We have heard a chorus of voices over the past few days raising the moribund concept that climate change is not happening, and is some global liberal conspiracy to devalue oceanfront property in Palm Beach.
At the center of raising the hydrahead of the Palm Beach Conspiracy was the discovery of some emails from the University of East Anglia where climate change scientists were engaging in the age-old academic practice of arguing with one another. For a "pro" climate change perspective, Gawker explains the situation here, for an "anti" climate change perspective, the Weekly Standard provides this analysis.
I was guest lecturing at Princeton a few weeks ago, and I used the opportunity to propogate one of my favorite ideas--I call it the 50% Rule. It can be used to explain the Palm Beach Conspiracy, statistics about climate change, and as a means of deflating your brother-in-law's wild stories about catching a 45 foot trout during holiday meals. Here it goes--when you hear a statistic or a scandal or a wild trout fishing tale, assume the information is off by 50%. One-half. Then determine whether the information still matters. If your brother's trout was only 22.5 feet, not 45, that's still a mighty large fish. Similarly, with climate change, if scientists' statistics about sea level rise or drought are off by 50%, we are still looking at a serious problem. The result? We still need to do something about it.
With respect to the Palm Beach Scandal, Micheal Oppenheimer from Princeton on NPR explained it beautifully. The consensus of hundreds of scientists, using many different methodologies, all in competition with one another have reached a consensus that climate change is real and caused largely by man's actions. Even if 50% of the data is wrong or subject to bias or manipulation, that is still hundreds of the world's best scientists coming to a consensus (which if you have ever had two scientists in a room is a feat in and of itself) coming to the same conclusion.
Finally--here are the choices. Assume climate change is not real, and roll the dice on droughts, wars, starvation, dependence on foreign oil, continued economic stagnation and incalculable human suffering. Assume climate change is real, take action, create new jobs, industry, reduce pollution and human health risks from carbon emissions in general, reduce dependence on foreign fuel regimes and potentially keep polar bears from extinction. Strikes me as not much of a choice.