Thursday, December 31, 2009


What we have to understand - and what I have come belatedly and painfully to grasp - is that our collective narcissism can be an obstacle to successful statesmanship. In blunter terms: This is not about us. In so far as we have made Iran about us, we have added mountains to the landscape of human misery and pain. This is a struggle for the Iranian people, a long, brutal, bitter struggle. We should do all we can to support them, without the neocon grandstanding that actually helps the regime rather than hurts it. But we have to understand our limits.
-- Andrew Sullivan reflects on U.S., Israel and Iran.

P.S. Gideon Rachman asks how long can the Iranian government last? and guesses it will fall before the end of 2010

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Writing that works

These two small examples may not work for everybody but they work for me:
Coppice hornbeams seem to gesture like hands thrown up generously, or the ash coppice like fingers thrust up through mud -- the fingers of a drowning man. Hazel coppice like sea anemones. I snorkel through.
-- Roger Deakin
The valley sinks into mist, and the yellow orbital ring of the horizon closes over the glaring cornea of the sun. The eastern ridge blooms purple, then fades to inimical black. The earth exhales in the cold dusk. Frost forms in hollows shaded from afterglow. Owls wake and call. The first stars hover and drift down.
-- J A Baker

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

African future

Africa's population, 110 million in 1850, passed 1 billion in 2009. It is projected to reach 1.9 billion by 2050. For optimists the second half of the 21st century may be African.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Peter Bradshaw thinks Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon is one of the best films of the decade. He may be right. Few films resonate as this one does.

It's suggested that this deceptively simple photo by August Sander provides a link:

The subject's uniform and helmet grab the modern viewer's attention. But the background -- the specific context (perhaps his home village?)-- is also a vital part of the image. And the young face can be interpreted in many ways. As for the fate of this individual, what do we know?

Writing in 1931 -- some years before this picture was taken, of course -- Walter Benjamin dryly observed of the early stages of Sander's great project:
Work like Sander's could assume an unlooked-for topicality.
Benjamin also quotes Goethe:
There is a delicate empiricism that so intimately involves itself with the object that it becomes true theory.

P.S. 30 Dec: In the NYT, A.O. Scott is sniffy about this film:
Forget about Weimar inflation and the Treaty of Versailles and whatever else you may have learned in school: Nazism was caused by child abuse. Or maybe by the intrinsic sinfulness of human beings.
But the film allows for, indeed encourages a more complex view: not a case of either (historical determinism) or (human weakness), but both.

A great game

Rory Stewart thinks Obama is playing poker in Afghanistan as well as his hand allows. The situation is not that of Iraq in 2006 or Afghanistan in 1988, but neither is it Afghanistan in 1842, still less in 330 BC.

'Progressive imprisonment without parole'

This cockroach-like existence is cumulatively intolerable even though on any given night it is perfectly manageable. "Cockroach" is of course an allusion to Kafka's Metamorphosis, in which the protagonist wakes up one morning to discover that he has been transformed into an insect. The point of the story is as much the responses and incomprehension of his family as it is the account of his own sensations, and it is hard to resist the thought that even the best-meaning and most generously thoughtful friend or relative cannot hope to understand the sense of isolation and imprisonment that this disease imposes upon its victims. Helplessness is humiliating even in a passing crisis—imagine or recall some occasion when you have fallen down or otherwise required physical assistance from strangers. Imagine the mind's response to the knowledge that the peculiarly humiliating helplessness of [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis] is a life sentence (we speak blithely of death sentences in this connection, but actually the latter would be a relief).
-- from Night by Tony Judt.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Chinese authorities convict Liu Xiabo to 11 years and declare 2009 the “year of citizens’ rights.”

P.S. As Perry Link has noted, Charter 08 (of which Liu Xiabo is a principal author) invokes in its opening paragraphy the rights that should accrue to all Chinese citizens according to China’s own constitution:
The Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.

