A Rebuttal to the Charge that Climate Experts Conspire to Raise Research Money with Hyperbole

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Last week, The New York Times published an article on the state of global warming science that prompted climate experts at realclimate.org to proclaim, “That’s how science journalism should be!” The reporter, Justin Gillis, spent months researching the material, and his presentation is scrupulous and chilling. He concludes that the new, tentative consensus among experts, based on limited information because of insufficient funding, is that melting glaciers and ice caps will likely cause sea levels to rise three feet by 2100, causing mass flooding and migrations (previously, the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, or IPCC, had predicted in 2007 that sea levels could rise between 7 inches and 2 feet this century). But I prefer to focus on Gillis’s findings in the context of global warming disinformation.

One of the lies deniers love to push is that climate change is a conspiracy concocted by scientists seeking to terrify governments and other agencies into giving them money to enhance their research capabilities. Now, this allegation, which I consider as absurd as the 9/11 conspiracy theories, is alarmingly mainstream, which explains why the “climate-gate” nonsense has arguably succeeded at raising doubts among the FOX News faithful and other credulous fools.

There are two ways to address this accusation. On the macro level, the popularity of such a patently false charge betrays the pervasive ignorance about the scientific method among Americans. As in all areas of science, experts in the field are trained to avoid exaggeration, lest they be dismissed as “alarmists” in a boy-who-cried-wolf scenario. As such, the opposite of what deniers claim is true: rather than frighten people into funding research, climate scientists are generally very careful to qualify their calculations and evade hyperbole (hence the aforementioned IPCC’s timid 2007 prediction of sea level rise).

And on the micro level, as the Times article illustrates, climate scientists have been woefully underfunded in crucial areas, particularly in measuring ice masses in Greenland and Antarctica. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations severely damaged the effort by wasting $5 billion in a failed project intended to employ civilian and military satellites to monitor melting ice caps and by Bush’s decision to return to the moon without allocating enough money, thus squeezing NASA’s budget and reducing resources. Consequently, according to the Times, “after a decade of budget cuts… several satellites vital to monitoring the ice sheets and other aspects of the environment are on their last legs, with no replacement at hand.”

No doubt, deniers will point to this as “evidence” that climate scientists don’t know what they’re talking about, since so much uncertainty exists. But that would be grossly misleading. In truth, dedicated scientists, risking their lives and working with limited technology, have expended enough time and effort observing the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets to understand that Greenland’s ice is melting at an astonishing rate, and that global warming will continue to intensify this process. The only real questions are how much will melt and how fast. They need more funding to develop satellites and other equipment that will enable them to answer these questions with precision.

This is what makes piffle of the allegation that climate experts devised the global warming hoax to enrich themselves and their research operations. The tragic truth is that we may have already passed the “tipping point,” the moment when global warming becomes unstoppable: further and better equipped research is needed to determine if we’ve crossed such a threshold. As the Times explains, the Obama administration has terminated Bush’s ludicrous quest to return to the moon and instead intends to allocate that money for earth and environmental sciences, though Congress has yet to approve. Considering that roughly 50% of the Republicans recently elected believe that global warming is a hoax, the current state of climate change and climate science is tremendous cause for concern.

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A recent graduate of NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, I consider myself a student of Melville and Shakespeare. Particularly, my fascination with Moby Dick has sparked a broader interest in many fields such as politics, history, science, economics, etc, since that novel deals with disparate disciplines and issues in an encyclopedic, yet accessible manner.

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