Climate Science Keeps on Ticking -- An ENN Commentary
If you didn't know what the Kyoto Protocol was all about a few weeks ago, you'd be hard pressed not to know now. The international agreement to reduce the heat trapping emissions that are causing global warming has been all over the news since it came into force last week.
Leading up to the big day, I expected to hear from "both sides" of the issue in the media - those who felt that the agreement was an important first step to address a huge challenge for humanity, and those who felt that the targets would be too difficult to achieve in a short timeline.
What I didn't really expect was how the "climate change isn't happening" people crawled out of the woodwork, bleating about myths and conspiracy theories that somehow seemed to involve nutty left-wing scientists, government bureaucrats and the French.
Naively, I had assumed that this discussion was largely over, since these people had such little credibility. But there they were, being interviewed on television, in newspapers and on the radio - sometimes right alongside legitimate climate scientists or politicians. Over and over, they made bizarre pronouncements about how the science was uncertain and how humanity's hand in global warming could not be proven.
This continued insistence on "proof" even in the face of overwhelming evidence is simply bizarre. To say that we don't know enough about climate change to prompt action is to say that the entire discipline of science, as we know it, should not be trusted. Uncertainty is inherent in the scientific process. Currently, the vast majority of scientific evidence tells us that human activities are causing climate change and that it could have very serious consequences if we don't do something about it. Of course, the science could all be wrong - but I wouldn't bet our future onit.
Anyone who wants to know the real story on the current state of climate science should simply pick up a science journal. Or, to cut to the chase, read a short article by the University of California's Naomi Oreskes, published in the journal Science in December. Her analysis of all 928 peer-reviewed climate studies published between 1993 and 2003 found that not a single one disagreed with the general scientific consensus position on climate change.
Yet in spite of this, and in spite of the thousands of climate scientists who are working directly on this issue and are very concerned about it, from whom did we hear as Kyoto approached? A handful of pundits peddling warmed-over opinion articles and half-baked interviews. Yes, good dialogue, discussion and debate are vital to journalism, democracy and science. But they have to be informed dialogue - not conspiracy theories. And that is exactly what these people are serving up.
Of course, part of the problem is that journalism is fueled by conflict, so reporters will often dredge up a crusty commentator to make sure a story is "balanced." That may make for great TV drama, but it's giving industry and politicians an excuse to drag their heels on taking action. And heel dragging is hardly prudent in light of the science.
Our climate is a very complicated system. We don't know everything about how it works, but we're learning more each day. What we do know tells us that, by dumping vast quantities of emissions into the atmosphere, we are disrupting our climate in ways that may make it increasingly inhospitable. The Kyoto Protocol, by itself, won't stop this from happening, but it's the first step towards an energy economy that could.
That won't stop some people from bleating their conspiracy theories and claims that everything is going to be just fine. Given how disturbing the real science is, I sincerely wish they were right.