Climate Bill + Climategate = Bill ‘Climate’ Gates!

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

First Things First: Recent political difficulties for the president and key colleagues in the Senate have not removed energy and climate issues from the White House and Majority’s agenda. Obama told business executives yesterday that the U.S. economy must start “to put a price on carbon pollution.” He touted his White House’s activities on energy efficiency, nuclear power, solar, and oil drilling, but reiterated his pre-election call for a comprehensive policy: “The only certainty of the status quo is that the price and supply of oil will become increasingly volatile; that the use of fossil fuels will wreak havoc on weather patterns and air quality.” Obama made news about a year ago at the Business Roundtable, site of yesterday’s remarks, when he reminded everyone that he preferred a market-driven climate policy that auctioned “carbon credits” to polluters rather than a policy that gives them away.

The climate leadership troika in the Senate–John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman–continues to spar with the conventional wisdom that the Senate doesn’t have the momentum to take on climate right now, particularly when health care is still unsolved. They continue to find a compromise approach to legislation that would put a price on carbon.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that the agency will implement its new greenhouse gas regulations slowly, with smaller qualifying firms not needing to regulate until 2016. The largest firms would comply before 2013. Jackson emphasized these dates in a letter to eight Democrats from coal-producing states who expressed concern about the rules. The EPA’s actions are of concern to the majority of Republican senators, 35 of them, and three moderate Democrats. That’s the size of the group that supports Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) resolution to turn back the EPA’s rules. The agency faces legal challenges elsewhere, most prominently from the US Chamber of Commerce and the states of Texas, Virginia, and Alabama.

EPW ranking member Sen. James Inhofe released a GOP report into the UEA e-mail controversy, and will pursue further investigations into whether climate scientists violated any federal laws. The report can be accessed here [pdf]. Readers can read around the professional literature to evaluate its conclusions here, or for the more industrious, here.

Best-Thing-Ever-ism: Nothing will ever break your heart like new large-scale energy technology. That’s because there’s so much is possible but we haven’t yet been able to either close the carbon loophole that would make them economically competitive, or scale up the true “game changers.” There’s a messianism that accompanies many new technologies. This week saw some seductive new ideas that promise to be the energy sector’s latest Best! Thing! Ever!

“Where will the US get its electricity in 2034?” That’s the headline of a Scientific American interview with the head of Black & Veatch, an analysis firm that just published a report answering this question in two words: natural gas. The head analyst gave this assessment of how surveyed players in the power market understand the problem of pricing carbon: “Looking at the survey and what’s going on in the industry, regardless of people’s personal or political opinions they want to move towards a lower carbon footprint for the power sector. A lack of legislation right now in some corners creates more concern.”

“We believe we’ve developed a new type of nuclear reactor that can represent a nearly infinite supply of low-cost energy, carbon-free energy for the world.” That’s what the head of TerraPower, a firm developing an advanced nuclear reactor that uses depleted fuel. The project has the backing of Bill Gates, who gave a recent talk about the technology.

A start-up clean energy company with a brightening name and marquee backing launched publicly this week. For eight years, Bloom Energy has quietly developed and tested its solid oxide fuel cell, which uses natural gas to generate electricity for eight to ten cents a kilowatt hour. Independent estimate put the price at 13 to 14 cents a kilowatt hour, higher than the U.S. average of 11 cents. Google, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America are beta-testing units. The company’s founder, KR Sridhar has raised $400 million and expects that customers can earn back their investment in three to five years. has a useful overview of what’s known about Bloom’s technology, with further links.

Seething Is Believing: If you’re reading this, it’s likely because you’re inclined to read something like this. That’s a glib reduction of research conducted by the Cultural Cognition Project, anchored at Yale Law School and recently discussed by NPR’s Christopher Joyce and Reason‘s Ronald Bailey. This very interesting research observes with precision just how deeply people are inclined to accept facts that reinforce what they already believe. The report itself can be found here. Researchers tracked how individuals’ opinions about global warming and other topics change as they are given more and more information about a topic. This example is relevant to a central topic in climate policy:

In another experiment, people read a United Nations study about the dangers of global warming. Then the researchers told the participants that the solution to global warming is to regulate industrial pollution. Many in the individualistic group then rejected the climate science. But when more nuclear power was offered as the solution, says Braman, “they said, you know, it turns out global warming is a serious problem.”

