Climate change deniers thought they had an ally in Richard Muller, a popular physics professor at UC Berkeley.
Muller didn’t reject climate science per se, but he was a skeptic, and a convenient one for big polluters and conservative anti-environmentalists — until Muller put their money where his mouth was, and launched the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, in part with a grant from the Charles G. Koch foundation.
After extensive study, he’s concluded that the existing science was right all along — that the earth’s surface is warming, at an accelerating rate. But instead of second-guessing themselves, his erstwhile allies of convenience are now abandoning him.
“When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find,” Muller wrote in a Friday Wall Street Journal op-ed. “Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections. Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate.”
That’s put a small but influential group of anthropogenic global warming skeptics and climate change deniers on the war path.
Blogger Anthony Watts — a meteorologist and blogger who doubts greenhouse gases contribute to warming — was excited about Muller’s group’s work and in March boasted “I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.”
On Thursday he appended an asterisk to that contention — he can’t accept the group’s conclusions because they haven’t been peer reviewed.
“Since the paper has not completed peer review yet, it would be inappropriate for me to publicly comment on the conclusions, especially in light of a basic procedural error that has been discovered in the methodology that will likely require a rework of the data and calculations, and thus the conclusions may also change,” Watts wrote.
Taking a different approach, Marc Morano — a former aide to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and author of the website Climate Depot has a different, subtler line of attack: “[T]he climate debate has not centered on whether the Earth has warmed since the end of the Little Ice Age about 1850 or since the 1950s. The climate debate is about how much humans may or may not be contributing to the warming trend,” Morano wrote Friday, calling Muller a “befuddled warmist.”
Climate Depot since at least March of 2011 had been publicly warning that Muller’s entire BEST project was a predetermined con set up to take down a straw man argument. See: On 3-23-11, Climate Depot wrote in group email to fellow skeptics: ‘This whole [Muller] project has to be a set up to screw skeptics. Who disputes warming has taken place? Why have we allowed Muller to set up a straw man argument to take cheap shots at skeptics? It appears Muller is incapable of running this project.
He’s right. Muller’s conclusions aren’t technically in conflict with the views of a subset of skeptics — those that accept the Earth is warming, but deny the conclusion that humans are driving the warming. But they could easily refurbish the credibility of climate science in the public mind.
“Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK,” Muller said in a prepared statement. That’s why these skeptics are still so miffed.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.