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Volume 87 Issue 50 | p. 3 | Editor's Page
Issue Date: December 14, 2009

'Climategate'

Department: Editor's Page | Collection: Climate Change

MORE THAN 30,000 people are gathered in Copenhagen to discuss, negotiate, and act on global warming. A treaty to control the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide is not likely to come out of this United Nations meeting, but progress toward such a treaty is. The amount of money developed nations should contribute to developing nations to help them adapt to the global warming that is already inevitable is another major topic being discussed.

C&EN Senior Correspondent Cheryl Hogue has been in Copenhagen for the past week. She has posted her thoughts and impressions on C&EN's blog, "C&ENtral Science," and wrote the lead News of the Week story on developments at the meeting (see page 6). Jerald Schnoor, the editor-in-chief of Environmental Science & Technology, and Pedro Alvarez, an associate editor at ES&T, will also be contributing to the blog.

Meanwhile, climate-change skeptics and deniers are all atwitter about thousands of purloined e-mails and other documents from a computer at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU). They have culled through the e-mails, some of them nearly two decades old, and found what they have proclaimed to be paydirt: clear examples in their collective mind of climate-change researchers cooking data, suppressing contrary research, and sullying the peer review process.

They're calling it "climategate," of course. (The e-mails are posted at a number of sites. One of the most convenient to use is eastangliaemails.com.)

The vast majority of the e-mails are innocuous and/or banal. They are shoptalk among climate scientists around the world. Like most shoptalk, it is unguarded and sometimes less than sophisticated. A few e-mails mention data manipulation that is being interpreted by the skeptics as nefarious but which appears to be no more than trying to correlate disparate data sets collected by a number of different methods. A couple of e-mails discuss whether editors of two journals are using the peer review process appropriately.

In at least one of the e-mails, Phil Jones, director of CRU, asks other climate scientists to delete e-mails, apparently to prevent them from being discovered by a freedom of information request. Jones clearly acted improperly in this instance; he has temporarily stepped down from his position at CRU while an investigation is being conducted.

During a teleconference for reporters held last week, Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University, said of the e-mails: "The important issue is whether anything has been added to or subtracted from the science of climate change. Nothing has changed. The Earth has warmed more than 1 ºC over the last century. Global sea level has risen 7 inches. Both major ice sheets are losing ice rapidly. The ocean is more acidic than it used to be."

And that's just it. Skeptics want the public to believe that there is a debate on climate change between two relatively equal groups of scientists, and that one group—those who are convinced that the evidence says that humans are changing the climate—is using political clout and dishonest techniques to suppress the evidence that supports the skeptics' point of view. That's just not true. The national science academies of every major developed and developing country have endorsed the findings of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Those findings are the result of work by thousands of scientists. They say humans are dangerously altering Earth's climate.

Here is a hint at what's really going on. In a tract entitled "Climategate: Caught Green-Handed!" Christopher Monckton, a British politician, pundit, and hereditary peer, writes that at the Copenhagen meeting "the world's governing class [will meet] to discuss a treaty to inflict an unelected and tyrannical global government on us, with vast and unprecedented powers to control all once-free world markets and tax and regulate the world's wealthier nations for its own enrichment: in short, to bring freedom, democracy, and prosperity to an instant end worldwide, at the stroke of a pen, on the pretext of addressing what is now known to be the non-problem of manmade 'global warming.' "

What more is there to say?

Thanks for reading.

Rudy Baum
Editor-in-chief

 

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

 
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