It's been a crazy few weeks in the world of climate change science. When a hacker broke in to the emails of the Climate Research Unit , all hell broke loose in the blogosphere. Selected quotes were repeated ad nauseum to claim 'proof' that the science is skewed, and even that the entire body of scientific opinion on climate change is a global conspiracy cooked up by the left-wing.
Just as a cold summer is sometimes referenced as 'proof' that climate change is nonsense—and just as greens sometimes claim every hot day as 'proof' global warming is real—everyone seems to have an opinion about what these emails mean. But when tempers get heated, opinions are all too often formed before all the facts are in.
So how is the ordinary person supposed to understand a subject as complicated as climate change? We'll get a lot closer to the truth if we can calm down and stop the mudslinging from all sides. Here are a few humble suggestions for how we can have a healthy, constructive discussion on climate change, the stolen emails, and where we go from here:
1. It's OK to Have Doubts
All too often, environmentalists shout down anyone who says they have any doubts about the science of climate change. But with all the conflicting arguments going back and forth, how can the average person differentiate? So let's not simply shout anyone down who dares to say they haven't made up their minds. The scientific consensus is strong. Most of the counter arguments have been debunked, and debunked again. So let's keep the discussion centered on evidence.
2. Skepticism and Denial are Different
There seems to be two different schools of thought in the so-called 'skeptic' camp. First there are the folks who, for whatever reaso,n remain unconvinced of the science of climate change. And then there are those who believe it is a sham, a hoax, and even a conspiracy by dark forces to take over the world. The first group may be open to reasoning in regards to the science—in fact, while I may disagree with them, I've had many constructive conversations with these people. The folks who shout about the New World Order and the global climate scam—they might not be quite so reasonable...
3. Look At the Numbers
I am not a climate scientist, and neither are most people who wax lyrical on climate change. To make head or tail of what is and isn't true, we have to look to science. And science is remarkably unified. A poll by Doran and Kendall Zimmerman at Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, showed 96.2% of climatologists active in climate research believe mean global temperatures are higher than pre-1800s levels, and 97.4% believe human activity is a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures. (Oil geologists were far more skeptical.)
Of course science is not a democracy, and consensus does not equal truth. But anyone planning on challenging the consensus might want to reflect on their own scientific knowledge. Scientific debate should be done with robust science by those who understand that science. Climate change will not be debunked by angry talking heads on YouTube... 4. Ask For Evidence. Real Evidence. This is the strongest and most important point in the whole climate debate. With all kinds of conclusions being drawn from selective quotes, it's important to remember that this is all about evidence. If someone says "it's all a sham". ask them to prove it. If somebody claims that the data is all cooked, or hidden, refer them to the massive amount of climate data that is available online. If someone quotes a selective email that seems to "prove" deceptive science—please examine the context of those quotes, and read the (very reasonable) explanations of what they really mean. The now infamous "hide the decline" comment, for example, appears to be a specific reference to not using a certain set of data past 1960 because it has proven to be unreliable—something that has long been discussed openly and extensively in the scientific literature. Check out TreeHugger for an excellent video explanation of the most (mis)quoted climate gate emails. 5. Someone You Disagree With Isn't Always Wrong Just because the stolen emails so clearly fail to prove anything near what many in the 'skeptic' camp claim, it doesn't mean they prove nothing at all. Most worrying is the suggestion that a small group of scientists may have discussed deliberately avoiding a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request. And that's serious business. But until the truth is out (an independent inquiry is underway) about what was done why, and under what circumstances—it is folly to suggest that anyone knows the truth behind what these comments mean. Even if allegations about FOI avoidance prove correct, it doesn't follow that wider accusations are true. Far from it. If this is all the skeptic camp has to offer, then the science remains robust indeed. 6. Remember that Vested Interests Exist One of the most interesting things about the recent flurry of debate is how skeptics have started using the meme of vested interests, big money, and how the 'climate change industry' is somehow pushing a lie to make money. This will sound startlingly familiar to activists who have been drawing attention to Exxon Mobil's funding of skeptic organizations like the George C. Marshall Institute and the Heartland Institute.The only difference is, we have a documented trail of money to follow.