Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- An e-mail from my conscience: Reviewing your assorted botches during the past year, consider this one. In May, you mocked: "It is possible that climate change skeptics -- the dominant Republican voices -- have uncovered a vast scientific delusion, like the belief in phlogiston or phrenology. But ... this seems unlikely." In light of the incriminating e-mails hacked from the Climatic Research Unit of East Anglia University shouldn't you reconsider? Not since you pronounced "Jon & Kate Plus 8" a tribute to "normality and innocence" has your judgment been so poor.

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My answer: Well, you've got me on Jon and Kate. But the hacked climate e-mails reveal a scandal, not a hoax. Even if every question raised in these e-mails were conceded, the cumulative case for global climate disruption would be strong. The evidence is found, not only in East Anglian computers, but in changing crop zones, declining species, melting ice sheets and glaciers, thinning sea ice and rising sea levels. No other scientific theory explains these changes as well as global warming related to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Over millennia, the climate shifts in natural cycles. But we seem to be increasing the pace of change so rapidly that plants, animals and humans may not be able to adequately adjust.

The claim of recent global cooling is deceptive. It is true that 2008 was cooler than 1998. But 1998 was the hottest year recorded since the advent of reliable records in the 1800s, while 2008 was the ninth hottest. Despite yearly variations, the overall trend goes in one direction. All 10 of the hottest years on record have come since 1997.

But the hacked e-mails are not irrelevant. They reveal another sort of warming -- an overheated academic world in which hard science melts into politics.

Some prominent climate scientists involved in these e-mail exchanges have clearly abandoned a profession for a cause. They appear to exaggerate their public certainty on disputed issues, shade the presentation of information for political effect, tamper with the peer-review process, resist reasonable requests for supporting data and urge the destruction of e-mails to avoid embarrassment. Other scientists in these e-mail chains resist these abuses. But the dominant voices are ideological. The attitude seems to be: Insiders can question, if they don't go too far. Outsiders who threaten the movement are "idiots."


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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