Tumblr Icon RSS Icon

Time: “The truth is that the e-mails, while unseemly, do little to change the overwhelming scientific consensus on the reality of man-made climate change.”

Posted on

"Time: “The truth is that the e-mails, while unseemly, do little to change the overwhelming scientific consensus on the reality of man-made climate change.”"


google plus icon

“the largely conservative doubters of man-made climate change are a small minority”

Bryan Walsh has a long analysis in Time magazine that is well worth reading:  “The Stolen E-Mails: Has ‘Climategate’ Been Overblown?”  He finds no significant impact on our understanding of the science — like most sober looks at the issue:

Credit also goes to Walsh for putting the Swifthack affair in context, which few journalists have:

Ultimately, though, we need to place Climategate/Swifthack in its proper context: amidst a decades-long effort by the fossil fuel industry and other climate skeptics to undercut global warming research “” often by means that are far more nefarious than anything that appears in the CRU e-mails. George W. Bush’s Administration attempted to censor NASA climatologist James Hansen, while the fossil-fuel industry group the Global Climate Coalition ignored its own scientists as it spread doubt about man-made global warming. That list of wrongdoing goes on. One of the main skeptic groups promoting the e-mail controversy, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, was recently revealed to have links to the energy company Exxon-Mobil, which has long funded climate-change deniers. “This is being used to confuse the public,” says blogger James Hoggan, whose new book Climate Cover-Up details Exxon-Mobil’s campaign. “This is not a legitimate scientific issue.”

Yes, the big carbon polluters, who fund most of the anti-scientific disinformation campaign, have known for a long time that the anti-science case is a false one (see Scientists advising fossil fuel funded anti-climate group concluded in 1995: “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of GHGs such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied”).

Some parts of the piece are skippable — especially where he has non-scientists opining on the science rather than just quoting major scientific groups like the American Meteorological Society or the UK’s Royal Society: “even since the 2007 IPCC Assessment the evidence for dangerous, long-term and potentially irreversible climate change has strengthened.”

And he is harsher about the American public than I would be:

And yet climate scientists cannot be expected to debate with a skeptical monolith. While the largely conservative doubters of man-made climate change are a small minority, they remain immovable. What scientists view as healthy debate, critics tend to see as evidence that the scientific case is still open “” and the American public, large portions of which are all but scientifically illiterate, are not equipped to make the distinction.

Personally, I find the vast majority of Americans that I meet are equipped to understand the key issues about the science, to understand that doing nothing to reduce emissions, as the anti-science conservatives propose, eliminates the uncertainty about the future because the rise in GHG levels simply swamp everything else, leaving the only doubt as to precisely when the catastrophe hits  — see UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but “we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon.”

I just find that after 8 years of the Bush administration muzzling government climate scientists with much of the rest of the climate science community not particularly good at communicating, with many in the environmental and progressive community reluctant to talk about global warming science, and most mainstream science journalists doing a generally dreadful job — Time magazine excepted — in the midst of a decade-long disinformation campaign funded largely by big polluters, the public is, not surprisingly, confused (see, for instance, “NYT’s Revkin seems shocked, shocked by media’s own failure to explain climate threat“).

Walsh’s bottom line is dead on:

Despite the e-mail controversy, however, momentum on climate change action is still building. Environmentalists are feeling increasingly hopeful that the Copenhagen summit could produce concrete action on emissions cuts, with U.S. President Barack Obama changing his schedule to arrive on the final day of negotiations. “The clock has ticked down to zero,” said the U.N.’s climate chief Yvo de Boer on the first day of the talks. “After two years of negotiation, the time has come to deliver.” There’s nothing invented about that urgency.

The time to act is now.

« »

10 Responses to Time: “The truth is that the e-mails, while unseemly, do little to change the overwhelming scientific consensus on the reality of man-made climate change.”

  1. joe1347 says:

    “Human activities are almost certainly the cause”. Sorry, that kind of mushy statement gives the deniers enough wiggle room to say – see I told you so – humans don’t cause Global warming. Time science to take a stand.

    [JR: That's what the science says of the warming to date.]

  2. Dean says:

    The deniers thought it was good timing to do this right before Copenhagen. Instead, the conference may serve to bury it in the news. I’ve seen a variety of reports on mainstream media in the last few days, about a week after the actual incident. Most of them start a climate piece on the hacking, and then move to the conference and another segment demonstrating some real-world impact.

    Of course it will give deniers an even stronger sense of victimhood, but that is normal for conspiracy nuts, who always think that their proof is being ignored.

  3. clarkbeast says:

    As if making “mushy” statements firmer will make a difference to the deniers? It’s the general public we need to reach. And if Swifthack shows anything, it’s that the deniers will seize on any questionable detail to attack their opponents credibility. Like making statements that are firmer than the science says.

  4. Jay Alt says:

    This is a good and useful series, keep ‘em coming JR.

  5. Peter Bellin says:

    I have been disappointed with CNN’s coverage this morning. They are using the tag “trick or truth”, working in the line that the ‘leaked’ emails suggest poor scientific behavior.

    Of course, my one hour in the gym is the only time I watch TV, much less TV news, so perhaps the rest of their coverage is better

  6. caerbannog says:

    The worst that these emails demonstrate is that scientists can “fly off the handle” (I’m referring to the FOI stuff here) when they are sufficiently provoked.

    The inappropriate FOI comments were obviously inspired by feelings of “I’m not going to give that lying sack of s**t the time of day” rather than any perceived need to cover up fraudulent activity.

  7. Passerby says:

    Apparently respondents to the CNN viewer surveys said they would prefer less honesty on global warming. Wonder what the advertising rates run for segments with liars?

  8. ken levenson says:

    Peter Bellin, You are an optimist!

    I love this quote: “It appears from the details of the scandal that there is no relationship whatsoever between human activities and climate change,” said Mohammed Al-Sabban, Saudi Arabia’s lead climate negotiator,”

    The Saudis and our Right Wing…has there been a more sordid affair?

  9. Jim says:

    Sharon Begley of Newsweek also has a column on the topic


    “Climategate has tarnished the image of climate research, but hasn’t undermined its substance.”

  10. Dave E says:

    I object to characterizing the e-mails as “unseemly”. There seems nothing unseemly at all about the most frequently quoted emails–certainly complaining about the publication of questionable papers doesn’t seem particularly unseemly, one might in fact argue that the publication of those papers was in fact unseemly (the resignation of half of the editorial board would seem to support this). Talking about concerns of being able to track global energy flows more accurately does not seem unseemly, especially when those concerns were in fact published. Talking about requests to delete email because of FIOS might be questionable, but without the context it is hard to say. It is clear that there is a group of deniers that are using FIOS requests to harass researchers–maybe people were merely concerned that there might be future FIOS requests so that it would be better to avoid anything that might be misconstrued. Given the history of denier attacks, this would seem prudent, not unseemly. In any case, these are private communications, the people involved understand what is being discussed, which very likely is not the case for someone casually reading the emails, and is emphatically not the case for someone reading single sentences from an email and ignoring everything else (how many times have you overheard a snippet of conversation and completely misinterpreted the conversation?).
    I think the real story here is how these emails were acquired, given that there have also been break-ins at other sites. In this respect, the name ClimateGate is appropriate, since it began with a burglary, just as WaterGate did. Is this evidence of a widespread conspiracy by the Conservative Fundamentalists? Certainly looks like it could be, maybe the headline should be “ClimateGate–the end of Climate Denial?”.