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An explanation for "Climategate"
9 years ago


Published December 11 2009

Local Commentary: Thoughts on ‘Climate-gate’: Mitigate our impact

By Pete Wyckoff


Is the planet cooling? “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick…to hide the decline,” writes climate scientist Phil Jones in a stolen 1999 e-mail which has caused a frenzy. tells us that we finally have a ‘ smoking gun ’—  proof that scientists are manufacturing a global warming crisis so that they can… they can…(I’ve never really understood the goals of the evil scientific conspirators).


The planet is warming. The data are unequivocal and based on measured temperatures (corrected for things like the “heat island” effect, so please don’t write an angry response claiming that the thermometers are wrong). What Phil Jones was referring to is something else: past temperatures estimated via tree rings. Since 1960, the rings in trees seem to have lost some of their power to record temperature.


Why should tree rings indicate temperature at all? As most of us learned in childhood, the trunks of trees at our latitude tend to put on a distinct growth ring every year. All other things being equal, when the trees are happy, they put on a large ring. When the going gets tough, the rings get thin. What makes a tree happy? Light, nutrients, lack of disease, and warmth (to a point). What do trees despise? Drought. By careful interpretation of past tree growth patterns, we can learn a lot about past climates.


Scientists have spent many years developing the techniques needed to reconstruct climate via tree rings. The problem is that in the past few decades, the tree ring-climate relationships seem to have become “decoupled” in many areas. Why? The main cause seems to be increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. While carbon dioxide is famously a gas that heats the planet (the greenhouse effect is real and uncontroversial), carbon dioxide also directly impacts plants. Carbon dioxide fuels photosynthesis, and increased carbon dioxide in the air can both speed-up plant growth and make plants less sensitive to drought.


Decreased drought sensitivity is an expected response for plants exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide. All along the underside of a plant’s leaves are little holes called “stomata.” These holes can open and close. A tree must open its stomata to take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Unfortunately, plants lose water out of their open stomata. Plants growing in air that has lots of carbon dioxide can reduce the amount of time their stomata are open, thus making them lose less water and become less susceptible to drought.

Biologists call the concept here “water-use efficiency,” and it is of crucial interest to farmers and foresters alike. Carbon dioxide causes warming that will likely make west central Minnesota a drier place in the future. At the same time, increased carbon dioxide in the air makes plants growing in our region less susceptible to drought. The balance between these two forces will be crucial.

The changing relationship between climate and tree growth is a hot topic of research at your local university. Last Friday, Dr. Chris Cole and Dr. Jon Anderson, of the University of Minnesota, Morris, published a paper in the journal “Global Change Biology” showing that aspen trees in Wisconsin are growing faster than they used to, and much of the increase is attributed to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. Two weeks ago, a former student and I published a paper in the “Journal of Ecology” showing that oak trees in west central Minnesota became less sensitive to drought during the 20th century. If “dust bowl”-severity droughts come again soon, we project that the local oaks will suffer 50 percent less mortality than they likely did in the 1930s.


So what does this all mean? The relationship between tree rings and climate is becoming muddied by the rapid recent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. For most of the past 10,000 years, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere remained reasonably stable. Now they are skyrocketing. Modern tree rings are no longer the reliable recorders of temperature they once were. It is a good thing that we now have thermometers.


What does Phil Jones’ stolen e-mail not mean? It does not mean that global warming is a hoax. It does not mean that there are really any cracks in the scientific consensus that humans are causing dangerous alterations to the global climate.


We humans are changing the climate, largely by emitting vast quantities of carbon dioxide via the way we heat our houses, fuel our cars, and generate our electricity. This is unwise. Yes, the future climate, along with the increased carbon dioxide, may be good for some. For most people, however, the downsides of climate change are likely to far outweigh the benefits. Don’t let Fox News mislead you. As a prudent, conservative people, we should take serious steps to mitigate our impact.



Dr. Pete Wyckoff is Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

This post was modified from its original form on 17 Dec, 17:44
9 years ago


We humans are changing the climate, largely by emitting vast quantities of carbon dioxide via the way we heat our houses, fuel our cars, and generate our electricity.