It turns out global warming is a serious problem. After weeks or months of public confusion over what IPCC errors and the UEA e-mails mean in the big picture, dispassionate media commentators are beginning to step in and do what they are supposed to do: Filter spam out of the public discourse. That’s not something mass media are particularly good at, given their bent toward “exaggerating denialism.” Long gone are the days when a newspaper editorial could sway an election. This week a couple of the heavyweights weighed in with some clarity on the climate confusion, none more notable than the Washington Post’s Monday editorial. The paper’s op-ed editor distinguished himself last year by running several factually incoherent columns by George Will, including this one on Sunday. In this episode, Will demonstrates his ability to rip fragments from elsewhere as a stand-in for science journalism. Bill Chameides, dean of Duke’s Nicholas School, handily dismantles the problem here.

This week’s ed board effort is a fine, mature piece analyzing what non-experts can hang on to amid activists’ polemics on every side. The ed board hit particularly hard Virginia, whose attorney general last week challenged the EPA’s current effort to regulate greenhouse gases: “To see Virginia’s newly elected attorney general join in this know-nothingism is an embarrassment to the state.” The New York Times ran an editorial relatively upbeat about international climate policy negotiations, given the recent exit of chief UN negotiator Yvo de Boer. (de Boer revealed this week that his new job at accounting giant KPMG was lined up before Copenhagen in December.)

Andrew Revkin, of Pace University and the New York Times’ DotEarth blog, invited readers this week to go “Back to Basics on Climate and Energy,” an attempt to find common ground amid all the bad vibes.

Ideally, the “climate scandals” of 2009-2010 will result in a stronger general understanding of climate science that allows the U.S. policy conversation to occur with greater intellectual honesty from however many sides you think there are.

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist. Chapter about Ginkgo biloba and climate change available at Conservation.

Melting Ice Makes Slippery Slope

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

First Things First: Several high-profile exits from the climate conversation—Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) from the Senate; BP, Caterpillar, and ConocoPhillips, from USCAP; and chief climate negotiator Yvo de Boer from the U.N.—were widely reported this week. None of these stories carry as much long-term significance as the under-reported-on difficulty of many major English-language public information sources to communicate both that potentially dangerous climate change is underway and that professional researchers have enough confidence, despite uncertainties, to attribute it to human activity.

This problem is giving leaders an opportunity to shut down climate policy discussions.

Climate science and the policies designed to address it will never be understood and appreciated by the public quite as well as, say, pairs figure skating is. It’s for the best, really. But, if verifiability and accuracy are qualities that we would like to see in leaders from every sector of civic life, then–as consumers and producers of public information products–maybe we should set a baseline, and point out when something smells funny. So, for today, I’d like to loosen Climate Post‘s standard format, and share my own reaction to this WSJ piece.

It smells funny.

This Next Section, This Second One, Here, Is Fake; I Made it all up: The spate of recent controversies about climate research has given fresh voice to a group of scientists who question the mainstream view on two points: that human activity is warming the planet at a slow, imperceptible pace; and that human societies and institutions will be able to adapt. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in his occasional e-mailed newsletter, “At the rate world policymakers are chasing Titanic-like policies down to the bottom of the rising Atlantic ocean, our grandchildren, perhaps even our children will curse our generation as the most murderous and selfish of any in the four billion year history of life on Earth.”

Hansen’s is one voice in a coordinated chorus who are taking advantage of recent climatological observations—rising average ocean temperatures, retreating mountain glaciers, earlier spring blossoms—to promote to a wider audience the same criticisms of what they call “mainstream, slow-warming suicide science” that they have advocated, with great difficulty, in smaller circles for some time.

In the economics and policy sphere, Hansen’s concerns are echoed by the Anti-Refrigerator Forum of the American Renewables Foundation (ARF-ARF), a group of liberal economists from prestigious institutions who want to outlaw residential and commercial refrigeration in the U.S. because cooling chemicals, hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs, are powerful heat-trapping gases and refrigeration causes high carbon emissions. “It’ll be the refrigerators that march us up nine degrees Celsius,” said Akaky Akakievich, chairman of the ARF-ARF…

Okay, Back to ‘Reality,’ However Defined, and Non-Fiction, Here: That’s what an article might look like that attempted to take ideas from the (left) fringe of climate policy and pump them up into a credible movement claiming to know something no one on Earth knows: How and how quickly industrial emissions and land-use changes might change the planet’s life-support systems. It would be a disservice to write an article like that, at least without emphasizing where the critics’ extreme predictions for the future deviate from the consensus expectation: something in the vicinity of three degrees C of warming, from a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 levels, over several decades.

