December 2009

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Climategate 

As I think I've mentioned before, I've been a skeptic about catastrophic global warming ("climate change"). It seems clear that CO2 has a warming effect, but there has long been enough doubt in my mind about the quality of the models and long-term projections of the net effects to make me cautious about committing to trillions of dollars of mitigation policies just yet.

And, if there were questions about the science before, there are certainly questions about it now. The revelations from the "Climategate" leaked documents should lead any honest person to be less certain of the proclaimed results.

It's difficult to deal with issues that are uncertain, but have potentially huge ramifications. I'm sure that some people try to make the most prudent judgments they can based on the best information available, but most of us are likely to lean towards our preferred results. I'm wary of extremely costly and intrusive political programs ostensibly aimed at reducing CO2 emissions, so I'm likely to receive the skeptical theories favorably. Others buy into the ideology of the environmental morality tale of people getting too arrogant and far from nature, and they'd like to see policies that rein in economic progress.

So, what's interesting to me about this incident is watching the reactions of those on both sides of the debate. Some people (Will Wilkinson, Ronald Bailey), seem to be reacting reasonably, while others on both sides are drawing extreme and unwarranted conclusions (like climate change has been debunked, or that there's absolutely nothing to see here).

One particularly interesting article I came across today comes from Shikha Dalmia:

"Science and scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my administration on a wide range of issues, including … mitigation of climate change," President Barack Obama declared in a not-so-subtle dig at his predecessor soon after assuming office. "The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process. Public officials should not suppress or alter scientific technological findings."
Last week's Climategate scandal is putting Obama's promise to the test. If he wants to pass, there are two things he should do, pronto: (1) Start singing hosannas to whoever broke the scandal instead of acting like nothing has happened; and (2) Ask eco-warriors at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit next week to declare an immediate cease-fire in their war against global warming pending a complete review of the science.
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A complete airing of the science of global warming, which is looking less and less avoidable by the day, might eventually vindicate the claims of climate warriors. Or it might not. The only thing Obama can control in this matter is which side he will support: The truth, or--what he accused his predecessor of--ideology.

I think this is right. Many people have supported policies to avert catastrophe because they honestly believed that that was the most prudent reaction to settled science. Others are ideologues who are largely impervious to criticism (i.e., irrational). It seems to me that all but extreme ideologues would find this "science" quite unsettling.

For insightful commentary on this incident and the climate change debate in general by a smart layman, check out Warren Meyer's Climate Skeptic site (and this, recent, video).