Friday, December 25, 2009

An aura

What is an aura, in fact? A gossamer fabric woven of space and time: a unique manifestation of a remoteness, however close at hand. Lying back on a summer's afternoon, gazing at a mountain range on the horizon or watching a branch as it casts its shadow over the beholder, until the moment or the hour shares in the manifestation -- that is called breathing in the aura of those mountains, that branch.
-- from Brief history of photography by Walter Benjamin. (1931)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The whole shebang

'Cockup or conspiracy?'

Some will always believe that Tony Blair took the country to war in Iraq on a lie, but the most damning charge emerging from the Iraq war inquiry so far is that Britain went to war on a wing and a prayer.
-- Patrick Wintour summarizes the Chilcott inquiry so far.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Good COP bad COP

Joe Smith is cautiously optimistic about COP15. But Mark Lynas says the Chinese broke it.

Some sensible voices and others give a view here.

Evan Osnos has previously noted that If China’s emissions keep climbing as they have for the past thirty years, the country will emit more greenhouse gases in the next thirty years than the United States has in its entire history.

Winking at the brim

The great age of Islamic literature, much...was devoted to wine. There's a line I came across in Rumi: "The wine is intoxicated with me, not me with the wine."
-- Roger Scruton on Start the Week

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The rising of the sun and the running of the deer

Sometimes this year I've felt as if I was up to my ears in quick setting concrete. One of the things that has helped has been to get out on the river and kayak. I've done this in all weathers but it's especially good when the sun is bright and the air is clear. And so it was this afternoon near the turning point of the year. On the main channel the bare trees were in glory, a crescent moon was high in the blue, and I followed a kingfisher looping from one bough to another, trying to get away from me as I shucked my boat through the water.

Mostly when paddling I listen to the sounds around me but sometimes -- especially when I want to put some welly into the strokes -- I listen to music. And today I thought back over the music I've been listening to this year.

Impossible to remember or summarize it all. I enjoyed a new version by Keane of Under Pressure produced by my friend Kenny Young on Rhythms del Mundo Classics. It's a fitting tribute to the original -- one of the great songs of its time, sung by perhaps the least introverted Zoroastran who ever lived. The main point is in the two words at the climax: "give love". Jack Johnson's version of Imagine on the same album is good too.

I understood a little better the greatness of Shostakovitch. The allegro of the tenth symphony, which I imagine to be a portrait of Stalin. The second movement of the eighth string quartet: one of the most terrifying things ever written (although you really have to hear it played live and played well to get this). The weird, haunted ending of the fifteenth symphony.

Now we have a two year old we are doing the Christmas thing. It's part of the cultural baggage, it has good stories for children, and I can just about take some parts of it in small doses as metaphors and images for things that matter. The stories are no more real than the sunset in a Van Gogh painting is real, but some of them do speak. For example, the most precious thing can sometimes be found in the most humble place.

Today I was listening to band called Kerfuffle who have a fresh version of The Sussex Carol:
On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring.
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our merciful King's birth.

Then why should men on earth be so sad,
Since our Redeemer made us glad,
When from our sin he set us free,
All for to gain our liberty?

When sin departs before His grace,
Then life and health come in its place.
Angels and men with joy may sing
All for to see the new-born King.

All out of darkness we have light,
Which made the angels sing this night.
"Glory to God and peace to men,
Now and for evermore, Amen!"
Carols like this and the great medieval English lyrics bring something of the past to life so that it is not really past. They embody what T.S. Eliot called "a condition of complete simplicity costing nothing less than everything." Or, as my two year eight month old daughter said after I played this one to her again this evening, "that was a lovely music."

Some Middle English lyrics are less simple but no less direct. Take this from the fifteenth century:
I shall say what inordinat love is:
The furiositie and wodness of minde,
A instinguible brenning fawting blis,
A gret hungre, insaciate to finde,
A dowcet ille, a ivell swetness blinde,
A right wonderfulle, sugred, swete errour
Withoute labour rest, contrary to kinde,
Or withoute quiete to have huge labour.
Birdsong is sparse at this time of year. How much will we have in the spring? We know that songbird numbers continue to fall. Conservation efforts in Britain may be worth little absent a better scenario for climate change than looks likely and reduced pressure on migrants elsewhere, not least in Africa (or, in the case of the lapwing, regions such as the Near East).

