Sunday, December 06, 2009

that climate change email

NYTimes | The theft of thousands of private e-mail messages and files from computer servers at a leading British climate research center has been a political windfall for skeptics who claim the documents prove that mainstream scientists have conspired to overstate the case for human influence on climate change.

They are using the e-mail to blast the Obama administration’s climate policies. And they clearly hope that the e-mail will undermine negotiations for a new climate change treaty that begin in Copenhagen this week.

No one should be misled by all the noise. The e-mail messages represent years’ worth of exchanges among prominent American and British climatologists. Some are mean-spirited, others intemperate. But they don’t change the underlying scientific facts about climate change.

One describes climate skeptics as “idiots,” another describes papers written by climate contrarians as “garbage” and “fraud.” Still another suggests that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose 2007 report concluded that humans were the dominant force behind global warming, should pay no attention to contrarian opinions.

Another quotes an exasperated Phil Jones — director of the climate center at the University of East Anglia, from which the e-mail was stolen — as expressing the hope that climate change would occur “regardless of the consequences” so “the science could be proved right.”

However, most of the e-mail messages — judging by those that have seen the light of day — appear to deal with the painstaking and difficult task of reconstructing historical temperatures, and the problems scientists encounter along the way. Despite what the skeptics say, they demonstrate just how rigorously scientists have worked to figure out whether global warming is real and the true role that human activities play.

The controversy isn’t over. James Inhofe, the Senate’s leading skeptic, has asked for an inquiry into what some are calling “Climategate.” And on Friday, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations’ intergovernmental panel, announced that he would conduct his own investigation.

It is important that scientists behave professionally and openly. It is also important not to let one set of purloined e-mail messages undermine the science and the clear case for action, in Washington and in Copenhagen.