Science is the most socially disruptive force in the world. Astronomy did away with the earth as centre of the universe. Evolution did away with humans as the centre of creation. Physics created nuclear energy and The Bomb. Technology created modern telecommunications and the internet. Naturally, many of the changes brought about by science have been vigourously resisted – just ask Galileo Galilei. But facts can only be denied for so long. The truth will out.
The message of climate change is another of those scientific truths which is socially disruptive, and therefore vigourously resisted by some. We already know that there is a well funded corporate campaign to obfuscate and deny climate change science (similar to the tobacco industry campaign to hide the truth about cancer). We already know that no amount of evidence or reason will ever convince those who have already made up their minds to deny. The task of climate change scientists is almost impossible. Deniers will keep denying until the facts completely overwhelm them, by which time it will be far, far too late.
It is in this context that we have seen the massive denier “climategate” beatup. The scientists involved at CRU have now been cleared by two separate enquiries (here, here). Similarly the beatup about minor errors in the huge and authoritative IPCC report. Meanwhile, the world keeps warming.
I personally think that we are too late (1 2 3) and ecofuck is coming (sorry, that’s my personal term for it). But even so it’s good to see signs that scientists are starting to fight back outside the realms of their journals. By highlighting the nonsense claims of deniers. By taking legal action. And now in an open letter from 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences, including 11 Nobel laureates. Here it is almost in full:
Climate Change and the Integrity of Science
We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet. [...]
Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific assessments of climate change, which involve thousands of scientists producing massive and comprehensive reports, have, quite expectedly and normally, made some mistakes. When errors are pointed out, they are corrected. But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:
(i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.
(ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
(iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth’s climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.
(iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.
(v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.
Much more can be, and has been, said by the world’s scientific societies, national academies, and individuals, but these conclusions should be enough to indicate why scientists are concerned about what future generations will face from business-as-usual practices. We urge our policy-makers and the public to move forward immediately to address the causes of climate change, including the un restrained burning of fossil fuels.
We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them. Society has two choices: We can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.