Added 23 Dec: Over their short lifetimes many migratory birds fly a distance equivalent to that between earth and the moon. Some people call them courageous.

(Related post: Fear and trembling)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Facing death is not fear as such, because I am not afraid of what might happen to me; I think I would accept it, for I have accepted many hard things, and I'm not one to back away from a challenge. But I fear that my beautiful dream may never be brought to fruition, may never be realized. I'm not afraid for myself but for something beautiful that might have been.
-- from the journal of Hélène Berr, quoted by Ian Buruma.

How Israel lost

As prophesied long ago by the philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz and others, the occupation -- and above all the settlement project -- have profoundly eroded the moral fiber of Israel, corroded central institutions of the society and undermined our integrity as a political community. None of this happened in a vacuum; the "other side" has much to atone for as well. But even I can remember a time when charges of war crimes were not simply sloughed off by Israel's leaders, when military mistakes that cost innocent civilian lives were acknowledged as such and elicited expressions of sorrow, and when Israeli courts clearly articulated the principle that a soldier has not only the right but indeed the duty not to carry out an order that is at odds with his consciousness as a human being or with basic human values.
-- from Israel without illusions by David Schulman.

P.S. Mustafa Barghouthi

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Getting on with it after the fiasco

Wise heads such as John Schellnhuber have predicted for months if not years that COP15 would end in failure. [1] But the fact that even pretensions to a minimal global deal are unmet at least makes the scale of the challenges clearer than ever. And rather than tearing out hair (see the comment from Save the Children here) it's time to get on with what is achievable in the circumstances. [2] Individual countries can still move in the right direction. Sectoral deals are possible. Mike Hulme had this to say back in November:
One of the arguments I make about Copenhagen is that we’ve stitched together so many concerns – quite serious and real concerns – under one umbrella [namely, the reduction of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere]. It’s a bit like the Rubik’s Cube that came out some years ago. There are so many different combinations that I could never solve it. And this is what we’ve created with Climate Change. A Rubik’s Cube that we can’t solve. Whereas if we begin to tease out the various elements of the problem – the problems of development, the problems of adaptation, the problems of short-lived greenhouse gasses like methane or black soot, separate those out from the problems of long-lived CO2, we could find a much easier set of pathways.
Evan Osnos has a good piece on China's energy and technology choices.


[1] (Added 16.00) described by one delegate as "carefully managed collapse".

[2] (added 21 Dec) including harder campaigning. See, for example, Johann Hari

Thursday, December 17, 2009


In a note from Stupid TV, Franny Armstrong quotes Climate Interactive's assessment that current proposals at COP15 would mean a 3.9C temp rise which would which would equate to something like:
- Africa uninhabitable
- Southern Europe a desert
- Australian agricultural system wiped out
- All coral reefs gone
- Most forests gone
But as John Sterman has explained, there's a significant probability, perhaps 50%, that temperature rise could be higher than that. This applies for 2 C as well:
there is a real risk of what we call “eroding goals” — of slipping what we strive for in the face of difficulty. Since when is a 50/50 chance of limiting warming to 2 °C by 2100 acceptable as a target? Sure, that’s better than doing nothing, but who thinks playing Russian roulette with half the chambers loaded is a good gamble? To limit the chance that warming will exceed 2 °C by 2100 to no more than, say, 5%, emissions would have to fall even farther and faster than the “Low Emissions” path... That’s still like playing Russian roulette with 1 in 20 chambers loaded. Who among us would play that game? Who among us would play that game when the gun is pointed not at our heads, but at our childrens’?
P.S. 18.05: supposedly the UN draft means 3 C

Words and deeds

Further to footnote [2] of War and law, consider this from George Packer:
In his address, Obama said, “When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, or repression in Burma, there must be consequences,” and he added, “We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung San Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran.” This was the least convincing passage of the speech: so far, there have been no consequences in places like Darfur, and bearing witness—or at least such low-key witness—to Iranian protesters has done nothing to sway the mullahs. The weakness of Obama’s strategic flexibility is that it depends so heavily on practical skill, above all in diplomacy, a field in which America has lost its touch over the past two decades. Failure will seem like a failure of vision and principle.
American pressure on Egypt to tighten the blockade on Gaza is also inconsistent with Obama's vision.

