Don’t forget ‘Climategate’

So, that damn volcano is at it again, David Cameron has been elected Britain’s smuggest man, and the World Cup is only one month away. Does anyone remember what was going on before all this highly distracting news materialised?

When travelling from Heathrow to central London last week upon my return to the UK, I picked up a couple of papers to catch up on the happenings of the prior six weeks. Amongst everything, the article that interested me most was actually in the Metro (for all you non-Londoners, it’s hardly a diamond mine of current affairs commentary, sort of the written version of MSN News). It was about the call of 255 National Academy of Science members (including 11 Nobel laureates) to end the media persecution of climate science. Remember how countless news organisations (…and Fox) reported the deliberate distortion of data, supposedly revealed in private emails leaked from the Climate Research Unit? Remember how a modicum of actual research revealed that the entire controversy boiled down to nothing but misunderstandings and desperate lies by deniers of anthropogenic global warming? Well, 255 scientists recently signed a letter to Science expressing their concern at how these lies damage the reputation of science in the public eye. The letter, which can be read here, should in my opinion be propagated far and wide, and I am somewhat disappointed that many papers only quoted the odd word from it, rather than reproducing it in full. As such, I am placing a copy in this post to display my support.

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science

We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of politicalassaults on scientists in general and on climate scientistsin particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientificfacts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientificconclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. Whensomeone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutelycertain before taking any action, it is the same as saying societyshould never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophicas climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk forour planet.

Scientific conclusions derive from an understanding of basiclaws supported by laboratory experiments, observations of nature,and mathematical and computer modeling. Like all human beings,scientists make mistakes, but the scientific process is designedto find and correct them. This process is inherently adversarial—scientistsbuild reputations and gain recognition not only for supportingconventional wisdom, but even more so for demonstrating thatthe scientific consensus is wrong and that there is a betterexplanation. That’s what Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, and Einsteindid. But when some conclusions have been thoroughly and deeplytested, questioned, and examined, they gain the status of “well-establishedtheories” and are often spoken of as “facts.”

For instance, there is compelling scientific evidence that ourplanet is about 4.5 billion years old (the theory of the originof Earth), that our universe was born from a single event about14 billion years ago (the Big Bang theory), and that today’sorganisms evolved from ones living in the past (the theory ofevolution). Even as these are overwhelmingly accepted by thescientific community, fame still awaits anyone who could showthese theories to be wrong. Climate change now falls into thiscategory: There is compelling, comprehensive, and consistentobjective evidence that humans are changing the climate in waysthat threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.

Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effortto provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)and other scientific assessments of climate change, which involvethousands of scientists producing massive and comprehensivereports, have, quite expectedly and normally, made some mistakes.When errors are pointed out, they are corrected. But there isnothing remotely identified in the recent events that changesthe fundamental conclusions about climate change:

(i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations ofheat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washingtondoes not alter this fact.

(ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gasesover the last century is due to human activities, especiallythe burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

(iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth’sclimate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.

(iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patternsto change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, includingincreasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologiccycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making theoceans more acidic.

(v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatenscoastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies,marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments,and far more.

Much more can be, and has been, said by the world’s scientificsocieties, national academies, and individuals, but these conclusionsshould be enough to indicate why scientists are concerned aboutwhat future generations will face from business-as-usual practices.We urge our policy-makers and the public to move forward immediatelyto address the causes of climate change, including the unrestrainedburning of fossil fuels.

We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminalprosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guiltby association, the harassment of scientists by politiciansseeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outrightlies being spread about them. Society has two choices: We canignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope weare lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce thethreat of global climate change quickly and substantively. Thegood news is that smart and effective actions are possible.But delay must not be an option.

