January 4, 2010
The times are changing in the wake of Climategate. And more is to come as the polluted science embedded in the email exchanges gets reviewed by talented amateurs and pros alike on the blogosphere (see Climate Audit, Roger Pielke Jr., and WattsUpWithThat, in particular).
Given time, the rethink will go mainstream. Scientists are truth seekers at heart, but an entrenched mainstream of climate scientists–so many of them friends and political allies–will need to be nudged out of their denialism.
Old voices are challenging their ‘mainstream’ colleagues, and new voices are coming forth. I have seen this clearly here in Houston (examples below), and I expect it is happening elsewhere.
Consider what Andy Revkin, the recently retired climate-change science writer at the New York Times, told the public editor at the Times regarding Climategate: “Our coverage, looked at in toto, has never bought the catastrophe conclusion and always aimed to examine the potential for both overstatement and understatement.”
Sounds like the Times will report both sides of the issue now, rather than just trumpet alarmism as it was prone to do in the past (remember William K. Stevens?). Joe Romm at Climate Progress (Center for American Progress) is furious at this development, but just maybe over-the-top Joe has himself to blame for getting Revkin and the like to want to report on both sides more than ever before. And Romm himself is now considered damaged goods by the Left, thanks to the four-part expose by the Breakthrough Institute.
Climategate, in short, is making quite a difference. But much more courage is needed.
Dr. Michelle Foss (University of Texas at Austin)
Consider Michelle Michot Foss, an internationally respected energy economist with the University of Texas at Austin who is past president of both the United States Energy Association and the International Associations for Energy Economics. Her December 8th letter to the New York Times read:
To the Editor:
Your editorial concludes, “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.”
Hold on a minute. It was precisely because “one set” of opinions has been driving climate politics that the whistleblowers, not hackers, published the evidence. And it is precisely because of the type of coverage that The New York Times and other mainstream news organizations are giving the whistleblowing incident that the integrity of both the scientific and journalistic communities is being threatened.
Honest questions have been raised and honest attempts have been made to shed light on questionable claims about climate science for decades. We need to push for greater disclosure, more scrutiny, better research and a halt in the action before we jump into policy and regulatory schemes that we will deeply regret.
Dr. Foss has kept her views somewhat under wraps given her university position, but Climategate was enough for her to go public in the above very public way. And she has received a number of emails of support–and some emails by her alarmist friends to the effect: ‘gosh Michelle, I agree with you on Climategate, but I thought you were one of us….’
To such critics, her answer can be: Climategate proves that alarmism is exaggerated, and most modest warming scenarios win the debate for adaptation over mitigation. Robert Murphy has made this point in a post very widely read among economists and entitled “Apologist Responses to Climategate Misconstrue Real Issues.”
I think that if some on the UT-Austin faculty were to try to silence her powerful voice, they would have a (climate) McCarthyism issue on their hands post Climategate. What a difference compared to several months ago!