The Economist Magazine Gets It Wrong Again On The Climate Issue

The Economist magazine issue of November 29th has an article titled “ Mail-strom – Leaked e-mails do not show climate scientists at their best”  [subscription required] which is an example of a media outlet that is seeking to trivialize the importance of the leaked e-mails. Examples of their failure to understand the importance of these e-mails is given in their text, excerpts of which I present below:

“IS GLOBAL warming a trick?”

“The result has been a field day for those sceptical of the idea of man-made climate change…”

“…..the scientists are looking tribal and jumpy, and that sceptics have leapt so eagerly on such tiny scraps as proof of a conspiracy.”

The article fails to recognize that even scientists who accept a major role of humans within the climate system are disparaged by the authors in the e-mails (e.g. I was the scientist referred to in the Economist article as a “prat“), and have been excluded from presenting alternative perspectives on the climate issue (e.g., see). 

Despite the attempt to trivialize by the Economist, the issue which has been exposed by the released e-mails are that there are three distinct fundamentally different  perspectives on the role of humans in the climate system.

We have discussed this in our paper

Pielke Sr., R., K. Beven, G. Brasseur, J. Calvert, M. Chahine, R. Dickerson, D. Entekhabi, E. Foufoula-Georgiou, H. Gupta, V. Gupta, W. Krajewski, E. Philip Krider, W. K.M. Lau, J. McDonnell,  W. Rossow,  J. Schaake, J. Smith, S. Sorooshian,  and E. Wood, 2009: Climate change: The need to consider human forcings besides greenhouse gases. Eos, Vol. 90, No. 45, 10 November 2009, 413. An edited version of this paper was published by AGU. Copyright (2009) American Geophysical Union.

The three perspectives are presented in terms of the three hypotheses:

  • Hypothesis 1: Human influence on climate variability and change is of minimal importance, and natural causes dominate climate variations and changes on all time scales. In coming decades, the human influence will continue to be minimal.
  • Hypothesis 2a: Although the natural causes of climate variations and changes are undoubtedly important, the human influences are significant and involve a diverse range of first- order climate forcings, including, but not limited to, the human input of carbon dioxide (CO2). Most, if not all, of these human influences on regional and global climate will continue to be of concern during the coming decades.
  • Hypothesis 2b: Although the natural causes of climate variations and changes are undoubtedly important, the human influences are significant and are dominated by the emissions into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases, the most important of which is CO2. The adverse impact of these gases on regional and global climate constitutes the primary climate issue for the coming decades.

Hypothesis 2b is the perspective that the released e-mails are advocating (which is the IPCC conclusion) and are deliberately attempting to suppress scientists who present evidence of either of the other two viewpoints. In our EOS article, we present evidence in the peer-reviewed literature that refutes both hypotheses 1 and 2b, and supports hypothesis 2a as the robust finding. The Economist has chosen to trivialize this issue with their statement that “sceptics have leapt so eagerly on such tiny scraps as proof of a conspiracy”.

  Rather than being “scraps”, these released e-mails illustrate a coordinated effort to prevent the science with respect to climate change from being properly assessed and communicated to policymakers.

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