I was going to call this the decade that Global Warming finally sunk in. The N’Aughties have been declared the warmest decade on record, and our dearly departing 2009 is expected to go down as the fifth hottest year known to mankind. South Texas just pulled out of one of the most punishing droughts of the century, capped off by the most 100-plus summer days since Reconstruction. Climate models from around the world continue to suggest the American Southwest is slipping now, or will soon be, into a state of “permanent” drought. And the pace of glacial retreat and coastal flooding worldwide is exceeding the worst scenarios envisioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
So why are in-denial media performers sneering?
All it took was some interpreted and misrepresented emails from a hacked account at the East Anglia Climate Research Unit in the United Kingdom on the eve of the Copenhagen climate negotiations. A few choice phrases culled from 13 years worth of messages have been used to suggest conspiracy is afoot in the global climate-science scene. As a hopeless reveler in the balls-busting, balloon-deflating, image-scorching racket that is the media machine, why am I not dancing in the wake of this obvious opportunity? What better stimulation for the old mockery muscle than an authority figure disrobed publicly in disgrace?
For starters, the tempest outside the teapot is far scarier than the one inside it. There is nothing the East Anglia bunch could have done — if any numbers manipulation is in fact ever proven — that could outweigh the reality of our dangerously shifting climate.
For not-so-sloppy seconds, our understanding of our changing climate is not based solely on work performed at East Anglia. Instead, it begins with what we can see for ourselves — melting glaciers, sea-level rise, retracting Arctic sea ice, and the movement of species (and disease-spreading pathogens) in response to temperature changes — includes the work of dozens of prestigious private and public research centers across the globe, and is rooted in basic scientific principles first teased out more than 100 years ago. It was in 1896 that a big-headed Swede first proposed that if industrialization doubled the world’s CO2 concentrations it would result in a 6-degree Celsius warming of the planet — about where current science says the thermometer will reach this century if we flub an international effort to drastically reduce greenhouse gases.
The scientific community has been unified on the November hacking and its fallout. “Even if some of the charges of improper behavior in this particular case turn out to be true — which is not yet clearly the case — the impact on the science of climate change would be very limited,” wrote Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society, days after the stolen emails began to populate the internet.
The head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said the claims of conspiracy theorists “would be laughable were it not for the fact that obstructionist politicians in the U.S. Senate will probably use it next year as an excuse to stiffen their opposition to the country’s much needed climate bill.”
Just as U.S. climate science survived the censoring of the Bush years, it will also press through the current political firestorm. Science is funny like that. Unfortunately, as the world climate talks in Copenhagen dissolved into uncertainty, pushing a binding international treaty still further into the distance, politicians continue to use manufactured dissent to stall a climate deal in the U.S.
Oklahoma’s Senator James Inhoffe jetted to Copenhagen with a simple contrarian message for the few reporters his staff could corral, saying, “The United States is not going to pass a cap and trade. … It’s just not going to happen,” before blaming the United Nations and the “Hollywood elite” for brainwashing the world with the global-warming “hoax.” Among the ranks of my too-few heroes — on the right hand of the Mississippi doctor who told our former Vice President during a post-Katrina tour in Gulfport, Mississippi, “Go fuck yourself, Mr. Cheney” — sits a German reporter who informed Inhoffe on the spot, “You’re ridiculous.”
If the United States, the second-largest greenhouse-gas emitter, is going to find its way around the East Anglia dustup and back to global science and events, our media, so dimwitted and duplicitous so often, will have to finally comprehend what makes Inhoffe a clown. And that will take studying the science, finding context, and considering the scale of teapots.
Until then, fellow Earthlings, I can only say: Better luck next decade. •