And what and how we eat.  Factory farming is one of if not the largest contributor to green-house gases.



...the tree ring-climate relationships seem to have become “decoupled” in many areas. Why? The main cause seems to be increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. While carbon dioxide is famously a gas that heats the planet (the greenhouse effect is real and uncontroversial), carbon dioxide also directly impacts plants. Carbon dioxide fuels photosynthesis, and increased carbon dioxide in the air can both speed-up plant growth and make plants less sensitive to drought.

Sounds like a pollution problem to me.  We better start cleaning-up our act because if increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is having that effect on trees ... forget climate change - what's that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide doing to you and me? 



9 years ago

So if its a pollution problem and things we eat - factory farming - why did the Earth go through its ice age 100's of years ago?  There was no factory farming, very little if any pollution - Im not saying there is no warmth increase but I am not sure its to the effect everyone is saying it is...we have reports that show a good fight on both sides. 

There is no explanation for the idiocy of ClimateGate...
9 years ago

It's a nonsense. In this day and age the idiots who participated in the Climategate fiasco, including our ding a ling President... could have conferenced called or done a live streamed meeting from the comfort of their homes...


Instead -

Copenhagen climate summit: 1,200 limos, 140 private planes and caviar wedges Copenhagen is preparing for the climate change summit that will produce as much carbon dioxide as a town the size of Middlesbrough.
Opening of a climate summit in Copenhagen: Copenhagen climate summit: 1,200 limos, 140 private planes and caviar wedges
Visitors watch a visual display about the environment before the opening of the summit in Copenhagen Photo: REUTERS


On a normal day, Majken Friss Jorgensen, managing director of Copenhagen's biggest limousine company, says her firm has twelve vehicles on the road. During the "summit to save the world", which opens here tomorrow, she will have 200.


"We thought they were not going to have many cars, due to it being a climate convention," she says. "But it seems that somebody last week looked at the weather report."

Ms Jorgensen reckons that between her and her rivals the total number of limos in Copenhagen next week has already broken the 1,200 barrier. The French alone rang up on Thursday and ordered another 42. "We haven't got enough limos in the country to fulfil the demand," she says. "We're having to drive them in hundreds of miles from Germany and Sweden."


And the total number of electric cars or hybrids among that number? "Five," says Ms Jorgensen. "The government has some alternative fuel cars but the rest will be petrol or diesel. We don't have any hybrids in Denmark, unfortunately, due to the extreme taxes on those cars. It makes no sense at all, but it's very Danish."


The airport says it is expecting up to 140 extra private jets during the peak period alone, so far over its capacity that the planes will have to fly off to regional airports – or to Sweden – to park, returning to Copenhagen to pick up their VIP passengers.


As well 15,000 delegates and officials, 5,000 journalists and 98 world leaders, the Danish capital will be blessed by the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio, Daryl Hannah, Helena Christensen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prince Charles. A Republican US senator, Jim Inhofe, is jetting in at the head of an anti-climate-change "Truth Squad." The top hotels – all fully booked at £650 a night – are readying their Climate Convention menus of (no doubt sustainable) scallops, foie gras and sculpted caviar wedges.


At the takeaway pizza end of the spectrum, Copenhagen's clean pavements are starting to fill with slightly less well-scrubbed protesters from all over Europe. In the city's famous anarchist commune of Christiania this morning, among the hash dealers and heavily-graffitied walls, they started their two-week "Climate Bottom Meeting," complete with a "storytelling yurt" and a "funeral of the day" for various corrupt, "heatist" concepts such as "economic growth".


The Danish government is cunningly spending a million kroner (£120,000) to give the protesters KlimaForum, a "parallel conference" in the magnificent DGI-byen sports centre. The hope, officials admit, is that they will work off their youthful energies on the climbing wall, state-of-the-art swimming pools and bowling alley, Just in case, however, Denmark has taken delivery of its first-ever water-cannon – one of the newspapers is running a competition to suggest names for it – plus sweeping new police powers. The authorities have been proudly showing us their new temporary prison, 360 cages in a disused brewery, housing 4,000 detainees.


