Opinion: We are smarter this time around.

global-tempsNov. 23, 2011

The release of stolen e-mail correspondence from climate scientists won't have the same impact it had the first time around, in 2009. The science is robust.

See also: E-mail snippets won't make the Earth flat, by Scott Mandia

By John Abraham

for the Daily Climate

When news broke earlier this week that another cache of e-mails had been released purporting to show that climate scientists had "cooked the books," parties around the world looked carefully, this time with a doubtful eye. They had a right to doubt. Two years ago, almost to the day, similar e-mails had been released just before the United Nations' climate change conference in Copenhagen – the last best hope to take meaningful action to halt the warming climate. 

AbrahamThe original 2009 release caught the world by storm and created an uproar that successfully put climate science on the defensive for nearly two years. Whoever is behind the release of these stolen e-mails was clearly hoping the same play would work again.

It won't.

A few things are different this time around. Most importantly, many journalists now realize they were played the fools. They were told that these e-mails showed scientists "hiding declines in temperature" and conspiring against others. These same media outlets had a lot of work cleaning egg off their face when it became clear that the correspondence said nothing of the sort. In a "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" manner, the media is largely ignoring these new e-mails, or they are reporting the real story: The e-mails are taken out of context, the science is robust and has been upheld by every investigation of the 2009 release, and that climate change is already underway.

$9 billion drought

This time around, journalists have learned their lesson and have wised up. This time, trumped-up charges against scientists will not stick.

That last point is the real story behind this new email leak: The science is so solid, the denier camp can no longer argue an alternate theory. In past years, that camp would promote their own "scientists" whose work, they said, called into question climate change. In the past few years, the evidence of climate change has become so apparent that denial is no longer valid. As Texas sits through a $9 billion drought and other parts of the United States suffer from either record droughts or flooding, even skeptical citizens are starting to realize that climate change is real, and it affects them and their pocketbook. 

In addition, the dwindling number of "scientists" that have represented the denialist camp have seen their research crumble like a deck of cards. These scientists have no one to blame. They are one-man wrecking crews of their own reputations. They have regularly published work that reportedly shows climate change either isn't happening or is inconsequential. And just as regularly, their work is shown to be seriously flawed and is roundly rebutted and criticized. 

Unwitting accomplice

So the denialists are left with little but impugning the reputations of climate scientists. They need an accomplice, and last time an unwitting mainstream media lent a hand. This time around, the accomplice has learned its lesson and has wised up. This time, trumped-up charges against scientists will not stick. 

Not only is this good news for scientists, it is good news for the rest of us. Maybe now the conversation can shift to how to handle this dilemma in a way that not only fixes the environmental problem, but also increases job growth and improves national security. Maybe now we can finally come together and work on solutions to turn this obstacle into an opportunity. Let's have faith and confidence in ourselves and in our scientists and engineers to solve this problem. That faith and confidence is true patriotism. Personal and unfounded attacks against climate scientists? 

That's so 2009.

John Abraham is an associate professor of Thermal Sciences at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, Minn. He teaches and carries out research in the areas of thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, and climate monitoring. He is co-founder of the Climate Rapid Response Team. 

Temperature data courtesy NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Abraham portrait courtesy University of St. Thomas.

DailyClimate.org is a nonprofit news service that covers climate change. Opinions expressed are the views of the author and not DailyClimate.org

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