To be charitable, what the Journal has done is overlook the likelihood that its readership doesn’t understand the first thing about manmade global warming: that there is manmade global warming. This is understood at a much higher confidence level than newspaper reporting on external security threats to the US. Even if that’s still not nearly as high as we’d like.

The article is a novelty story, but is not presented as such.

What Seems to Be the Problem?: The problem seems to be that credibility-killing IPCC errors and the University of East Anglia e-mails easily cause confusion among things that should not be confused. Climate science, most visibly in the IPCC reports, might be thought of as cascading tiers of knowledge, arranged from scientists’ high to low confidence in it. It is a vast enterprise, and not all observations have equal weight. The Journal gives equal weight to all things climate science. This sounds like a benign mistake, but given what these misunderstandings (disunderstandings?) are doing to our ability to have a rational policy discussion, it’s potentially dangerous.

The WSJ piece looks at four familiar voices—Bjorn Lomborg, John Christy, Richard Lindzen, and Willie Soon—plus a retired Columbia University climatology professor whose last name means “puppet” in Russian. They each dispute either that global warming is mostly manmade or that cutting emissions is a way to respond. (Lomborg, the only person quoted who is not a research scientist, says, “It’s important to say that the scandals we’ve had don’t change the fundamental point that global warming is man-made and we need to tackle it.”) The story is pegged to Texas’ decision to challenge the US Environmental Protection Agency’s move to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The article’s logical fallacy is the hasty generalization, with a smattering of the slippery slope, and some straw men thrown in for good measure. Now don’t get me wrong. The IPCC’s error about the Himalayan glaciers is horrifying generally and to an extent personally embarrassing. An elementary mistake about Dutch geography undermines the IPCC’s credibility on other unfamiliar simple things. The UEA emails have shown that there needs to be more openness in scientific research. But check out the key line in the article:

It’s too soon to tell whether the critics’ views will force the scientific community to revisit the prevailing view of man-made climate change. Many of their colleagues remain resolute in their stance that global warming is caused mainly by humankind.

It’s fallacious to construct an article on the premise that Lomborg, Christy, Lindzen, Soon, and Kukla have data or ideas that could wipe out the basic physics and environmental science that underpin manmade climate change. The question is wrong. There are no dumb questions, perhaps, but there are wrong questions and this is one of them. The reason that “colleagues remain resolute” is because they have so much data to support their arguments. Could they be wrong? Of course they could be wrong (kind of…). Is that a Mack truck accelerating toward us on the highway? Of course it might not be. But let’s get out of the way until whatever it is passes, shall we?

The media privileges virtually anything anyone says over what the data say. But the data matta! This creates a stylistic conundrum for writers. No sane publication would ever start an article on this topic thusly: “This week in Washington, atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed and emitted electromagnetic radiation at wavelengths between, roughly, 12 to 15 microns. That’s the reliably demonstrated fact from which science’s robust understanding of manmade climate change flows, an understanding challenged by the same four people whose views are contradicted by the evidence in geophysics…”

Zzzzzzzz. The media’s bias isn’t against a political faction, but against boredom.

Punchline: The headline of the story is correct: “Climate-Research Controversies Create Opening for Critics.” They are creating openings. It’s true–but only because editors and reporters are showing at best a lack of rigor.

Winds of Change at Wall Street Journal?The Wall Street Journal‘s ownership has transferred to News Corps, which owns and operates Fox News and other politically charged news outlets in the U.S. and other parts of the Anglo-speaking world. The paper recently shut down its “Environmental Capital” blog, for the stated reason, one WSJ staff member told me, that it wasn’t getting enough page hits.

There are still, thankfully, at least a handful of prominent reporters who understand climate change from soup to nuts. Their work, and quite frankly, their jobs, becomes more significant as widespread, impoverished mass communication dramatically and rapidly undermines climate policy of any kind at home and abroad.

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist. Chapter about Ginkgo biloba and climate change available at Conservation.

Snow Is Unequivocal

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

First Things First: Attention turned this week to the Mid-Atlantic snowstorms and how to understand (and misunderstand) them, and also to how the climate science community—namely the IPCC—might prevent mistakes in process and print that have harmed its reputation in recent months.

