Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's all been photosynthesized back into virgin Brazilian rainforest

As I've said before on this blog, two facts about the Earth's climate should be beyond doubt for any reasonable person, regardless of their scientific acumen. They are:

1) We have changed the Earth's atmosphere.
2) The Earth is getting warmer.

I don't know anyone who seriously questions 1). Being highly conservative in one's assumptions, it should still be obvious that we have burned billions and billions of metric tons of material including everything from fossil fuels to plant life since the start of the industrial age, and that not all of that could have been photosynthesized, refossilized, and liquefied back into light sweet crude over the last century or two.

Fact 2) is disputed, but only by very stupid people, who make arguments like "if the Earth is getting colder, then why's it snowing in Texas? Huh? Huh? Gotcha!"

Whether 1) is the cause of 2) is, I suppose, a place for legitimate debate. Unfortunately, that debate was tremendously muddied last week with the theft of e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which has been a windfall for denialist wingnuts out there. See the previous post but one for an example.

I've gone through a small sampling of the e-mails myself, including some of the most controversial ones and while I can see why they look bad when taken out of context, that only highlights the importance of reading things in context - something that the wingnuts have a propensity not to do.

For a more thorough refutation of the denialist haymaking on this subject, I recommend the Dec 3rd editorial in Nature, the ultra-high-impact life-sciences journal.

Climatologists under pressure

. . . A fair reading of the e-mails reveals nothing to support the denialists' conspiracy theories. In one of the more controversial exchanges, UEA scientists sharply criticized the quality of two papers that question the uniqueness of recent global warming (S. McIntyre and R. McKitrick Energy Environ. 14, 751–771; 2003 and W. Soon and S. Baliunas Clim. Res. 23, 89–110; 2003) and vowed to keep at least the first paper out of the upcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Whatever the e-mail authors may have said to one another in (supposed) privacy, however, what matters is how they acted. And the fact is that, in the end, neither they nor the IPCC suppressed anything: when the assessment report was published in 2007 it referenced and discussed both papers.

If there are benefits to the e-mail theft, one is to highlight yet again the harassment that denialists inflict on some climate-change researchers, often in the form of endless, time-consuming demands for information under the US and UK Freedom of Information Acts. Governments and institutions need to provide tangible assistance for researchers facing such a burden. . . .

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