Damaging climate science by defending it

Big news this week on the global warming front. A month or two ago, I said essentially that yes, we need to worry about global warming, eventually, but it is not an existential emergency and we don't know nearly the beginnings of enough yet to call it such. By contrast to, say, a 10,000 year meteor strike, of which we know most of the science yet spend pitifully little time, money, and political capital on, anthropogenic climate change provides way too many cushy jobs for people who want to call themselves scientists but don't want to do the work.

I ended by saying something like, humanity's waste heat will start being a problem in a few decades, and focusing on carbon is probably distracting from the main issue. I thought that might be a bit of a low swipe at an easy target. Turns out I was quite right. A group at the University of East Anglia's Hadley Climatic Research Centre was hacked this week, and their emails show a group of partisans who certainly seem more devoted to a cause than a truth. Refusing to release data to other scientists they thought were "not predictable," publshing refutations of criticisms without bothering to go back and look at the pertinent data and calculations, politicking to discredit the editorial staff and contributors to journals that hold a skeptical view.

This is, of course, unavoidable when a scientific group's proclamations get ahead of their evidence. It is an effect analogous to a government making bold proclamations about the future without the resources to make them happen, then resorting to muggery and lies when things go differently.

It is too bad really. We live in a world that is smaller every day, and we are within a few orders of magnitude of being a K1 civilization. When that happens, we will have control over the physical planet, able to harness as much power as the Earth itself puts out for humanity's means. It sounds vaguely u- or dys- topian, but it is not something that we will wake up able to do once we buy enough iPods. It is something that humans will achieve in small pieces. Looking at what the Earth has to offer, we are a long way from understanding or harnessing or affecting things below the surface. We can't affect the macro-scale inertial properties of the planet - its orbit, insolation, and so on. We are far from being able to regulate the oceans like we do, say, rivers and lakes.

No, our first tests are going to be the atmosphere and the biosphere. We must be able to managed the energy budget of the atmosphere, as well as the several chemical cycles that it participates in. Likewise, we need to be able to maintain a healthy and diverse biosphere. We are already well along on the latter, having stabilized most temperate forests, and hopefully we will be able to do the same things to better manage topsoil, tropical forests, and desert-prone regions. I am optimistic. The climate is the next hurdle, and we know pitifully little about it. Defending pet positions under the guise of science, using any tools other than open experimentation, hurts us all.

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