"Climategate” refers to the scandal of the information recently provided by hacked e-mails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University in Great Britain. The emails reveal: 1) attempts by global warming advocate scientists at CRU to conceal information running counter to their arguments; and 2) an inability on their part to provide a cogent explanation as to why global mean temperature has not increased an iota during the past decade.
The Climategate scandal is the most significant environmental story of this year and will doubtless affect the course of American climate change policy, notwithstanding Obama administration assertions that all is well and on course for a Copenhagen global greenhouse gas agreement. Just yesterday, Virginia Democrat U.S. Senator Jim Webb warned President Obama against unilaterally making any greenhouse gas commitment at Copenhagen that does not have the prior support of the United States Senate.
My views on climate change have not changed since the Climategate story broke. I believe that anthropogenic (human caused) emissions of greenhouse gases do have a warming impact on the planet. I have, however, questioned the predictions of catastrophic global warming consequences made by various scientists and political figures.
In making environmental decisions, however, I have consistently subscribed to the “precautionary principle”. This principle implies a duty for government to intervene and protect the public from exposure to harm when scientific investigation discovers a plausible risk in the course of having screened for other suspected causes.
Based upon the “precautionary principle”, I continue to support federal legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from automotive and power plant sources. I also support New Jersey’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)
I do find most disquieting, however, the revelation that leading global warming advocates at East Anglia have continuously attempted to prevent climate change scientist skeptics from having their arguments heard, both in scientific journals and at conferences. These efforts have often taken the form of ad hominem attacks on the credibility of dissenting eminent climate change scientists. U.S. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R – Wisconsin) has gone so far as to label these attacks as “scientific fascism” and “scientific McCarthyism”.
Although most climate change scientists do subscribe to the view that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases is the cause of dangerous global warming, there is a minority of credible scientists who dispute this belief. Three most eminent scientists stand out in this regard: 1) Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; 2) Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia; and 3) the late Fred Seitz, formerly the president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. All three of these experts have questioned both the assumption that the globe is having a significant warming increase and the belief that anthropogenic activity is the cause of such a dangerous climate trend.
It is essential that the climate change skeptics be afforded every opportunity to make their arguments. This is particularly critical in view of the emergence of empirical evidence that casts doubt upon the apocalyptic scenarios projected by certain warming advocates in both the scientific and political community. Such new items include 1) the fact that average global temperature has remained constant over the past decade; 2) that the ice and snow levels in Antarctica have actually increased over the past three decades; 3) that the Arctic ice level, in a reversal of a three decade downward trend, actually increased over the past two years; and 4) that factors other than anthropogenic activity appear to be affecting global climate, including variations in sunspot activity and ocean currents.
Before making critical long-range decisions on climate change, federal and state environmental policy makers would benefit from an intensive and extensive debate between climate change advocates and skeptics on these issues. Environmental agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) base their policies on sound science. Science can only be sound, however, if commonly held beliefs on topics such as climate change are continuously subject to questioning and investigation.
A free, vigorous, yet respectful continuing exchange of ideas is vital to the soundness and enhancement of existing science. That also involves the right of scientists to question commonly held scientific orthodoxies. The actions of the climate change advocates at CRU to discredit and intimidate the climate change skeptics run totally counter to these notions of unrestrained full debate and discussion.
As for President Obama, he also should at least consider the arguments of both climate change advocates and skeptics before committing the country to drastic greenhouse gas emission reductions. Otherwise, he runs the risk of replicating the failed diplomacy of former President Woodrow Wilson at the post-World War I Versailles conference in 1919.
Wilson went to Versailles confident he could commit the United States to membership in the League of Nations and its strict covenants. Leading U.S. Senators, most notably Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, had serious concerns that the League could abridge America’s sovereign prerogatives. The Senate refused to ratify the Versailles treaty and Wilson’s commitment for American membership in the League.
Similarly, the doubts raised by Climategate may well result in the Senate refusing to honor pledges on greenhouse gases made by Obama at Copenhagen. Indeed, it would be most ironic if Obama’s Henry Cabot Lodge turned out to be a member of his own party, Senator Jim Webb.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations.