about Mann’s work, while others emulated the “trick” he used to “hide the decline” in late-20th-century global temperatures indicated by tree-ring data.

Al Gore clocked in with the best attempt to wish this story away, telling Slate, “I haven’t read all the e-mails, but the most recent one is more than 10 years old.” Gore repeated this falsehood three times. Slate had to append a correction: Many of the e-mails were written in this decade, the most recent one in 2009.

The laughs continued at the summit, where the release of the Danish Text revealed the existence of a Bilderberg-esque “circle of commitment” among developed countries. The text left the developing countries outraged, because it called on them to sharply cut their greenhouse-gas emissions; they would prefer to sign an airily non-binding commitment to reduce the rate at which their emissions are growing. The leak prompted China and the bloc of poor countries it leads to stage a huffy walkout. The China bloc reluctantly returned to the table after much cajoling from the leaders of the Western democracies, including a promise from our own secretary of state to raise $100 billion per year to help poor countries respond to climate change. But while Copenhagen is now covered in snow, the atmosphere at the summit remains uncomfortably warm. Chances that negotiators will produce anything other than hot air appear to be slim.  

Meanwhile, back at home, things are a lot less funny. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued an endangerment finding declaring that global warming is a hazard to human health, and a wrongheaded Supreme Court decision gives it the authority to protect us by regulating our carbon emissions. The Obama administration has so far used this finding only as a stick to beat congressmen into passing a cap-and-trade bill that they seem to prefer not to pass, but there is a chance that the EPA means business and fully intends to strangle the economy by ukase.

The EPA does no climate research of its own, and its endangerment finding is predicated on IPCC science, which has been undermined by the revelations about the CRU and its manipulation of scientific data. There’s a thin line separating comedy and tragedy; enforcement of the EPA finding would send the climate farce hurtling across it.


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