'More than an army'

A profile of Erik Prince. Jeremy Scahill adds context.

A wider vision

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions." A gradual evolution of human institutions.
-- Barack Obama in his Nobel prize acceptance speech. [Emphasis added] And yes this is right, but Obama still has a blind side:
Our problem is that the Obama Administration seems to want both impunity and oblivion. That won’t work—if nothing else, it’s unworthy of us as a nation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The fix

Oliver Morton has a first rate overview of geoengineering in Prospect. A clearer and more sensible piece is hard to imagine. An excerpt:
Shortly after Paul Crutzen’s 2006 article, Tom Wigley...looked at ways of combining emissions reduction and sunlight reduction. Wigley suggested that sulphates might be squirted into the stratosphere in the near term as a way to slow the rate of warming and buy time for the massive and costly industrial shift to alternative energy. Wigley’s “buying time” approach has not enjoyed much enthusiasm from other researchers, who fear that it will reduce the sense of urgency needed to drive emissions elimination. The Royal Society report spoke for many in treating geoengineering techniques only as an insurance policy. But this is also inconsistent. Rejecting the Wigley scenario reflects a view that political decision-making cannot summon the nuanced, self-disciplined approach needed to geoengineer a little without losing your commitment to reducing emissions a lot. The “Plan B” scenario rests on a political process with characteristics just as unlikely: it requires schemes to be researched in depth but to stay unused until (but only until) some unspecified assessment commanding international political assent deems disaster imminent but not unavoidable. Good luck with that.
About two years ago I spent about six months trying to persuade New Scientist to let me write a feature on this topic. They didn't agree, and in any case I doubt I could have written anything as good as this.

The Sakharov Prize

has been awarded to Memorial. There is still hope in the idea of Europe and 'the European project' at its best.

For some context see Orlando Figes here and here, and an interview with Ludmila Alexeyeva at openDemocracy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

War and law

A few days I contributed a comment to OurKingdom regarding Sir John Scarlett's comments to the Chilcot inquiry. As I said at the time (10 Dec), I had little to offer at that moment except sarcasm.

Several things have come to light since then, not least Tony Blair's statement that he would have found another pretext for invasion if not WMD. Jonathan Steele says:
Apart from WMD there was no other conceivable [legal] foundation for an invasion. Using force to produce regime change on humanitarian grounds is not permissible under international law, and the attorney general told Blair as much in July 2002. [1]
There's a chorus to condemn Blair now. It remains the case, however, that having no foundation in law to remove a regime on humanitarian grounds is not a satisfactory state of affairs. Governments that commit appalling large scale crimes ought to be vulnerable to removal by force approved under international or very close to the time that those crimes are committed. [2]

[1] P.S. see also Hans Blix and Ken Macdonald

[2] In his Nobel acceptance speech, Barack Obama observed that the conditions that led doctrines such as a 'responsibility to protect' in the 1990s and early 2000s have not gone away:
wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states -- all these things have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, children scarred.
The prospects for co-ordinated international humanitarian action have, however, deteriorated.

Monday, December 14, 2009


For George McGovern it's déjà vu all over again. Scott Atran argues:
We need to bring [a] perspective to Afghanistan and Pakistan...that is smart about cultures, customs and connections. The present policy of focusing on troop strength and drones, and trying to win over people by improving their lives with Western-style aid programs, only continues a long history of foreign involvement and failure. Reading a thousand years of Arab and Muslim history would show little in the way of patterns that would have helped to predict 9/11, but our predicament in Afghanistan rhymes with the past like a limerick.
Last week, Tom Englehardt mapped nine surges in Afghanistan.

