Climate Contrarians Ignore Overwhelming Evidence
Every snowflake is unique, but attacks on climate science all seem the same. I should know. I’ve been one of the climate contrarians’ preferred targets for years.
A recent op-ed on this page by blogger and climate-change denier James Delingpole attacked the “hockey stick” graph my co-authors and I published more than a decade ago with well-worn, discredited arguments (“Climategate 2.0,” Nov. 28).
Our original work showed that average temperatures today are higher than they have been for at least the past 1,000 years. Since then, dozens of analyses from other scientists based on different data and methods have all affirmed and extended our original findings.
Contrarians have nonetheless painted a misleading picture of climate science as a house of cards teetering on the edge of a hockey stick. In reality, my research is just one piece in a vast puzzle scientists have painstakingly assembled over the past 200 years establishing the reality of human-caused climate change.
Does that mean that everyone should have to drive an electric car and adopt a polar bear? Of course not. Policy decisions must balance matters of economics, international diplomacy and ethics in a way that is informed, rather than prescribed, by science.
In 2006, then-Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R., N.Y.) asked the National Academy of Sciences to look into studies like the hockey stick. It affirmed our conclusions.
In recent years, attacks on climate science have become personal. After my colleagues and I had our emails stolen and posted online in November 2009, attacks from climate contrarians were subsequently shot down by investigations from two universities, the National Science Foundation, two federal agencies and several media outlets. Contrarians declared that those institutions were part of an imagined global-warming conspiracy.
In April 2010, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli demanded emails I sent or received from other scientists while at the University of Virginia. A judge concluded Mr. Cuccinelli hadn’t demonstrated any good reason to see that correspondence. Shortly after that, the American Tradition Institute, a group with ties to fossil-fuel interests, asked for the same emails under the state’s open records laws. The university rightly asserted that much of my private correspondence is just that and not subject to release.
Many fossil-fuel interests and their allies are following the same attack-the-science strategy that tobacco companies adopted to delay smoking regulation. Climate scientists can also find kinship with Dr. Herbert Needleman, who identified a link between lead contamination and impaired childhood brain development in the 1970s. The lead industry accused him of misconduct. Later, the National Institutes of Health exonerated him.
Mr. Delingpole ends his piece by saying the anonymous hacker or hackers who stole emails from me and my colleagues deserve thanks. What they deserve is to be brought to justice. But British police have not determined who stole the emails. Recent reports of police expenditures suggest they may be devoting far fewer resources to it than other similar investigations.
Celebrating theft is silly. We should respect the role science and scientists play in society, especially when scientists identify new risks. Whether those risks stem from smoking, lead exposure or the increasing use of fossil fuels, scientists will always work to increase knowledge and reduce uncertainty. And we all benefit from that work.
Prof. Michael E. Mann
Penn State University
Director, Penn State Earth System Science Center
University Park, Pa.