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Reason is a Casualty in the Ongoing War on Climate Science

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal editorial section, Daniel Henninger took exaggeration of the scandal over emails stolen from scientists at the University of East Anglia to new heights, arguing that the incident undermines the entire centuries-old scientific enterprise. But the column ignores both the current observable impact of climate change and scientific history, and is a merely the latest volley in the ongoing conservative war on science.

Speaking today with reporters during a press call organized by the Center for American progress, Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, Director of the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, emphasized that despite the uproar, nothing changes about the scientific conclusions on climate change:

From my point of view, the most important issue is whether anything has been added to or subtracted from the scientific picture of global warming that’s emerged gradually over several decades of careful analysis by thousands of experts. The answer is simple. From a scientific point of view, nothing has changed. It remains true that Earth has warmed more than 1 degree Fahrenheit  over last century largely due to the buildup of human-made greenhouse gases…it remains the case that the projections of future climate change are every bit as discouraging as they were before the recent flap began. [Full audio and a transcript of the call are available here.]

Denialist arguments like the one offered in the WSJ are remarkable in that they ignore basic measurable facts about how climate change is altering the planet at this very moment. Global warming is currently melting 18,000 Himalayan glaciers. Wildfires stoked by increased temperatures are burning 7 million acres of the American west every year. Changes in precipitation patterns in the continental United States caused up to $8 billion in agricultural loses last year.

Simply put, we don’t need to wait and see if our planet’s climate will change as a result of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. The change is already happening. As Chris Mooney put it in June, when the United States Global Change Research Program released its updated assessment of the impact of climate change on the country: “We have every reason to expect that these regionally variable changes will steadily worsen, with resulting severe threats to coastal communities, water supplies, agriculture, human health, and more.”

Henninger’s claim that “science is dying” is merely the latest iteration in the continuing conservative war on science, in which naysayers trash the research enterprise without engaging the scientific facts or mounting any credible response to the avalanche of evidence from multiple fields that underpins the work on climate change. As the editors of the journal Nature wrote yesterday:

Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real — or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.

As for other facts of recent and distant history, Henninger dismisses the significance of 2007 Nobel Prize writing that it “was bestowed (on a politician),” neglecting to mention that the other half of the prize went to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body comprising 2,000 scientists from around the world. He goes on to compare the exchanges in the hacked emails to the Catholic church’s attempt to silence Galileo. Alas, as Mooney points out, the comparison is off-base: “The people who dissented in the history of science, but were overwhelmingly wrong, tend to be forgotten. Galileo dissented and he happened to be overwhelmingly right.” Moreover, like today’s climate change deniers, it was the Catholic church that rejected scientific facts that didn’t fit into its worldview.

The WSJ editorial section would like you to believe that “science is dying,” but the claim proves only one thing: that in the face of climate change science, some conservatives will continue their efforts to ensure the death of reason itself.


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