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Scientists issue powerful statement

May 6th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Perhaps you’ve missed it (that is if you haven’t been connected to the world for a few decades are so), but there is a full-throated attack under way against the integrity of the scientific process, scientists and the scientific community.

While climate skepticism / denial has many motivations, the simple fact: with each passing day, the science supporting the conclusion that humanity is driving climate change is growing stronger.

Yet, the Merchants of Doubt continue to operate to confuse the situation and they’re having too much success: Americans are less convinced about Global Warming today than just a few years ago.

Scientists are under attack …

Scientists are beginning to fight back.

255 members of the National Academy of Science have issued the letter below which appears in Science, 7 May 2010. This is an important statement that merits reading and distribution.

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science

We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.

Not acting is action.

Wanting certainty before action is like waiting to place your bet at the track after the horses have crossed the finish line.

Awaiting for certainty is not a viable option.

Scientific conclusions derive from an understanding of basic laws supported by laboratory experiments, observations of nature, and mathematical and computer modeling. Like all human beings, scientists make mistakes, but the scientific process is designed to find and correct them. This process is inherently adversarial— scientists build reputations and gain recognition not only for supporting conventional wisdom, but even more so for demonstrating that the scientific consensus is wrong and that there is a better explanation. That’s what Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, and Einstein did. But when some conclusions have been thoroughly and deeply tested, questioned, and examined, they gain the status of “well-established theories” and are often spoken of as “facts.”

For instance, there is compelling scientific evidence that our planet is about 4.5bn years old (the theory of the origin of Earth), that our universe was born from a single event about 14bn years ago (the Big Bang theory), and that today’s organisms evolved from ones living in the past (the theory of evolution). Even as these are overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, fame still awaits anyone who could show these theories to be wrong. Climate change now falls into this category: there is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.

There are those who assert an international cabal of scientists, arguing that the motivation of a scientist is ‘to fit in’ and ‘follow the pack’ when the truth is that scientists make their mark by doing something new and, even more so typically, by proving someone else (and someone else trusted by many) wrong.

Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific assessments of climate change, which involve thousands of scientists producing massive and comprehensive reports, have, quite expectedly and normally, made some mistakes. When errors are pointed out, they are corrected.

Basic point: scientists correct mistakes, skeptics/deniers simply repeat falsehoods.

But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:

  1. The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.
  2. Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
  3. Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth’s climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.
  4. Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.
  5. The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

Hey, Senator Inhofe (and kids), some snow in DC didn’t suddenly end climate change.

The problems being cause are complex, widespread, multifaceted, and interconnected and threaten humanity from many directions.

Much more can be, and has been, said by the world’s scientific societies, national academies, and individuals, but these conclusions should be enough to indicate why scientists are concerned about what future generations will face from business- as-usual practices. We urge our policymakers and the public to move forward immediately to address the causes of climate change, including the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels

For a brief list of institutions positions on climate change, see Considering Institutional Authorities and Climate Change.

We also call for an end to McCarthy- like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them.

Virginians: time to contact Bob McDonnell (or at least send letters to VA papers).

Society has two choices: we can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.

Time for The Five Percent Solution.

The signatories are all members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences but are not speaking on its behalf or on behalf of their institutions.

How many of the 255 are going to get, do we think, McCarthy-like pressure in the coming days, weeks, months?

Lead author Peter H Gleick posted a commentary announcing this statement. From that:

In the end, we have only three choices: we can act to mitigate the risks of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we can expand efforts to adapt to a changing climate, or we can suffer the consequences of doing nothing. The only real question is, what is the balance among these three options.

Are the climate deniers going to go away? No. Nothing will convince them, since science hasn’t. There are still people — a lot of people — who do not believe in evolution, or plate tectonics, or the Big Bang theory. But the longer that policymakers hesitate to act, the more the balance will shift to suffering. I believe that history will prove those delaying action to be dangerously wrong, at a time when it is urgent that society be courageously right.

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Note 1: The Geological Society of America recently revised its climate statement and called on its membership to engage in public discussion and debate on climate change.

Note 2: Perhaps, Gleick shouldn’t have used “believe”. and I will mode the diary to make a comment about. One of the best comments re this came from Dr Vicky Pope, the head of climate change advice at the Met Office Hadley Centre in a Feb 09 oped:

When climate scientists like me explain to people what we do for a living we are increasingly asked whether we “believe in climate change”. Quite simply it is not a matter of belief. Our concerns about climate change arise from the scientific evidence that humanity’s activities are leading to changes in our climate. The scientific evidence is overwhelming.

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