The New York Times. Sunday, July 11, 2010
Perhaps now we can put the manufactured controversy known as Climategate behind us and turn to the task of actually doing something about global warming. On Wednesday, a panel in Britain concluded that scientists whose e-mail had been hacked late last year had not, as critics alleged, distorted scientific evidence to prove that global warming was occurring and that human beings were primarily responsible.
It was the fifth such review of hundreds of e-mail exchanges among some of the world's most prominent climatologists. Some of the e-mail messages, purloined last November, were mean-spirited, others were dismissive of contrarian views, and others revealed a timid reluctance to share data. Climate skeptics pounced on them as evidence of a conspiracy to manipulate research to support predetermined ideas about global warming.
The panel found no such conspiracy. It complained mildly about one poorly explained temperature chart discussed in the e-mail, but otherwise found no reason to dispute the scientists' "rigor and honesty." Two earlier panels convened by Britain's Royal Society and the House of Commons reached essentially the same verdict. And this month, a second panel at Penn State University exonerated Michael Mann, a prominent climatologist and faculty member, of scientific wrongdoing.
Dr. Mann, who was part of the e-mail exchange, had been accused of misusing data to prove that the rise in temperatures over the last century was directly linked to steadily rising levels of carbon dioxide. His findings, confirmed many times by others, are central to the argument that fossil fuels must be taxed or regulated.
Another (no less overblown) climate change controversy may also be receding from view. This one involves an incorrect assertion in the United Nations' 3,000-page report on climate change in 2007 that the Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035. The U.N. acknowledged the error and promised to tighten its review procedures. Even so, this and one or two other trivial mistakes were presented by some as further proof that scientists cannot be trusted and that warming is a hoax.
There have since been several reports upholding the U.N.'s basic findings, including a major assessment in May from the National Academy of Sciences. This assessment not only confirmed the relationship between climate change and human activities but warned of growing risks - sea level rise, drought, disease - that must swiftly be addressed by firm action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
Given the trajectory the scientists say we are on, one must hope that the academy's report, and Wednesday's debunking of Climategate, will receive as much circulation as the original, diversionary controversies.