Don't Fret About ClimateGate - The Science Is Still Settled
Climate treaty talks begin today in Copenhagen involving 200 nations, including the United States, and environmental reporters Andrew Revkin and John Broder use the opportunity to bring up ClimateGate in a Monday front-page story, if only to dismiss its ultimate significance ("In Face of Skeptics, Experts Affirm Climate Peril").
Just two years ago, a United Nations panel that synthesizes the work of hundreds of climatologists around the world called the evidence for global warming "unequivocal."
But as representatives of about 200 nations converge in Copenhagen on Monday to begin talks on a new international climate accord, they do so against a background of renewed attacks on the basic science of climate change.
The debate, set off by the circulation of several thousand files and e-mail messages stolen from one of the world's foremost climate research institutes, has led some who oppose limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and at least one influential country, Saudi Arabia, to question the scientific basis for the Copenhagen talks.
Revkin and Broder emphasized not the corrupted science, but fears that "a multiyear diplomatic effort" might come crashing down after scientists thought the battle "was finally behind them."
The uproar has threatened to complicate a multiyear diplomatic effort already ensnared in difficult political, technical and financial disputes that have caused leaders to abandon hopes of hammering out a binding international climate treaty this year.
In recent days, an array of scientists and policy makers have said that nothing so far disclosed - the correspondence and documents include references by prominent climate scientists to deleting potentially embarrassing e-mail messages, keeping papers by competing scientists from publication and making adjustments in research data - undercuts decades of peer-reviewed science.
Yet the intensity of the response highlights that skepticism about global warming persists, even as many scientists thought the battle over the reality of human-driven climate change was finally behind them.
The reporters tried to take the heat off the now-notorious climate research hub at East Anglia, claiming its conclusions have been verified by other researchers:
In reaching its conclusion, the climate panel relied only partly on temperature data like that collected by the scientists at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, whose circulated e-mail correspondence set off the current uproar. It also considered a wide range of data from other sources, including measurements showing the retreat of glaciers in mountain ranges around the world, changes in the length and character of the seasons, heating of the oceans and marked retreats of sea ice in the Arctic.
Both sides also have at times been criticized for overstatement in characterizing the scientific evidence. The contents of the stolen e-mail messages and documents have given fresh ammunition to the skeptics' camp.
The Climatic Research Unit's role as a central aggregator of temperature and other climate data has also made it a target. One widely discussed file extracted from the unit's computers, presumed to be the log of a researcher named Ian Harris, recorded his years of frustration in trying to make sense of disparate data and described procedures - or "fudge factors," as he called them - used by scientists to eliminate known sources of error.
The research in question concerned attempts to chart past temperature changes by studying tree rings and other indirect indicators, an area of research that has long been fraught with disputes. An influential study that drew in part on the British data was challenged in 2003. In 2006, a review by the National Academy of Sciences concluded, with some reservations, that "an array of evidence" supported the broad thrust of the research.