Three feet of snow have disabled the capital region. The federal government has been closed all week and still is today, Thursday. The political world is still shoveling it out (literally). This leaves two stories of consequence in the week’s spotlight—ones that always lurk in the background: How hard it is to communicate advanced climate science to policymakers and the public, and how hard it is to communicate basic climate science to policymakers and the public.

Eyes + Snow = Science: Scientific controversies and errors are increasingly giving political cover to policymakers who would rather not deal with the issue, for any available reason. And the snow has reminded everyone that climate is easy enough to dismiss even without recent black eyes to the scientific community.

Political culture generally won’t bear a chain of causality longer than two links. That’s why so much opportunistic rhetoric this week focused on either of these chains: Global warming equals no snow; or snow equals no global warming. Much of the country finds it politically expedient to anthropomorphize climate science into a certain familiar persona and then beat it like it’s a piñata. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) wrote over Twitter, “It’s going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries ‘uncle.'” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) built an ice castle that he described as the former vice president’s new home. That’s a fine rhetorical approach for an audience that doesn’t know or care that climate change has nothing to do with Al Gore. Rush Limbaugh ridiculed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for announcing its new information service,, over teleconference rather than a live press conference, due to snow.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the energy committee, observed that the snow makes climate legislation more difficult politically.

In reality, climate change has a causality chain not of, say, two links but of n variables, where n=…  oh, you get the point. And the warming, famously, is unequivocal.

What Comes Down Must Have Gone up: Warmer air holds more moisture. When the temperature drops below freezing, this increased moisture will produce more snow—in this case more than the region has ever recorded. Time‘s Bryan Walsh turns in a concise review. Dylan Ratigan of MSNBC caused a stir by talking about the snow and global warming in the same broadcast. The New York Times makes sure in a lead to reinforce the myth of “two sides” in the climate debate. For thoughtful explorations of the possible relationship between the historic snowstorms and global warming, check out Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog post, “Heavy snowfall in a warming world,” or the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang.

One space to watch is, the NOAA-led initiative to provide various levels of information and responsiveness to Americans’ questions about global warming.

And not that it matters for anything but the box scores, January was the third hottest month globally in 32 years of satellite monitoring.

Opening the Book on ‘ClimateGate’: The Guardian has undertaken an important exercise, publishing a 30,000-word “manuscript” about the pilfered University of East Anglia climate e-mails. The publication leaves the matter an open book, inviting readers to contribute their own observations and insights. More on this initiative once I’ve finished reading it.

New Paneling?: The IPCC was created before the World Wide Web opened vast sources of scientific material to the public. It’s older than the post-cold war era. University of East Anglia professor Mike Hulme, a past IPCC participant, writes in Nature (sub. req.), “It is not feasible for one panel under sole ownership— that of the world’s governments, but operating under the delegated management of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) — to deliver an exhaustive ‘integrated’ assessment of all relevant climate-change knowledge.”

Critics of every persuasion are suggesting how the IPCC should prevent errors large and small, published and procedural, in its fifth assessment report. A collection of opinions in Nature recommend breaking the monolithic United Nations-sponsored edifice into three panels producing shorter, more regular reports; creating an organization akin to the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct transparent scientific, regional, and policy assessments; protecting the layers of review in the current system; and opening the process up to Wikipedia-like community gardening.

Joe Romm of likes to hold feet to the fire. He provides a rather thorough roasting of this New York Times effort to explain the IPCC’s woes.

Cryogenic Politics: The momentum for meaningful climate policy that grew for two years before Copenhagen has come largely to a halt domestically and internationally. The Center for Public Integrity’s Marianne Lavelle continues to track the scale of lobbying efforts in the climate arena. With the president’s original approach to climate legislation flailing, opponents are turning attention elsewhere. Lavelle finds “overt and covert” support for Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) resolution against EPA regulation of heat-trapping gases. The piece documents some activities of the farm, small business, and utility sectors.

The climate backlash continues in the states. California conservatives are pushing for a November referendum on the state’s first-in-the-nation climate law. Advocates have raised about $600,000 to pay staff to gather signatures. Gov. Jan Brewer of neighboring Arizona issued an executive order to drop her state’s participation in the Western Climate Initiative. In Utah, the House Natural Resources Committee last week approved a resolution that states, “[C]limate alarmists’ carbon dioxide-related global warming hypothesis is unable to account for the current downturn in global temperatures.” New York University’s Tyler Volk tried to persuade legislators there to follow the carbon.

