Hacked emails show some scientists are rude

I’m as disappointed as the next person in some of the conduct evident in the hacked emails of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Although I generally have some sympathy for a derogatory tone taken towards the so-called skeptics — after all, deniers tend to be a community wholly devoted towards misrepresenting and misusing climate science for their own political ends — it’s unacceptable coming from climate scientists.

We tend to expect a lot from policymakers and their scientific advisers. Scientists deal with internal politics like any other field, and the CRU emails show that certain scientists can be defensive, mean, and outright dismissive of opposing views. These emails have made it abundantly clear that the work of explaining the state of climate science needs more time and energy devoted to it, not less. These emails show that climate scientists must, even in the face of irrational opposition, take the highest road possible. These emails show that the complexity of climate science is not something that can be swept under the rug, or hidden. These emails show that we have a lot of work left to do.

I don’t have the expertise to address every supposed “nail in the coffin” that these emails uncover — Joe Romm, a physicist, does though! — and am mostly exhausted at the thought. What continues to be abundantly clear is that the earth is getting warmer (on average, with great regional and local variability), and that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are the principal source of that warming.

I was going to post about this study back in September, but the pace of climate-related science articles overwhelmed me. Now that it seems we’ve got to reaffirm that global warming is real, it’s worth a glance. What it shows is that the summer temperature of the Arctic over the last 2,000 years was steadily declining, largely due to decreased solar insolation associated with the earth’s orbit. About 150 years ago though, the temperature, as measured by tree rings, lake sediments, and ice cores, began sharply increasing.

Perhaps skeptics will say that it’s all natural variability, but what it looks like to me is a steadily decreasing temperature interrupted by a sudden increase, just around the time of the Industrial Revolution. Skeptical?

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  1. richard schumacher - December 2, 2009

    How come smart people aren’t allowed to be snippy and irritable around morons? That’s not fair.
    Anyway, does this mean we can start buyin’ F-350s and Florida beach property agin? Hoo-wee!

  2. Doug Wallace - December 2, 2009

    I was hoping and waiting for a TerraPass blog on the East Anglia kerfuffle, and so I’m pleased to see this post. I wholeheartedly agree that we have to take the high road when making the case for the reality of anthropogenic climate change.
    But I need some advice. While chatting with a fellow bus passenger the other day, he opined that climate change might be due to natural variability, and also that the “silver lining” aspects of climate change (like farming in Greenland, I suppose) have been underplayed. Stumbling, I tried to suggest that a deeper study of the evidence would indicate otherwise, but the only headway I made was in pointing out the mass extinction issue to this otherwise well-versed fellow.
    How can you turn somebody around in a three-minute conversation on climate change? That is, assuming you have a somewhat open mind to work with?

  3. Adam Stein - December 2, 2009

    You can’t, I don’t think, and I tend to doubt that your bus passenger had an open mind on the topic regardless.
    Setting my cynicism aside, I suppose I would just point out that scientists have pretty much ruled out natural variability as the primary cause of climate change. We shouldn’t be surprised by this fact, because climate change is caused by very basic and easily understood physical processes. The warming effect from increased fossil fuel use is actually so easily foreseen that it was predicted and even estimated accurately in the late 1800s. The past few decades of measurements have confirmed the theory empirically.
    As for the precise effects of climate change, well, that’s harder to predict, and it’s true that they will vary across regions. But on balance, they range from bad to very bad: mass extinctions, disrupted rainfall patterns, more extreme weather, and so on. Speaking more generally, the issue is that we are taking a very big gamble. The worst-case scenarios are both extremely bad and also not nearly as unlikely as you would wish.
    That’s probably more than your three minutes will allow. If your fellow passenger actually has an open mind, you might direct him to the Real Climate web site.

  4. Woody - December 4, 2009

    I suggest that it would be better to add some food for thought in a 3 min. conversation, rather than get all worked up about completely changing a skeptic’s thinking then & there. Info at this NASA site might be helpful for talking points: http://climate.nasa.gov/keyIndicators/index.cfm#GlobalTemperature .
    I find most compelling the unprecedented rise in CO2 during the industrial revolution (less than 200 yrs.) compared to the 650,000 yr. record provided by the Antarctic ice cores. It can’t be coincidence. As for “silver lining” effects, I can’t think that much could offset the drowning of all marshlands worldwide, which will take thousands of years to evolve again whenever the sea level stabilizes. Marshlands are the ecological base and nursery for most in-shore fisheries. As we know, there are many, many other changes that will occur. Just pick 1 or 2 and have the references to back up your position. As the truth accumulates in skeptical minds, most will leave denial behind.