I’ve had some interesting, and some uninteresting debates about climate change/global warming with readers, friends and others over the years. Some are stone cold deniers. Some, like one of EMN’s subscribers, is a skeptic who says he doesn’t know exactly who or what to believe, but that he just isn’t convinced.
At the end of the day, this debate is being held in the public and political courts – to convince us that it is or isn’t happening “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Just last month, Hal Lewis, a distinguished professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara resigned from the American Physical Society after 67 (yes sixty-seven) years in the organization. At the heart of his decision was a contention that the physics field has been compromised by a “money flood” which is driving the global warming research. His resignation was also based largely on ClimateGate, which he says shows the corruption behind the science. For its part, APS has categorically rejected the accusations made by Lewis.
And there are climate scientists such as Stephen Schneider, from Stanford University who died of a heart attack in July 2010. He dedicated most of his life to the pursuit of climate studies and solutions and rang the global warming warning bell from the 1970s until his death. In one of his last written works, “Expert Credibility in Climate Change” in the National Academy of Sciences, he and co-authors concluded that 97 percent to 98 percent of leading experts in the climate science community support the view that human activities are causing climate change. That came from a data set of 1,372 climate researchers. But that doesn’t actually “prove” anything.
For every Lewis, the other side has a Schneider.
But what is really going on here? Can both be right? Are Al Gore and IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri true champions of the cause, or pioneers turned profiteers? Have they and others sold out to global warming in the way that others have sold out to Exxon to deny and obscure it?
Republicans, who invented cap-and-trade but now denounce it along with some Democrats, have also tapped into two key parts of the electorate’s psyche. The first is an easy one – why do something that is going to cost you money – especially in this economy? And secondly, why would you trust the scientists? I don’t see any global warming, do you?
The second plays into the phenomenon highlighted by Michael Specter, a staff writer of the New Yorker and author of Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives.
His book and recent speech points to a trend in the U.S. and elsewhere, which is an anti-science movement against everything from vaccines for our kids to genetically engineered food to the science of climate change. We live in a world today where celebrities like Jenny McCarthy hold more sway over public opinion about vaccines than scientists and doctors do. We live in a world where conservatives make global warming denials a key part of their platforms. In short, we’re losing faith in science. Some would say science is under attack.
I’m not a ClimateGate apologist. Honestly, I can’t tell if Michael Mann harmed the scientific process in ClimateGate – five subsequent investigations say he didn’t. Now, some of the incoming Republicans who want nothing to do with anything on climate change policy, want to again investigate ClimateGate.
Meanwhile, some 700 researchers have said they will speak out against false claims regarding global warming. (see Lead Stories: “Climate scientists plan campaign against global-warming skeptics”).
In other words, there appears to be little chance of a fair and objective examination of the evidence. There comes a point in which we need to take a side and take stand. In fact, we need to believe in the scientists who are working on these complex issues. But in return for that trust, we need the scientific community to provide transparent, understandable research that stands up to the microscope of skeptics. The proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, is on them whether they like it or not.