If you wanted a summary of why skepticism abounds about global warming and what we know about it, you could do little better than this Times of London article from the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen.
It begins with an embarrassing episode for Al Gore in Copenhagen yesterday:
In his speech, Mr Gore told the conference: “These figures are fresh. Some of the models suggest to Dr [Wieslav] Maslowski that there is a 75 per cent chance that the entire north polar ice cap, during the summer months, could be completely ice-free within five to seven years.”
However, the climatologist whose work Mr Gore was relying upon dropped the former Vice-President in the water with an icy blast.
“It’s unclear to me how this figure was arrived at,” Dr Maslowski said. “I would never try to estimate likelihood at anything as exact as this.”
Mr Gore’s office later admitted that the 75 per cent figure was one used by Dr Maslowksi as a “ballpark figure” several years ago in a conversation with Mr Gore.
So, Gore merely misrepresented the timeframe for the prediction (if these are “fresh figures” they couldn’t have suggested an outcome to Maslowski “several years ago”), the extent of the prediction and the exactitude of the prediction. Other than that, as my former colleague James Taranto likes to say, Gore’s story was accurate.
As misrepresentations go, this one transcends the good science vs. bad science debate that heated up with the release of the East Anglia emails. Only in the realm of government can a person make such a wildly exaggerated claim and expect to get away with it.
Which is exactly the problem with climate science today.
Too many climate scientists have all too willingly allowed Gore and other political types to be the chief spokesman for their work, looking away when those politicians make mincemeat of the nuance, uncertainty and qualifications they had included. Compare the summaries of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, written by politicians, and the reports themselves, written by scientists, and too often you’ll see that the politicians hype only the worst-case scenarios envisioned by scientists. And these exaggerations of the science become the mainstream body of wisdom about the science.
So it’s no wonder that a large chunk of the public is skeptical about climate science, and frankly the scientists have no one but themselves to blame. As we see farther down in the Times piece, this might dawn on them sooner than later:
Perhaps Mr Gore had felt the need to gild the lily to buttress resolve. But his speech was roundly criticised by members of the climate science community. “This is an exaggeration that opens the science up to criticism from sceptics,” Professor Jim Overland, a leading oceanographer at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
“You really don’t need to exaggerate the changes in the Arctic.”
And then there’s the question of which scientists get quoted by the likes of Gore. No prizes for guessing whether they are the ones who are most cautious with their forecasts.
Others said that, even if quoted correctly, Dr Maslowski’s six-year projection for near-ice-free conditions is at the extreme end of the scale. Most climate scientists agree that a 20 to 30-year timescale is more likely for the near-disappearance of sea ice.
“Maslowski’s work is very well respected, but he’s a bit out on a limb,” said Professor Peter Wadhams, a specialist in ocean physics at the University of Cambridge.
And finally, on Gore’s interpretation of Maslowski’s work:
Richard Lindzen, a climate scientist at the Massachusets Institute of Technology who does not believe that global warming is largely caused by man, said: “He’s just extrapolated from 2007, when there was a big retreat, and got zero.”
The result is that delegates from Western democracies are having a difficult time agreeing to huge wealth transfers to developing nations, in the name of a cause which they doubt. As well they should, given the requirements of a democracy, writes Clive Crook in Financial Times.
Meanwhile, Ron Bailey of Reason magazine asks, after waiting in line for five hours in frigid Copenhagen, “how anyone expects the U.N. to run the world’s climate if it can’t manage a queue.”
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