Climate Change E-Mail Warms Copenhagen Debate
As climate change
critics, skeptics and outright deniers have a romp at the expense of facts and
scientific research over the disclosure of leaked e-mails at a British research
facility suggesting the threat that man-made greenhouse gas emissions is overstated,
delegates are arriving in Copenhagen for the Dec. 7-18 United Nations Climate
The goal of the gathering is to come up with a global agreement on a new emissions reduction target and deadline, building on the Kyoto Protocol, which effectively expires in 2012. Scientists blame man-made greenhouse emissions for the average rise in the Earth's atmospheric temperature over the last two decades.
The issue was contentious enough, but last week stories began to appear that leaked e-mails from Britain's East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit-one of the world's renowned climate change research centers-appear to challenge some of the basic facts of climate change. Adding to the controversy was an alleged attempt by East Anglia's head professor Phil Jones to exclude certain papers critical of the university's research efforts from the U.N.'s next major assessment of climate science.
Jones stepped down as East Anglia announced Dec. 3 it will investigate the matter. The U.N. said Dec. 4 it will conduct its own investigation.
Critics of climate change, and there are many, are having a field day with the East Anglia scandal.
"The climate change industry is shot through with groupthink (or what climate scientist Judith Curry calls 'climate tribalism'). Activists would have us believe that the overwhelming majority of real scientists agree with them while the few dissenters are all either crazed or greedy 'deniers' akin to flat-earthers and creationists," the Houston Chronicle opined. "These e-mails show that what's really at work is a very large clique of scientists attempting to excommunicate perceived heretics for reasons that have more to do with psychology and sociology than physics or climatology."
Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner said, "If the emails are genuine it is very disturbing because they call into question the whole science of climate change." Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe-perhaps the most skeptical of the skeptics-added, "I want to make sure that people from around the world understand that there is no way that the United States is going to ratify any kind of treaty that is anything at all like Kyoto."
The furor has prompted a pushback effort by the White House, which supports the goal of the Copenhagen conference.
"In this particular case, the data set in question and the way it was interpreted and presented by these particular scientists constitute a very small part of the immense body of data and analysis on which our understanding of the issue of climate change rests," Dr. John Holdren, President Obama's science adviser, told a dithered-up House panel Dec. 3. "It is important to understand that these kinds of controversies and even accusations of bias and improper manipulation are not all that uncommon in science, in all branches of science."
Across the Atlantic, British Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband told the Guardian that man-made greenhouse emissions constitute the "scientific consensus from around the world. It's as universal a view as you can get. One chain of e-mails does not undo scientific consensus."
All which should make for an interesting debate next week in Copenhagen.