The vocabulary of the international policy conversation is changing. “Legally Binding? It’s So 2009” boasts a ClimateWire story published at Negotiators surveyed by the news service suggest that more than a legally binding treaty what the community of nations needs to see is successful and demonstrable actions at home to curb pollution. Trevor Houser of the Peterson Institute for International Economics made the rounds this week with an analysis of nations’ commitments under the Copenhagen Accord.

It’s a Washington truism that if a campaign’s message doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker, it will lose. No one has ever managed to reduce global warming, let alone what to do about it, to a successful bumper sticker. And the archipelago of groups that self-identifies as the environmental movement is urged from friendly quarters to re-examine its path forward. Longtime environmental leader Gus Speth delivered the John H. Chaffee Memorial Lecture in January, saying, “The world needs a new environmentalism in America… America has run a 40-year experiment on whether mainstream environmentalism can succeed, and the results are now in.”

Trick Question, Tricky Answers: Last week I posed a query that I then thought about rigorously this weekend while shoveling about 1,000 cubic feet of snow off the driveway and street:  “Have you personally experienced global warming? And how do you know that, exactly?”

The scientifically appropriate answer to first question is, “No.” It makes about as much sense as asking a much-talked-about rookie major league baseball player after a game if he or anyone can say with certainty that his pop fly to deep right field is a reliable index of his future 20-season career batting average.

On the other hand is the increasingly accepted argument, glibly paraphrased, “But come on.” Winter precipitation of increased intensity is predicted for this region. You evaluate the evidence as deeply as you think necessary, or have time for, and make the call.

A few readers did make the call. Alex Smith, who works for Radio Ecoshock in Vancouver, wrote in, “Here in Vancouver, Canada, we have a convoy of trucks hauling snow from the Coastal mountains to our local ski hill for the ‘green’ 2010 Winter Olympics. Turns out, we just had the warmest January on record. All our local snow melted, just weeks before the ski jump and snow board competitions.”

Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke University, wrote, “You HAVE to be kidding.  Do you know what it costs to insure my home here in the Florida Keys?  How hard is it to get property insurance? […] Yes, Virginia, there really is global warming.  Just ask any insurance company — and those who pay them who live in the Keys.”

Yes, Virginia—and Maryland, and the District, and Delaware, and Tasmania

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist. Chapter about Ginkgo biloba and climate change available at Conservation.

In Which Everything Feels Like It’s Come to a Full Stop

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

First Things First: President Barack Obama defended a market-based system to limit the pollution of heat-trapping gases, a core part of his legislative agenda, even as he acknowledged the Senate may pursue an energy bill without one. He spoke to a “town hall” meeting in Nashua, N.H., about the potential of Senators removing technology-and-jobs legislation from the context of a larger climate bill: “We may be able to separate these things out.  And it’s conceivable that that’s where the Senate ends up.”

Unlike last year, the White House’s proposed 2011 budget, which came out Monday, assumes no revenue from a “cap-and-trade” program. In a footnote, the administration says that in the event revenues materialize, they should be used in “climate-related purposes” for industry and consumers. The budget eliminates fossil-fuel subsidies, boosts EPA funding to implement its greenhouse gas regulations, and triples loan guarantees to the nuclear industry, to $54 billion, an olive branch to the GOP that is likely to rankle the left.

The key Republican in the Senate climate debate, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, pushed back at his colleagues who favored an energy-only bill, saying, “If the approach is to try to pass some half-assed energy bill and say that’s moving the ball down the road, forget it with me.”

Washington Beyond Politics: The Defense Department includes a dense, serious four pages on climate change and energy security in its 128-page Quadrennial Defense Review [pp 84-88]. Planners write that global warming will challenge the kinds of missions the military will carry out. The authors rely on official U.S. scientific reports, including the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s 2009 overview, and intelligence sources. The QDR observes that “climate-related changes are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters.” Climate change, to Defense planners is “an accelerant of instability or conflict.” The military will also have to adapt to changes along with everyone else: “In 2008, the National Intelligence Council judged that more than 30 U.S. military installations were already facing elevated levels of risk from rising sea levels.”