Prussia and Israel

Uri Avnery sees similarities

System failure (3)

Paul Krugman writes that the U.S. Republican party is committed to a bankrupt ideology. But, Frank Rich notes, the failure goes deeper than the relationship of just one political party to the financial industry.
Those at the top are separated from the consequences of their actions. They are exemplified by Robert Rubin, formerly of Citigroup and a mentor to both Obama’s Treasury secretary and chief economic adviser. He looked the other way when his bank made ruinous high-risk bets, and then cashed out and split, leaving taxpayers to pay for the wreckage while he escaped any accountability.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the financial industry has spent $344 million on lobbying in the first three quarters of 2009.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Zombies and window dressing

Ben Goldacre makes several useful points about popular reactions to climate change including the following:
* The public know that evidence-based policy is window dressing for the government, so now, when they want us to believe them on climate science, we tend to be suspicious

*contrarians use 'zombie arguments', which survive to be raised again, for eternity, no matter how many times they are shot down.
Myles Allen notes of journalists on the CRU hack:
Even if they were reporting on Berlusconi's sex life they would be more careful...But it's only climate change.
Clive James, perhaps suffering from road rage, tells us that 'science is never settled'. Would that apply to evolutionary theory, Clive? To the germ theory of disease? To the heliocentric model of the solar system?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tragedy and climate change

There is something genuinely tragic about the whole question of climate change. Whilst we know there are political ramifications, we know people are responsible, we know there’s culpability and all of that, at the same time it is a genuine tragedy to me in the sense that it’s something that we’ve all inherited, it’s something that we didn’t necessarily set into motion knowingly and it’s disproportionate in its impact...This sense of there being this long secret waiting to be discovered under the ice or in the atmosphere and it then was discovered too late and responded to too late.
-- the playwright Steve Waters, interviewed by Robert Butler at Ashdenizen

Related post: Climate change, poetry and tragedy


He took pleasure in copying the work of Millet, Delacroix, Courbet, Rembrandt, and writes to his brother Theo that copying "teaches, and above all, consoles". This is the humility of greatness.
-- Margaret Drabble on Vincent Van Gogh

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Beyond 'evil'

Andrew Sullivan posts an excerpt of a response from the DiA blog commenting on the interview with a suicide bomber that he described as 'evil'. DiA is right to go into depth here. DiA concludes:
[American] Bombs can only do so much. Long after the bulk of American troops have left the region, Pakistani moderates will still be fighting the long war of ideas. And there is no guarantee that they will win.
Two comments on that: 1) American bombs probably only make things worse; and 2) No there is no guarantee the moderates in Pakistan will win. Indeed, it looks at least as likely that people with the mentality of this would-be suicide bomber will get their hands on nuclear weapons, or rather that their handlers will.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

'No conscious intention'

[Sir John Scarlett] denied being under pressure to "firm up" the September 2002 dossier which contained the claim Iraq could use Weapons of Mass Destruction within 45 minutes of Saddam's order. But he said it would have been "better" to have made clear it referred to battlefield munitions not missiles.
Tony Blair wrote in the introduction to the dossier that it was "beyond doubt" that Saddam could hit British targets with biological and chemical weapons within 45 minutes.

No conscious intention was involved. Perhaps the Holy Ghost intervened.


Nepstad et al think an end to deforestation in the Amazon is possible.

Norway: one billion points

Coming soon?

Is Andrew Sullivan right on a looming US Israel split?

Only to see

I found the poems in the fields
And only wrote them down.
-- John Clare, quoted by Roger Deakin

Sunday, December 06, 2009


Minimum amount the US military has spent since 1985 on attempts to develop a missile shield: $150,000,000,000.

Factor by which this exceeds spending on the Apollo moon landing and the Manhattan project combined: 5

Rank of global warming among national priorities cited by Americans in a January poll: 20

Percentage of Americans and Chinese, respectively, who think action on global warming is worth it even if prices rise as a result: 41, 88
from Harper's Index, Harper's, Dec 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

from a Nature editorial on CRU hack

...The paranoid interpretation [of climate change denialists] would be laughable were it not for the fact that obstructionist politicians in the US Senate will probably use it next year as an excuse to stiffen their opposition to the country's much needed climate bill. Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real - or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails...

