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Toronto Star: The science of climate change is alive and well July 25, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Media Work.
1 comment so far

This op-ed by scientists Barry Smit and Tristan Pearce was published in today’s Toronto Star here. I’m posting it here not just because I did the media work that got it published, but because I think the message is incredibly important (and it’s great to have scientists communicating directly with the public).

The science of climate change is alive and well

Barry Smit & Tristan Pearce

An inquiry into the “climategate” controversy reported recently what the scientific community and most Canadians have known for some time: the climate is changing and human activities are a major influence.

The salient facts of climate change (including human-induced global warming) are accepted by the science academies of all G8 countries. These facts are persistently challenged by climate change deniers and skeptics.

In climategate, scientists’ emails were stolen and misrepresented to suggest manipulation of research findings. The independent inquiry, like two previous investigations, concluded that the scientists acted with integrity and did not manipulate data. The inquiry was strongly critical of the unfounded and selective attacks by climate skeptics.

Unfortunately, the reputation of climate science has been damaged. The climategate accusations made front-page news, yet the debunking is hardly reported. For those not wanting to see policies or changes in consumer behaviour to address climate change, the skeptics’ attacks were successful.

The strategies of the skeptics are not new. The effects of smoking on human health were well established in the scientific community for decades, yet interests in the smoking industry continued to deny the link. While thousands of medical scientists and professionals supported the overwhelming evidence, a few so-called experts would appear from time to time to challenge the science.

The influence of skeptics was amplified by the media seeking either a controversy or “balance.” The effect of skeptics in the link between smoking and health was that public acceptance of the science was delayed, policies were postponed, changes in personal choice were delayed, and hundreds of thousands of lives were lost as a result.

Another target of climate skeptics is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC was established after early attempts to reach an international agreement on how to deal with climate change got bogged down in disputes over the science. It involves the world’s top scientists (over 3,000) summarizing the current state of knowledge and presenting the science in a form intelligible to policy-makers.

The IPCC does not do science, it summarizes it. IPCC reports are among the most thoroughly and comprehensively reviewed scientific assessments ever. Each statement is checked by chapter authors, two review editors, several outside experts, and reviewers nominated by each country. It is no wonder that IPCC reports are so conservative.