Since I abhor easy answers, pat responses, and conventional wisdom, I will take a stab at examining this question from the flawed, but earnest perspective of a layman who respects the work of legitimate scientists and who still believes the possibility that global warming could be a big problem for mankind. (Note: What can be done about it is an entirely different question.)
I will not seek to summarize the shocking revelations of the past few months that have resulted in legitimate questions being raised about some of the cornerstones of the IPCC 2007 report that forms the basis of government actions to mitigate climate change. For that, I will point you to Climate Audit or Climate Depot. There you will find links to the major stories that describe the fraud, the blunders, the failure to properly vet and follow IPCC’s own procedures that have debunked, or otherwise called into question major and minor aspects of climate change science.
But let’s put this in perspective. Some of these revelations are more serious than others. Those trumpeting the Himalayan glacier story that showed as bogus the idea of those ice sheets disappearing by 2035 thus “proving” that global warming is a crock, fail to note that the glaciers are still retreating at an accelerated rate, although the Indian government report is unsure if climate change is the major cause.
Is that as important a piece of evidence as the data sets on temperatures that were apparently falsified or misapplied? Those temps were calculated into how many climate change models, how many scientific papers? That study by Jones is in the 2007 IPCC report.
Compared to one study of one small part of the world that has been laughably shown to be a politically motivated use of science, I daresay that screwing with temperature data is huge. But is it a climate change killer?
Not hardly. The science of climate change has been conducted for decades by hundreds of reputable scientists taking accurate measurements of tree rings, ice cores, ocean temperatures, and other observable and measurable phenomena that have not been debunked, or shown to be in error. There may indeed be misinterpretations of the data; that is a hazard of science and always will be. Skeptics have come up with alternate interpretations for most of the evidence of climate change which, of course, is what science is all about. In a perfect world, the politics that have captured the climate change argument would be absent and it would be scientist vs. scientist - man a mano , with both sides wielding their best arguments, fighting it out in the major scientific journals.
Obviously, we live in a world that has given a Nobel Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC - a mistake that should be rectified soonest. So we can now no more remove politics from the science of climate change as we could remove your beating heart from your chest and expect you to be upright for very long.
Aside from the regular political machinations from those seeking to benefit financially from decisions made by governments, as well as governments and institutions like the UN that are seeking to aggrandize power unto themselves, there is the very human desire for many scientists to protect their professional reputations from being destroyed. Hence, the actions of Jones and Mann that, as the investigations unfold, are becoming less and less defensible.
Given that some of these revelations are more important than others as far as calling into question the entire AGW theory, how is it possible to judge the real damage to the theory’s credibility and thus, the efficacy of the remedies being pushed by the climate change advocates?
There is a second aspect of climate change that hasn’t been touched - yet - by the climategate revelations; the notion that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere are rising. Again, skeptics have posited different interpretations of the data, predicting different outcomes as a result of this measured increase. But the increase is confirmed (although models have been wildly inaccurate in predicting how much CO2 makes it to the troposphere where the greenhouse effect is most damaging).
So where is climate change science today? The edifice is leaning as a result of several bricks being pulled away from the structure, and there is a definite possibility it can collapse unless it is shored up. That “shoring up” must be done by scientists themselves. If someone or some scientists aren’t already doing so, a thorough review of the literature with special emphasis placed on examining papers that used the Jones temperature model - with attention paid to the impact on that 2007 IPCC report - should be undertaken immediately. That would seem to be a minimum requirement to begin the process of regaining credibility.
Beyond that, a re-evaluation of at least some of the skeptical literature in light of the revelations would seem to be in order. And finally, a greater effort must be made by all to resist the political pressures placed on scientists to accede to outcome based science. In other words, tell Al Gore to take his carbon footprint and stuff it.
Rand Simberg made the point of using the “precautionary principle” when figuring out what to do about climate change. Seeing emissions reduction as a kind of “insurance” against catastrophe is all well and good. But Simberg quotes Bjorn Lomberg who cautions against the cure being worse than the disease. And Tom Friedman’s 1% chance of catastrophe being reason enough for such draconian measures drew this response from Simberg:
But I buy insurance that has a price commensurate with the expected value (i.e., the cost of the disaster times the probability that it will occur). For instance, I’ll pay a few hundred bucks for a million-dollar policy against the small chance that I’ll kick off tomorrow. Presumably, Friedman assumes that the proposed palliatives of cap’n’tax or carbon taxes meet that criterion, but he doesn’t do the calculations for us, because he can’t. Warm mongers like him propose to spend trillions of dollars now to prevent an unknown amount of cost later, in defiance of the basic economic principle of discounting the value of future expenditures.
There is a variation on this fallacy, in fact. It goes: There is a crisis; something must be done! What we propose to do is something. Therefore, it must be done!
Put another way; should a man buy insurance for uterine cancer? Or a woman buy a policy for prostrate cancer? Broadly drawn examples but I hope the point is rammed home. There is the notion of buying insurance intelligently or not. As I’ve written before, I think that it is perfectly acceptable to take measures that would reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. But it makes no sense given what we know about climate change at this point to literally bankrupt our economy, placing monumental restrictions on industrial activity while entire swaths of our energy sector are taken over by government. The threat has never justified such action and this is true even more now.
Develop alternatives to fossil fuels? Absolutely - and quickly. This is a national security issue as much as it is an environmental one. Try to make everyone aware of their “carbon footprint” so that we can each do our part to lessen emissions? Sure, just don’t stuff it down my throat with draconian regulations and liberty-destroying legislation.
Climategate and its ancillary revelations have not killed the AGW theory or permanently damaged climate science. But if climate change proponents refuse to do the things necessary to regain credibility, and allow for a full fledged, real debate on every aspect of the science, they will be guilty of pandering to politicians and global bureaucrats who could care less about legitimate science while seeking to use their flawed conclusions to gain power and wealth at our expense.