Do not adjust your
internet. You are not stuck in 2009.
Yesterday, news broke that a batch of hacked e-mails from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia had been posted online.
It's not a coincidence. The e-mails are a selection of 5,000 out of a batch of over 200,000, believed to be from the original set released almost exactly two years ago in an attempt to disrupt the climate conference in Copenhagen.
Then, feverish cries of scandal ruled the airwaves for a time but quietly faded away as investigation after investigation dismissed the claims. At the same time, the body of scientific evidence sounding alarms about climate change continued to grow. Despite this thorough debunking, somebody is clearly hoping for a repeat, this time just ahead of the climate conference in Durban.
Unfortunately for them, it should be a lot harder to fool people a second time.
The central issue in the first set of e-mails was the integrity of the global surface temperature record. Numerous independent investigations backed up the conclusion that average global temperatures have been rising. A recent study led by former skeptic Richard Muller sought to test these concerns and ended up completely validating the integrity of the temperature record. His team even found that the particular record in question — the one maintained by the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit — was underestimating recent warming.
This is just one of many examples of how science is constantly evolving and improving. Throughout that evolution, the basic conclusion that humans are causing climate change and we have short window of time to deal with the problem have not changed. Dated discussions and erroneous allegations based on old e-mail chains should be read with that context in mind.
Meanwhile, here on Earth
In the midst of this, the world keeps getting warmer. We have just had the warmest year on record (2010 tied with 2005 for the dubious honours), following the warmest decade on record. But the world's foremost scientific bodies don't call warming of the earth's climate system "unequivocal" and a "settled fact" just because of temperature records. There are numerous, independent lines of evidence that all point to the same conclusion. They also all point to greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and forest clearing as the primary culprit.
Meanwhile, we keep piling these heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate. The World Meteorological Organization reported just this week that greenhouse gas levels are yet again record-breaking, and that the warming effect has increased by 28 per cent since 1990.
Even the staid International Energy Agency has warned we face severe consequences if we do not urgently begin reducing our greenhouse gas pollution. Time is running out to limit warming to "manageable" levels.
This is not an abstract discussion. Climate change has very serious impacts and is already taking a serious toll on many vulnerable populations around the world. It is a serious challenge that should be discussed in a serious, open manner based on the best and broadest science available — not on inflated claims based on outdated stolen emails.