Study Meant to Challenge Science of Climate Change Ends up Reinforcing It

climate-Muller-Berkley-analysisA study initiated by a skeptic of mainstream climate change models, and partly funded by one of the nation’s most notorious oil billionaires, is so far serving to enforce the view most climate scientists have held all along, that climate change is real and caused by human activity.  The study, titled the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project, was initiated by UC Berkeley professor of physics Richard Muller, who has been a longstanding critic of the analyses climate scientists have used to show how global temperatures have increased.  Climate change deniers in Congress and the mainstream media hoped Muller’s study might cast doubt on the scientific evidence for a warming planet, but so far this has not happened.

“Our aim is to resolve current criticism of the former temperature analyses,” states the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project web site, “and to prepare an open record that will allow rapid response to further criticism or suggestions. Our results will include not only our best estimate for the global temperature change, but estimates of the uncertainties in the record.”  In announcing the Berkeley Project, co-chair Muller said it would be an independent analysis of temperature data that would help determine whether objections to other studies are justified.

Yet if climate change deniers hoped the Berkeley Project would magically erase decades of scientific consensus, they have so far been sorely disappointed.  In fact preliminary findings confirm the scientific bodies that warned of human-induced global warming have got it right after all.  Though much of the analysis remains to be completed, so far it enforces the views of research hubs like the National Air and Space Administration (NASA) and the UK-based Met Office, which have concluded global warming is unequivocally real.  Muller himself testified before Congress last week to say his findings show the integrity of other studies to be “excellent.” 

Even those who have always accepted NASA’s and Met Office’s findings are likely to be surprised by Muller’s—not because most climate scientists thought the Berkeley Project was likely to find major flaws in previous temperature studies, but because many observers predicted Muller’s analysis would itself be biased.  Earlier this year climate blogger Joe Romm characterized Muller as a denier with little understanding of the depth of the scientific consensus for climate change.  “Muller seems completely unaware that the Hockey Stick [a climate model Muller has criticized, which shows the recent increase in global temperatures] has been replicated and strengthened by numerous independent studies,” Romm wrote.

More worrying still was the source of the Berkeley Project’s financing.  The biggest funder of the study is the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, founded by oil billionaire and CEO of Koch Industries, Charles Koch.  For years Koch’s company has come under fire from environmental groups for pouring millions of dollars into campaigns to prevent action on climate change and blur the reality of climate science.  Last year Charles Koch and his brother David helped fund an unsuccessful state ballot measure that would have overturned California’s climate law.  “It’s hard to imagine a more irresponsible or anti-scientific person than Charles Koch,” wrote Romm in February.

Yet Muller has insisted the views of his study’s funders will have no impact on the Berkeley Project’s analysis of temperature data.  At least so far it seems this may turn out to be true.  The project’s initial findings contradict Charles Koch’s assertions that climate change isn’t real, and actually support other studies which the oil billionaire has spent years trying to refute.  In fact the Berkeley Project makes the case for human-induced climate change even stronger.  If a study led by a skeptic like Muller and funded by a denier like Charles Koch can’t cast doubt on the science of climate change, it’s unlikely that anything else will.

Photo credit: Thomas Kriese

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