P. H. Gleick, R. M. Adams, R. M. Amasino, E. Anders, D. J. Anderson, W. W. Anderson, L. E. Anselin,M. K. Arroyo, B. Asfaw, F. J. Ayala, A. Bax, A. J. Bebbington, G. Bell, M. V. L. Bennett, J. L. Bennetzen,M. R. Berenbaum, O. B. Berlin, P. J. Bjorkman, E. Blackburn, J. E. Blamont, M. R. Botchan, J. S. Boyer,E. A. Boyle, D. Branton, S. P. Briggs, W. R. Briggs, W. J. Brill, R. J. Britten, W. S. Broecker, J. H. Brown,P. O. Brown, A. T. Brunger, J. Cairns, Jr., D. E. Canfield, S. R. Carpenter, J. C. Carrington,A. R. Cashmore, J. C. Castilla, A. Cazenave, F. S. Chapin, III, A. J. Ciechanover, D. E. Clapham,W. C. Clark, R. N. Clayton, M. D. Coe, E. M. Conwell, E. B. Cowling, R. M Cowling, C. S. Cox,R. B. Croteau, D. M. Crothers, P. J. Crutzen, G. C. Daily, G. B. Dalrymple, J. L. Dangl, S. A. Darst,D. R. Davies, M. B. Davis, P. V. de Camilli, C. Dean, R. S. Defries, J. Deisenhofer, D. P. Delmer,E. F. Delong, D. J. Derosier, T. O. Diener, R. Dirzo, J. E. Dixon, M. J. Donoghue, R. F. Doolittle, T. Dunne,P. R. Ehrlich, S. N. Eisenstadt, T. Eisner, K. A. Emanuel, S. W. Englander, W. G. Ernst, P. G. Falkowski,G. Feher, J. A. Ferejohn, A. Fersht, E. H. Fischer, R. Fischer, K. V. Flannery, J. Frank, P. A. Frey,I. Fridovich, C. Frieden, D. J. Futuyma, W. R. Gardner, C. J. R. Garrett, W. Gilbert, R. B. Goldberg,W. H. Goodenough, C. S. Goodman, M. Goodman, P. Greengard, S. Hake, G. Hammel, S. Hanson,S. C. Harrison, S. R. Hart, D. L. Hartl, R. Haselkorn, K. Hawkes, J. M. Hayes, B. Hille, T. Hökfelt,J. S. House, M. Hout, D. M. Hunten, I. A. Izquierdo, A. T. Jagendorf, D. H. Janzen, R. Jeanloz,C. S. Jencks, W. A. Jury, H. R. Kaback, T. Kailath, P. Kay, S. A. Kay, D. Kennedy, A. Kerr, R. C. Kessler,G. S. Khush, S. W. Kieffer, P. V. Kirch, K. Kirk, M. G. Kivelson, J. P. Klinman, A. Klug, L. Knopoff,H. Kornberg, J. E. Kutzbach, J. C. Lagarias, K. Lambeck, A. Landy, C. H. Langmuir, B. A. Larkins,X. T. Le Pichon, R. E. Lenski, E. B. Leopold, S. A. Levin, M. Levitt, G. E. Likens, J. Lippincott-Schwartz,L. Lorand, C. O. Lovejoy, M. Lynch, A. L. Mabogunje, T. F. Malone, S. Manabe, J. Marcus, D. S. Massey,J. C. McWilliams, E. Medina, H. J. Melosh, D. J. Meltzer, C. D. Michener, E. L. Miles, H. A. Mooney,P. B. Moore, F. M. M. Morel, E. S. Mosley-Thompson, B. Moss, W. H. Munk, N. Myers, G. B. Nair,J. Nathans, E. W. Nester, R. A. Nicoll, R. P. Novick, J. F. O’Connell, P. E. Olsen, N. D. Opdyke, G. F. Oster,E. Ostrom, N. R. Pace, R. T. Paine, R. D. Palmiter, J. Pedlosky, G. A. Petsko, G. H. Pettengill,S. G. Philander, D. R. Piperno, T. D. Pollard, P. B. Price, Jr., P. A. Reichard, B. F. Reskin, R. E. Ricklefs,R. L. Rivest, J. D. Roberts, A. K. Romney, M. G. Rossmann, D. W. Russell, W. J. Rutter, J. A. Sabloff,R. Z. Sagdeev, M. D. Sahlins, A. Salmond, J. R. Sanes, R. Schekman, J. Schellnhuber, D. W. Schindler,J. Schmitt, S. H. Schneider, V. L. Schramm, R. R. Sederoff, C. J. Shatz, F. Sherman, R. L. Sidman, K. Sieh,E. L. Simons, B. H. Singer, M. F. Singer, B. Skyrms, N. H. Sleep, B. D. Smith, S. H. Snyder, R. R. Sokal,C. S. Spencer, T. A. Steitz, K. B. Strier, T. C. Südhof, S. S. Taylor, J. Terborgh, D. H. Thomas,L. G. Thompson, R. T. Tjian, M. G. Turner, S. Uyeda, J. W. Valentine, J. S. Valentine, J. L. van Etten,K. E. van Holde, M. Vaughan, S. Verba, P. H. von Hippel, D. B. Wake, A. Walker, J. E. Walker,E. B. Watson, P. J. Watson, D. Weigel, S. R. Wessler, M. J. West-Eberhard, T. D. White, W. J. Wilson,R. V. Wolfenden, J. A. Wood, G. M. Woodwell, H. E. Wright, Jr., C. Wu, C. Wunsch, M. L. Zoback

It’s incredibly dismaying to see that phrases such as “Mike’s Nature Trick” are still being passed around by members of special interest groups to confuse the public and generate unnecessary, unproductive controversy and ‘debate’ amongst people who, frankly, don’t have a clue. It seems awfully hard to convince people of the accuracy of the scientific consensus, and very easy to generate dissent predicated on ignorance and apathy. As such, I ask you, my fellow Leaguers, not to forget all of the news organisations who unethically stoked the flames of distraction last November, and continue to piss in the well of knowledge at the probable expense of future generations. Remember how they lied, and be sure to use this as an example if your future opponents ever attempt to cite them as credible scientific resources. In the battle for public ideas, those past records of dishonesty will, I hope, remind the public to listen to the scientists when it comes to scientific matters, and not Bill O’Reilly.

The other paper I picked up was the Independent, wherein I found a heated, but utterly worthwhile opinion piece by Johann Hari on the subject. He’s known for having a short fuse when it comes to climate change denial, and I’m sure many denialists love to paint him petulant, but he makes a good point and makes it well. I certainly recommend reading it.

Deniers – apologise for Climategate.

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