Saturday, December 12, 2009

Reviewing the climate email mess

This work by the AP, based on a review of the entire 1-million-word archive of the emails swiped by a hacker from climate scientists, gives the best summary I've seen so far of this much-hyped series of events.
What they do not show is an active conspiracy to mislead people on climate change.
What they do show is unacceptable behavior, including attempts to suppress rather than debate skeptics, hide or destroy data, and sometimes fudge what's presented in the name of making the science look more certain and consistent than it is.
The underlying thread is that some researchers believed the message about the need to address anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is so critically important that it was all right to make science they already believed was solid into science that was completely consistent and beyond any doubt (indeed, so much so as to make skepticism an act of irrationality.)
This, of course, had the opposite effect once the emails were revealed. Skeptics can now say, "If these people were willing to violate ethical scientific behavior in these instances, how do we trust them at all?"

COMMENTS: My own reading of published evidence is that the general trend of the world is toward warming, with many local variations and occasional short-term reversals. It's a big planet with a very complex climate system, or rather a system of systems with all kinds of influences and feedback loops, not all of which we understand. I do think AGW is contributing to this trend, although I don't think we have as good a handle as people like the IPCC insist we do on how much AGW contributes and what immediate measures are needed. That's not an excuse for doing nothing, but it is important when we are weighing what resources to devote to stopping AGW vs. all the other human needs the world faces. (The blithe claims by some on the leftward end of the environmental spectrum that we need to address everything, and there's an endless supply of resources from wealthy countries and businesses we can tap, ignore economics as well as political reality. I also have no patience for the idea it's simple to have a win-win with green technologies solving everyone's problems. There are costs and tradeoffs to every potential part of the overall solution. Don't insult my intelligence by saying all we need are more solar panels and bicycles.)

These scientists, trying to put their work beyond doubt to convince people of the need for action, have done their cause no favors.The same is true for exaggerated estimates of warming and sea rise levels (thank you, Al Gore, who exaggerated predictions and put footage from a terrible disaster film into An Inconvenient Truth and passed all of it off as science), which draw climatologists into sometimes-public conflict. We do need action, and we do need to address this issue now, but this is a complex situation. Trying to misprepresent it as a simple situation is a very bad approach.

1 comment: said...

Just think, somewhere on this planet someone is being paid good money to measure the affect of the human fart on the atmosphere. *flicks tail*