Climate Science in Context

9 12 2009

As world leaders and NGOs gather this week in Copenhagen for what many of us hope (with increasingly cautious optimism) to be a turning point in climate negotiations, an excellent recapitulation of some key milestones was published in the New York Times today. I retraces the physical origins of greenhouse effect theories and experimental demonstrations, and the long and  inexorable rise of global warming to the top of the international political agenda.

The recent Climate Gate is featured there, and put properly into context. One can’t help but marvel at the exquisite timing of this questionably legitimate release of private information – and of the underlying motivations behind it – but in truth i doubt this will affect the negotiations much. Few people were optimistic about their outcome before the ‘scandal’, and for reasons having very little to do with the denial of the unequivocal nature of global warming, which is, as you well know, due to human activities with very high probability (>90%).

My own personal opinion is that April showers bring May flowers, and that once the dust settles, the Climate Gate uproar may have the positive outcome of forcing more transparency in our community, which will be excellent for both scientists and the public. In the age of  the Web 2.0, open source code sharing, crowd computing,  and decentralized information traveling at the speed of light, hoarding data like it’s the Dark Ages simply doesn’t make any sense. I think the hackneyed argument that releasing the raw data would lead to more bogus studies from ‘independent scientists” (i.e. fossil fuel-funded think tanks), is moot: the bogus machine is already alive and well (cf Soon and Baliunas, Allègre, Courtillot and the French refusards, Vice-Count Monckton, the Cato Institute, etc), and the obfuscation of data and code only gives fodder to the blood-thirsty crowd of armchair skeptics, who are always looking at our slightest mistakes to run to the nearest hill and shout that “Global Warming is a hoax”, or some other Inhofery of that ilk. The answer to this is not more secrecy, but better work ethics and complete transparency.
An excellent discussion of the issues raised by the hack can be found here.
In the meanwhile I’ll be watching closely what happens in Copenhagen, and i’ve been staying very calm while talking to climate skeptics.

Speaking of putting things in context, I’m quite fond of this video, even if i think the Beavis &Butthead running theme is needlessly inflamatory.

But it’s a pretty different impression that one gets from watching Fox News, innit ?