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Margaret Wente (Curtis Lantinga)
Margaret Wente (Curtis Lantinga)

Margaret Wente

The science isn't settled. Now what? Add to ...

In the age of global warming politics, nothing is more political than the weather.

Take Washington, where Republicans and Fox News are gleefully pointing to Snowmageddon as proof that global warming is a crock. "It's going to keep snowing in D.C. until Al Gore cries 'uncle,' " crowed one senator last week.

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Sheer demagoguery, of course. Any decent climate scientist will tell you that no single weather event can be tied to long-term climate trends.

Inconveniently, this is what alarmists have been doing for years. Which brings me to David Suzuki, who has attributed this year's snowless winter in Vancouver to - guess what! - global warming. "I've watched in horror as the snow has just melted away from Cypress Mountain," he said last month. (Fortunately for the Olympics, it snowed in the nick of time.)

Which side should you believe? Neither of them. Both Republican senators and climate alarmists like to indulge in exaggeration and demonization. That's what happens when the stakes are high.

Unfortunately for public understanding, the climate debate is usually portrayed as a fight between two extremes - between people who think it's all a hoax, and people who think catastrophe is imminent if we do nothing.

But there's a third position. Although it's been largely absent from the climate debate, it's shared by a surprising number of experts. They endorse the underlying science, which says that climate change is happening and human activity is a factor. But they also say that threats of imminent catastrophe have been wildly exaggerated. In fact, we don't know much about what might happen in the future, especially when it comes to specifics such as rising sea levels or regional droughts.

Even Phil Jones, the man at the centre of Climategate, seems to take the third position. Several thousand e-mails hacked from his climatic research unit at Britain's University of East Anglia revealed, among other things, strenuous efforts to withhold data and censor people with opposing views. Many people say that Climategate was much ado about nothing, and that Prof. Jones was the innocent victim of vicious attacks by people who want to discredit global warming. But in a weekend BBC interview, he dropped a bombshell. He acknowledged there's been no statistically significant warming since 1995.

Hello? When other people say that, they're called deniers.

He also said (contrary to everything we've been told) that the debate is not over. "I don't believe the vast majority of climate scientists think this. This is not my view. There is still much that needs to be undertaken to reduce uncertainties, not just for the future, but for the [distant]past as well."

So much for the science being settled. Now what?

The global warming movement is already reeling from a series of damaging revelations. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - which set itself up as the final authority - has been caught in several embarrassing mistakes, such as the claim that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. (One man who approved this claim admitted he did it to sex up the dossier.)

Defenders argue that these errors are embarrassing but not significant, because the underlying science is still sound. But the scandal has given critics all the proof they need that the IPCC has politicized the science. Even Robert Watson, the former head of the IPCC, says the IPCC looks biased. "The mistakes all appear to have gone in the direction of making it seem like climate change is more serious by overstating the impact," he told The Times of London. "That is worrying."

These days, there are two kinds of deniers - people such as Republicans, who believe it's all a fraud, and true believers, who are in denial that they are witnessing an epic scientific and political train wreck. The good news is that, once we clear the track, perhaps we can admit Phil Jones is right. There's a whole lot we just don't know.

 

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