...In the end, what the UEA e-mails really show is that scientists are human beings - and that unrelenting opposition to their work can goad them to the limits of tolerance, and tempt them to act in ways that undermine scientific values. Yet it is precisely in such circumstances that researchers should strive to act and communicate professionally, and make their data and methods available to others, lest they provide their worst critics with ammunition. After all, the pressures the UEA e-mailers experienced may be nothing compared with what will emerge as the United States debates a climate bill next year, and denialists use every means at their disposal to undermine trust in scientists and science.
-- Complete text here.

On the brink

RBS ups the ante

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A history and a future of lies

It does not make me feel any better about those who willfully distort and misrepresent climate science to know that there are even worse liars around.

In Russia, for example, as John Sweeney reports, official textbooks say that Britain was appeasing the Nazis in 1940 and 1941, and airbrush out the millions who died in the famines and the gulags.

P.S. Sweeney relays a good Russian joke: "You never know what's going to happen yesterday".


It's a strange mindset indeed that brings Nick Griffin and Melanie 'only a theory' Philips together.

William Shaw, Brian Davey and Joe Smith explore aspects of the phenomenon.

Spencer Weart observes:
The theft and use of the emails does reveal something interesting about the social context. It’s a symptom of something entirely new in the history of science: Aside from crackpots who complain that a conspiracy is suppressing their personal discoveries, we’ve never before seen a set of people accuse an entire community of scientists of deliberate deception and other professional malfeasance.
Ben Santer of the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has circulated this open letter to the climate science community:
Dear colleagues and friends,

I am sure that by now, all of you are aware of the hacking incident which recently took place at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU). This was a criminal act. Over 3,000 emails and documents were stolen. The identity of the hacker or hackers is still unknown.

The emails represented private correspondence between CRU scientists and scientists at climate research centers around the world. Dozens of the stolen emails are from over a decade of my own personal correspondence with
Professor Phil Jones, the Director of CRU.

I obtained my Ph.D. at the Climatic Research Unit. I went to CRU in 1983 because it was - and remains - one of the world's premier institutions for studying the nature and causes of climate change. During the course of my Ph.D., I was privileged to work together with exceptional scientists - with people like Tom Wigley, Phil Jones, Keith Briffa, and Sarah Raper.

After completing my Ph.D. at CRU in 1987, I devoted much of my scientific career to what is now called "climate fingerprinting", which seeks to understand the causes of recent climate change. At its core, fingerprinting is a form of what people now call "data mining" - an attempt to extract information and meaning from very large, complex climate datasets. The emails stolen from the Climatic Research Unit are now being subjected to a very different form of "data mining". This mining is taking place in the blogosphere, in the editorial pages of various newspapers, and in radio and television programs. This form of mining has little to do with extracting meaning from personal email correspondence on complex scientific issues. This form of mining seeks to find dirt - to skew true meaning, to distort, to misrepresent, to take out of context. It seeks to destroy the reputations of exceptional scientists - scientists like Professor Phil Jones.

I have known Phil for over 25 years. He is the antithesis of the secretive, "data destroying" character being portrayed to the outside world by the miners of dirt and disinformation. Phil Jones and Tom Wigley (the second Director of the Climatic Research Unit) devoted significant portions of their scientific careers to the construction of the land component of the so-called "HadCRUT" dataset of land and ocean surface temperatures. The U.K. Meteorological Office Hadley Centre (MOHC) took the lead in developing the ocean surface temperature component of HadCRUT.

The CRU and Hadley Centre efforts to construct the HadCRUT dataset have been open and transparent, and are documented in dozens of peer-reviewed scientific papers. This work has been tremendously influential. In my personal opinion, it is some of the most important scientific research ever published. It has provided hard scientific evidence for the warming of our
planet over the past 150 years.