And this being Scandinavia, even the prostitutes are doing their bit for the planet. Outraged by a council postcard urging delegates to "be sustainable, don't buy sex," the local sex workers' union – they have unions here – has announced that all its 1,400 members will give free intercourse to anyone with a climate conference delegate's pass. The term "carbon dating" just took on an entirely new meaning.


At least the sex will be C02-neutral. According to the organisers, the eleven-day conference, including the participants' travel, will create a total of 41,000 tonnes of "carbon dioxide equivalent", equal to the amount produced over the same period by a city the size of Middlesbrough.


The temptation, then, is to dismiss the whole thing as a ridiculous circus. Many of the participants do not really need to be here. And far from "saving the world," the world's leaders have already agreed that this conference will not produce any kind of binding deal, merely an interim statement of intent.


Continued -




9 years ago

Even if they had agreed anything binding, past experience suggests that the participants would not, in fact, feel bound by it. Most countries – Britain excepted – are on course to break the modest pledges they made at the last major climate summit, in Kyoto.


And as the delegates meet, they do so under a shadow. For the first time, not just the methods but the entire purpose of the climate change agenda is being questioned. Leaked emails showing key scientists conspiring to fix data that undermined their case have boosted the sceptic lobby. Australia has voted down climate change laws. Last week's unusually strident attack by the Energy Secretary, Ed Miliband, on climate change "saboteurs" reflected real fear in government that momentum is slipping away from the cause.


In Copenhagen there was a humbler note among some delegates. "If we fail, one reason could be our overconfidence," said Simron Jit Singh, of the Institute of Social Ecology. "Because we are here, talking in a group of people who probably agree with each other, we can be blinded to the challenges of the other side. We feel that we are the good guys, the selfless saviours, and they are the bad guys."


As Mr Singh suggests, the interesting question is perhaps not whether the climate changers have got the science right – they probably have – but whether they have got the pitch right. Some campaigners' apocalyptic predictions and religious righteousness – funeral ceremonies for economic growth and the like – can be alienating, and may help explain why the wider public does not seem to share the urgency felt by those in Copenhagen this week.


In a rather perceptive recent comment, Mr Miliband said it was vital to give people a positive vision of a low-carbon future. "If Martin Luther King had come along and said 'I have a nightmare,' people would not have followed him," he said.


Over the next two weeks, that positive vision may come not from the overheated rhetoric in the conference centre, but from Copenhagen itself. Limos apart, it is a city filled entirely with bicycles, stuffed with retrofitted, energy-efficient old buildings, and seems to embody the civilised pleasures of low-carbon living without any of the puritanism so beloved of British greens.

And inside the hall, not everything is looking bad. Even the sudden rush for limos may be a good sign. It means that more top people are coming, which means they scent something could be going right here.


The US, which rejected Kyoto, is on board now, albeit too tentatively for most delegates. President Obama's decision to stay later in Copenhagen may signal some sort of agreement between America and China: a necessity for any real global action, and something that could be presented as a "victory" for the talks.


The hot air this week will be massive, the whole proceedings eminently mockable, but it would be far too early to write off this conference as a failure.

9 years ago

Climate change is both naturally caused and can be caused by human activity. The trick (and I use the term as I imagine the scientists involved meant) is to determine the man-made factors from the natural ones and see which ones are indeed of greater importance now. Then we act accordingly.


The fact that humans are so numerous (over six billion) and have built so much property all over the world explains the actual concern. We have adapted ourselves totally to the climate of the late 20th Century, and ANY significant change in our climate, whether warming or cooling, would disrupt billions of lives. It wouldn't have been so much of a problem in prehistoric times, when most humans lived as hunter-gatherers, or in ancient times, when our lesser numbers meant we could simply move to a new place. We live on a finite planet and we cannot leave yet!

9 years ago

I agree Dale, population control of humans is a very large concern. How to educate humans on this fact I find very hard.


North Pole Sinks

                                                  Peace on Earth and love to Everyone.

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