Back in February, as large swaths of the United States were being hammered by blizzards with record snowfall, the wags at Fox News Channel trotted out this bit of stupidity, equating temperatures in this country with global climate and ignoring that last winter would prove to be the fifth warmest on record:
Interestingly - although perhaps not unexpectedly - now that both the U.S. and Canada have been broiling in record high-temperatures for the past several days, the climate change deniers are nowhere to be found. Not that the current North American heatwave "proves" climate change anymore than a series of localized blizzards disproves it, but at a minimum, it pretty clearly demonstrates a lack of consistency on the part of so-called "warming skeptics".
In any case, now seems like an appropriate time to revisit one of the biggest "scandals" of the past twelve months in the debate over the state of the planet: "Climategate." For those who may have forgotten, last November, hundreds of private eMails and documents belonging to members of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at Britain's University of East Anglia (EAU) were hacked from a server. A report in the New York Times accurately predicted that they would provoke a storm of controversy:
The eMail messages, attributed to prominent American and British climate researchers, include discussions of scientific data and whether it should be released, exchanges about how best to combat the arguments of skeptics, and casual comments — in some cases derisive — about specific people known for their skeptical views. Drafts of scientific papers and a photo collage that portrays climate skeptics on an ice floe were also among the hacked data, some of which dates back 13 years.Climate change deniers jumped all over the news, with the Times of London calling it "The Great Climate Change Science Scandal", and noted amateur climatologist and deep thinker Sean Hannity stating definitively that it "exposed global warming as a myth":
In one eMail exchange, a scientist writes of using a statistical “trick” in a chart illustrating a recent sharp warming trend. In another, a scientist refers to climate skeptics as “idiots.”
Some skeptics asserted Friday that the correspondence revealed an effort to withhold scientific information. “This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud,” said Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist who has long faulted evidence pointing to human-driven warming and is criticized in the documents.
Unfortunately for Mr. Hannity and the rest, that simply wasn't the case. Several independent reviews of the University of East Anglia's CRU have concluded that, while the scientists involved could be fairly criticized for not being as open as might be desired, they had engaged in no scientific malpractice whatsoever. The most recent, and final, investigation was perhaps the most clear in its exoneration, covering in detail the scientific and mathematical criticisms of the work exposed in the stolen documents, but also stating plainly that the climate team at EAU was broadly unworthy of scientific criticism:
1.3 FindingsMeanwhile, the Times of London, which, in addition to attacking CRU, had also savaged the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has begun - to its limited credit - to retract sweeping statements it made about the IPCC's research and conclusions. (Link goes to World Wildlife Fund article quoting the retraction; original Times article is available only by subscription.) Unfortunately, the damage of Climategate has been done, and if past performance is any indication, it is highly unlikely we will see Mr. Hannity acknowledge the wreckless overreaching of his previous statements.
13. Climate science is a matter of such global importance, that the highest standards of honesty, rigour and openness are needed in its conduct. On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.
14. In addition, we do not find that their behaviour has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policy makers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] assessments.
15. But we do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of the CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA, who failed to recognise not only the significance of statutory requirements but also the risk to the reputation of the University and, indeed, to the credibility of U.K. climate science.
Be that as it may, as the James Inhofes of the world continue to declare "global warming... the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," there is a very simple fact worth keeping in mind: the vast majority of the scientists who publish peer-reviewed work on climate change support the idea that human activity is warming the earth. A study by the National Academy of Sciences describes it this way:
Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field surveyed here support the tenets of ACC [anthropogenic climate change] outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.In other words, almost 100% of the most highly regarded and widely-published climatologists agree that mankind is behind ongoing climate change. Not only that, but the expertise of scientists skeptical of humanity's role in planetary warming is significantly less than that of the scientists who back anthropogenic climate change.
So, if you've been under the impression that the debate over climate change is one between equally matched and qualified factions, it's not. In fact, it's one in which the vast preponderence of knowledge and reputation is ranged fully against the idea that the dramatic changes in climate we are seeing in recent years aren't caused by humans. That's worth remembering the next time someone claims a snowstorm in the United States proves climate change is a myth.