The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released last week was billed as 100 percent proof positive that global warming is real, modern man is to blame and anyone who doubts that is a bad human being.
Actually, the IPCC report concluded that while global warming is "unequivocal," there is at least a nine out of 10 chance that global warming is anthropogenic (caused by man). While I have been a global warming agnostic, that degree of certitude, based on peer-reviewed research, gives me pause.
"There's a huge scientist community behind this report," Martin Manning, head of the IPCC Working Group, told me over the phone Monday.
Readers should be aware that the IPCC Summary for Policymakers was not exactly the work of disinterested scientists completely divorced from politics. Manning explained that the final draft was based on peer-reviewed research, then reviewed "line by line by government delegates."
Please don't say that every credible scientist agrees with the report, I counter. To which Manning replied, "I don't think there are really many people who are research scientists who disagree with the fundamental principles of what we're saying."
And: "Society always has contrarians. Should that frame public policy?" Of course, public policy will heed the majority of scientists. That said, it would be much easier for me to listen to that majority if I did not see how ruthlessly it imposes conformity by marginalizing any scientist who has a different view on climate change. Conformity, not facts, becomes the argument.
The fact they are heavy-handed, of course, doesn't mean that they are wrong. It's no problem if you over-hype global warming. The IPCC summary issued a prediction for how much sea level would rise -- by 7 to 23 inches by 2100 -- a big drop from the 20 feet that former Vice President Al Gore warned about in "An Inconvenient Truth." Where's the scorn?
And it's not as if scientists are infallible. In 2004, scientist Hwang Woo Suk published a paper in the journal Science in which he claimed that he had cloned a human embryo and extracted stem cells from it. Hwang was a fraud, but big biotech and top scientists believed him -- because they wanted to believe him.
When it comes to global warming, men of science really want to believe. As in a religion, it is more important that individuals believe that global warming is human-induced than that they curb their greenhouse-gas emissions.
The environmental community has burned the 10 years since the Kyoto global warming pact was negotiated by pressuring nations -- most notably the United States -- to sign the covenant. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions have risen every year.
Note that the IPCC report concentrated on why the world should believe global warming is anthropogenic, while it puts off setting goals for emissions reductions until later this year.
Of late, green pols such as Gore and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have claimed that fighting global warming will be good for the economy. Magazine articles tell Americans about the little things they can do to fight climate change -- buy eco-friendly light bulbs and only pack paperbacks on the plane.
The public is in for a shock. What would a good target be? I asked Manning. His answer: "If one wants to really stabilize, then we actually have to decrease in the end the carbon-dioxide emissions in the atmosphere by more than 50 percent, maybe to 10 percent" although "that doesn't have to happen overnight."
It's one thing to argue that, if there is even a chance global warming is manmade, Americans should cut back when you think you will have to make minor lifestyle changes. It's another thing to make that argument when your job, your industry, your car, your home -- electricity itself -- may be at stake. Then you want a more honest debate.