Phil, Tom, and their CRU and MOHC colleagues conducted this research in a very open and transparent manner. Like good scientists, they examined the sensitivity of their results to many different subjective choices made during the construction of the HadCRUT dataset. These choices relate to such issues as how to account for changes over time in the type of thermometer used to make temperature measurements, the thermometer location, and the immediate physical surroundings of the thermometer. They found that, no matter what choices they made in dataset construction, their bottom-line finding - that the surface of our planet is warming - was rock solid. This finding was supported by many other independent lines of evidence, such as the retreat of snow and sea-ice cover, the widespread melting and retreat of glaciers, the rise in sea-level, and the increase in the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. All of these independent observations are physically consistent with a warming planet.

Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. The claim that our Earth had warmed markedly during the 20th century was extraordinary, and was subjected to extraordinary scrutiny. Groups at the National Climatic Data Center in North Carolina (NCDC) and at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York (GISS) independently attempted to reproduce the results of the Climatic Research Unit and the U.K. Meteorological Office Hadley Centre. While the NCDC and GISS groups largely relied on the same primary temperature measurements that had been used in the development of the HadCRUT dataset, they made very different choices in the treatment of the raw measurements. Although there were differences in the details of the three groups' results, the NCDC and GISS analyses broadly confirmed the "warming Earth" findings of the CRU and MOHC scientists.

Other extraordinary claims - such as a claim by scientists at the University of Alabama that Earth's lower atmosphere cooled since 1979, and that such cooling contradicts "warming Earth" findings - have not withstood rigorous scientific examination.

In summary, Phil Jones and his colleagues have done a tremendous service to the scientific community - and to the planet - by making surface temperature datasets publicly available for scientific research. These datasets have facilitated climate research around the world, and have led to the publication of literally hundreds of important scientific papers.

Phil Jones is one of the gentlemen of our field. He has given decades of his life not only to cutting-edge scientific research on the nature and causes of climate change, but also to a variety of difficult and time-consuming community service activities - such as his dedicated (and repeated) service as a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Since the theft of the CRU emails and their public dissemination, Phil has been subjected to the vilest personal attacks. These attacks are without justification. They are deeply disturbing. They should be of concern to all of you. We are now faced with powerful "forces of unreason" - forces that (at least to date) have been unsuccessful in challenging scientific findings of a warming Earth, and a "discernible human influence" on global climate. These forces of unreason are now shifting the focus of their attention to the scientists themselves. They seek to discredit, to skew the truth, to misrepresent. They seek to destroy scientific careers rather than to improve our understanding of the nature and causes of climate change.

Yesterday, Phil temporarily stepped down as Director of the Climatic Research Unit. Yesterday was a very sad day for climate science. When the forces of unreason win, and force exceptional scientists like Professor Phil Jones to leave their positions, we all lose. Climate science loses. Our community loses. The world loses.

Now, more than at any other time in human history, we need sound scientific information on the nature and causes of climate change. Phil Jones and his colleagues at CRU have helped to provide such information. I hope that all of you will join me in thanking Phil for everything he has done - and will do in the future - for our scientific community. He and his CRU colleagues deserve great credit.

With best regards,

Ben Santer

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Unequal States

In the US today, the Gini coefficient—a measure of the distance separating rich and poor—is comparable to that of China.
notes Tony Judt in an essay exploring the fate of social democracy in the United States. He quotes Adam Smith:
The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.
Elizabeth Warren charts the death the American middle class.

What next?

The 'Thinker' and Female Figurine From Cernavodă, Danube Valley 5000-3500 BC

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Never mind the science...

...We look out of the window and it’s very cold, it doesn’t seem to be warming.
says Benny Peiser.

Oh. That's alright then. For just a moment there I thought we should be paying attention to a report by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

Justin Hewitt has a great geo-engineering idea:
There are a good few meters between water levels at high and low tide and none of these places are flooding at high tide, so surely if we blow up the moon [sic] sea levels will be a constant somewhere between the 2 and a rise of 0.5m will still mean sea levels lower than they were at the previous high tide.
Hat tip: RB