Forthrightness needed on climate e-mails

Andrew Leonard at Salon makes a good point about what has come to be called (inevitably) “Climategate.” Yes, the hacking into private e-mails was a criminal act, but the apparently unethical behind-the-scenes behavior of the scientists involved is bound to shake public confidence in climate science, whether or not such a response is reasonable. As Leonard makes clear, the only thing for defenders of the science to do is to publicly explain why this information doesn’t alter the scientific case for human-caused climate change. Anything else will just look like they’re trying to avoid the main issue.

The only meaningful response to this crisis is to get out in front, explain the context of each and every e-mail, and address forthrightly whatever improprieties may or may not exist. Because there may well be more to come.

Nothing I’ve seen indicates that this changes anything as far as the science goes (see here and here for starters), but in a country where one party mostly doesn’t believe climate change is happening and (at least) half of the other party will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing anything about it, you can’t cede the p.r. war to the other side or hope that it will just go away. There are very powerful vested interests dedicated to stopping any serious action on climate change; they’re not just going to drop this.

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2 thoughts on “Forthrightness needed on climate e-mails

  1. “Climategate” started out when there appeared on the Internet a collection of e-mails of a group of climatologists who work in the University of East Anglia in England. These documents reveal that some climatologists of international preeminence have manipulated the data of their investigations and have strongly tried to discredit climatologists who are not convinced that the increasing quantities of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are the cause of global warming.

    It is true that a majority of the scientists who study climatic tendencies in our atmosphere have arrived at the conclusion that the world’s climate is changing, and they have convinced a group of politicians, some of whom are politically powerful, of the truth of their conclusions.

    A minority, however, is skeptical. Some believe that recent data that suggest that the average temperature of the atmosphere is going up can be explained by natural variations in solar radiation and that global warming is a temporary phenomenon. Others believe that the historical evidence indicating that the temperature of the atmosphere is going up at a dangerous rate is simply not reliable.

    Such lacks of agreement are common in the sciences. They are reduced and eventually eliminated with the accumulation of new evidence and of more refined theories or even by completely new ones. Such debates can persist for a period of decades. Academics often throw invective at one another in these debates. But typically this does not mean much.

    But the case of climate change is different. If the evidence indicates that global warming is progressive, is caused principally by our industrial processes, and will probably cause disastrous changes in our atmosphere before the end of the twenty-first century, then we do not have the time to verify precisely if this evidence is reliable. Such a process would be a question of many years of new investigations. And if the alarmist climatologists are right, such a delay would be tragic for all humanity.

    The difficulty is that economic and climatologic systems are very complicated. They are not like celestial mechanics, which involves only the interaction of gravity and centrifugal force, and efforts to construct computerized models to describe these complicated systems simply cannot include all the factors that are influential in the evolution of these complicated systems.

    All this does not necessarily indicate that the alarmist climatologists are not right. But it really means that if global warming is occurring, we cannot know exactly what will be the average temperature of our atmosphere in the year 2100 and what will be the average sea level of the world’s ocean in that year.

    It also means that we cannot be confident that efforts by the industrialized countries to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will have a significant influence on the evolution of the world’s climate.

    Alas, the reduction of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would be very costly and would greatly change the lives of all the inhabitants of our planet–with the possibility (perhaps even the probability!) that all these efforts will be completely useless.

    Harleigh Kyson Jr.

  2. Eliminating causes of CO2 emissions will be in the short term costly and might not totally return the earth’s atmosphere to its pre-industrial-revolution state. But if we turn to electricity from nonpolluting sources, will we not clean up the air over our large cities and reduce the United States’ dependence on fossil fuels?

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