By Kevin McCann
Why it matters:
A handful of scientists guilty [(possibly) - ed.] of improper conduct does not refute the science of climate change and allowing talking heads to make that argument is unacceptable and dangerous.
This "just in" from the New York Times (and many thousands of other new sources)… Hacked and leaked emails from the University of East Anglia in Great Britain have climate change skeptics bristling. The messages, ten years worth, are considered by some the smoking gun that proves scientists have "conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change."
The emails in question, attributed to "prominent American and British climate researchers," run the gamut from whether or not to make public certain data, to personal attacks on skeptical colleagues. In at least one such exchange, the authors suggest finding ways to have skeptical scientists removed from the editorial boards of peer-reviewed journals.
Whoo-boy! The talking heads are loving this story. Some (inexplicably) claim these emails are irrefutable proof that global warming is a hoax. The other side asserts this is just scientists being scientists, at worst guilty of leaving out confusing data that might confuse lay-persons.
Two of the most level-headed commentaries about this "scandal" come from The Colbert Report, where Yale professor Dan Esty asserted that the scientists had (ill-advisedly) omitted some data to simplify the climate change debate. Well, they got what they deserved, an over simplification of the debate…as Colbert (and some of his pundit peers) put it, "They lied => Global warming not real."
But if satire isn't your bag, Popular Mechanics' Peter Keleman, a geologist with "30 years of research experience, takes a much more clinical approach. In short, he condemns the authors of the emails, asserting that their actions and attitudes only harm efforts for climate action. Like Esty, he concludes with what we know for certain about climate change, most notably: the greenhouse effect is fact, CO2 levels are dangerously high and rising at an unprecedented rate, and these CO2 levels have risen exponentially in correlation with human industrialization.
Some of the talking heads are gleefully claiming these emails are the smoking gun that proves climate change is a myth. But with the vast majority of the scientific community accepting the reality of human-induced climate change, the only thing these emails prove is that a few scientists felt threatened by the skeptics and weren't willing to let the facts speak for themselves.
There is one gun analogy that does fit beautifully though. Keleman points out that many climate change models show disastrous effects in the near future, some in the next ten years. To do nothing, Keleman asserts, would be the equivalent of playing Russian Roulette.
At a recent presentation about just how risky continuing with business as usual would be, MIT Professor Dr. John Sterman took it a steep further to say it would be like playing Russian Roulette with 16 of 17 chambers loaded. I don't like those odds.
[Editor's note: an excellent layperson's review of this topic can be found at Wikipedia]