Politics Beyond Washington: The Quadrennial Defense Review provides a sobering dose of reality to the political arena, where the driving motivation for strong policy is employment. And that message faces strong headwinds.

In California, fiscal woe is undermining public support for leadership in climate and environmental policy. A bill to repeal the state’s climate solutions law, known as A.B. 32, has failed in the legislature. It would have suspended the law’s implementation, due in 2012, until California’s state employment rate falls to 5.5 percent, from the current 12.4 percent. Opponents are pressing for a November public referendum to repeal. Separately, the oil, chemical, and trucking industries are suing California over its low-carbon fuels regulations, which took effect last month. The suit charges that the state rules violate the constitution by interfering with interstate trade. The rules, they argue, discriminate against out-of-state fuel companies.

Internationally, the Guardian concludes from chats with international climate specialists that “a global deal to tackle climate change is all but impossible in 2010,” leaving an uneasy trajectory.  Jan. 31 was the “soft” deadline for nations to submit to the UNFCC their emissions reduction commitments or national mitigation actions. Fifty-countries complied with the deadline set out in the Copenhagen Accord, including the European Union members. Top U.N. officials who assessed the pledges have expressed concern that the numbers are very unlikely to meet the political aspiration of keeping global warming limited to two degrees. The U.S. submitted language similar to what Obama promised at Copenhagen, a 17 percent emissions cut below 2005 levels in 2020. Europe would reduce 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. China and India have pledged reductions in the carbon-intensity of their fuels.

Intergovernmental Panel for Corrections and Clarifications: Twenty-six percent of the Netherlands is below sea level. This unremarkable fact surfaced this week after a Dutch magazine discovered the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put 55 percent of the land below the threshold in its 2007 report (55 percent of the land is vulnerable to flooding). Finger-pointing ensued. Perhaps the IPCC was thinking not of the modern Netherlands, but the Batavian Republic of the late 18th century, which was smaller and more concentrated by the sea?

How can such mistakes be avoided in the future? If you ask cryptographers how to reduce the potential for mistakes, they’ll tell you to publish everything about a cryptographic system publicly. If there are security flaws, some enterprising hacker will find them. The same idea applies to Wikipedia, whose quality control is only as good as its volunteer community gardeners. It’s not a new idea. Attending a livestock exhibition a century ago, the scientist Francis Galton was surprised to discover that in a contest, no individual accurately guessed the weight of an ox, yet the average of more than 800 guesses hit the mark.

If so many of us are interested in helping scrutinize the second review draft of the fifth IPCC report, perhaps there is a way to make it easier for good Samaritan fact-checkers to root out what turn out to be dumb mistakes. The IPCC is already an openly collaborative work–scientific peer review is the original “crowdsourced” enterprise. And the organization is up front about the process by which it produces its comprehensive reports [pdf]. How can public readers of Web-published drafts strengthen the next final report?

Concerns about a lack of crowdsourcing go to the heart of accusations over what, if anything, was wrong or distasteful about the tranche of more than 1,000 e-mail messages hacked out of University of East Anglia servers late last year. Yesterday an ad hoc committee of Pennsylvania State University administrators cleared paleoclimatologist Michael Mann on three of four concerns arising from the UEA e-mails [pdf]: that he made up or falsified data; disregarded protections on other researchers; and failed to disclose financial conflicts of interests. A fourth inquiry–“failure to comply with other applicable legal requirements governing research or other scholarly activities”–will be looked at by a group of faculty members, because the administrative committee wasn’t in a proper position to evaluate.

Question of the Week: If you’ve read this far down, and do every week, you officially are a friend of the Climate Post. Thank you. Lunch with a couple friends of Climate Post turned on a–perhaps the–central question in talking about this stuff: How (on Earth) can we tell experiential stories about a phenomena experienced most confidently only by satellites, digitized ocean buoys, and air-sipping, laser-blasting, carbon-dioxide-molecule counting machines.

Have you personally experienced global warming? And how do you know that? Let’s hear about it. We can crowdsource the big story embedded in them.

IPCC, Brown-Paper Cover Edition: In a move no one could have foreseen, embattled IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri last month published a lascivious romance novel, Return to Almora, which he wrote during recent years traveling the world as a celebrity scientist. Full stop.

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist. Chapter about Ginkgo biloba and climate change available at Conservation.