Editorial: Debate the science of climate change, not the e-mails

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

With thousands of serious-minded people gathered in Copenhagen to plan a global response to the multiple threats from a changing climate, global warming-deniers are making a big deal out some stolen e-mails.

The hacked e-mails, informal communications between scientists at one of Britain's leading climate research centers, include loose talk about data analysis tricks and "hiding" data. The researchers consider ways to keep findings that could be used to undermine the climate-change narrative out of scientific journals.

None of these constitute a "smoking gun" that discredits climate change findings. At best, they serve as yet another reminder that people should never put anything in an e-mail they wouldn't mind seeing in the morning papers.

What matters isn't what researchers put in their e-mails, but what they put in scientific journals. Science advances by testing hypotheses and by scrutinizing and building on data. Top scientists tend to be fiercely competitive and scrupulous about data and methodology. The peer review process keeps scientists honest.

Journal articles are peer-reviewed; e-mails aren't. If climate change skeptics want to challenge the consensus on global warming, they should go present more credible data. If they can demonstrate that ocean temperatures and atmospheric carbon levels aren't rising, they should. If they can prove the glaciers on which billions of people depend aren't disappearing, that the Arctic permafrost isn't thawing, that species habitats aren't rapidly changing, they will bring honors to themselves and sighs of relief to nearly everyone else.

But the best evidence we've seen says all those things are indeed happening. While scientists, and everyone else, are free to argue the extent to which human activity has contributed to global warming, we now face a more important question: What can humans do to restrain and adapt to these trends?

Answering that urgent question, and launching a coordinated global response to climate change, make up the Copenhagen agenda.

Fighting over a few purloined e-mails doesn't answer those questions. All the e-mails -- and the response to them -- prove is how politicized a discussion that should be fact-based and dispassionate has become. Perhaps that's not surprising, considering the economic impact the proposals on the table may have. But it's not helpful.

Given the catastrophic consequences that could come from getting climate change wrong, we need the best scientific minds to engage on the level of facts, theories and proposed solutions -- without being distracted by personal conflicts, political spin and scandalous e-mails.

The MetroWest Daily News