Public turns sceptical as climate debate gets nasty
Top climategate scientist admits suicidal thoughts while more pressure piles on UN climate chief
The row over the validity of mainstream climate change science is getting nasty following another weekend of revelations and accusations - including an explosive interview in the Sunday Times given by Professor Phil Jones, head of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU).
Prof Jones says he has considered suicide since the so-called 'climategate' row blew up, agreeing with his interviewer's comparisons with David Kelly, the government scientist who did kill himself after he was revealed as the source of a BBC report that claimed Tony Blair's notorious Iraq dossier was "sexed up".
"I did think about it, yes," said Jones. "About suicide. I thought about it several times, but I think I've got past that stage now."
Jones's emails are the most damning of those leaked by a hacker in November; they appear to show the professor suggesting that his colleagues ought to withhold data being requested through Freedom of Information laws. Jones's defence is that the requests were coming from climate change sceptics whose sole purpose was to harass him and and hinder his department's work.
The toll on Jones's health is undeniable: he has lost a stone in weight and takes beta blockers to get him through the day, and sleeping pills to get him through the night. He has received multiple death threats – including two in the past week, after Britain's deputy information commissioner found the CRU in breach of Freedom of Information regulations.
Jones claims provocation. He believes climate change sceptics were running a concerted campaign to waste his and his colleagues' time by lodging multiple Freedom of Information requests. Only 22 per cent of the FOI requests could be definitely said to be British in origin. "They wanted to slow us down," he told the Sunday Times.
Jones knows who was responsible - Stephen McIntyre, a former minerals prospector who runs the climate sceptic blog, ClimateAudit.org. McIntyre denies he was wasting the CRU's time: "Everything that I've done in this, I've done in good faith," he has said.
McIntyre's blog was among the first to link to the leaked emails when they were hacked in November. In the United States, an inquiry into climategate by Penn State University has largely cleared Dr Michael Mann, one of the non-CRU scientists implicated by the leaked emails, of deleting or suppressing emails and data.
But McIntyre has criticised the way in which the inquiry was conducted, particularly that only two, friendly, scientists were interviewed besides Mann and that "they did not examine any of Mann's correspondence that was not already in the public record".
McIntyre is painted as a figure who is very hot on procedural issues, but who is less adept at picking holes in the science of climate change. Professor Jones may have tripped up over the FoI requests, notes the Sunday Times, but nobody has been able to find a hole in the science behind the CRU's assertion that the current climate change is caused by human activities.
One body whose science is all over the place, however, is the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Its head, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, is still reeling from 'glaciergate' - the discovery that an influential 2007 IPCC report falsely claimed that the Himalayas could be glacier-free by 2035. Dr Pachauri was criticised for refusing to apologise for the error, telling the Guardian: "You can't expect me to be personally responsible for every word in a 3,000 page report."
Now, the Sunday Times is taking him to task for a claim in the 2007 IPCC report that claims climate change could cut the yield of north African rain-fed crops by up to 50 per cent by 2020. Professor Chris Field, the new lead author of the IPCC's climate impacts team, agrees that there is no evidence to back up this claim.
The Sunday Telegraph, which regularly calls for Dr Pachauri's resignation, also published further claims yesterday that the IPCC had used unpublished evidence - "grey literature" - to put together its 2007 report and cast doubt on the accuracy of a diagram demonstrating the potential for electricity generation from wave power.
And last week the Dutch government called for an explanation from the IPCC as to why it claimed in the 2007 report that half the Netherlands was below sea level. Dutch environment ministry spokesman Trimo Vallaart said he thought the IPCC had added the actual area below sea level - 26 per cent - to the area threatened by river flooding - 29 per cent - to get its erroneous figure.
The criticism of Dr Pachauri hasn't been limited to his science. He has also been ridiculed for his 'steamy' novel, Return to Almora, published last month.
The constant stream of accusations is taking its toll on the reputation of climate science. A BBC poll at the weekend found that the proportion of the British public that rejects the reality of climate change, while still very much a minority, has grown since climategate blew up in November. Back then, only 15 per cent said they did not think global warming was happening. That proportion is now 25 per cent. ·
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