Smog in Beijing, China, December, 2009. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
The Associated Press recently completed a thorough review of the stolen emails that provoked a firestorm of allegations and accusations of fraud from the global warming denial community, and concluded that as embarrassing and unscientific as some of the messages were, ". . . the exchanges don't undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions." Does that end the controversy swirling around "Climategate," which began November 19 upon the publication of a few emails hijacked from the influential Climate Research Unit (CRU) located at the University of East Anglia in England? No, of course not. Most of the deniers are fanatics, and are unlikely to ever admit that humans cause global warming, or even that the warming trend, which is well documented, exists at all. They are much like the creationists in their zeal and insistence that the science is wrong, a hoax, a fraud, and their stubborn refusal to acknowledge the mountains of evidence to the contrary.
What has struck me most in this bizarre episode is how the deniers accuse scientists of what they themselves are guilty of, and that they seem oblivious to this stunning irony. One has only to read a blog post and comments on the subject to witness how scurrilous and unfounded the denials are, charging thousands of climatologists around the world with perpetrating a colossal hoax for reasons which make no sense and for which there is not a single shred of evidence to back them up. It is they who are making their case up, not the scientists. It is they who lie and distort, who manipulate and manufacture false data, who dismiss the massive amount of persuasive evidence with an arrogant flick of the hand or shrug of the shoulder, without so much as looking at it. It is they who have the most to hide in whatever emails pass between them that we don't see - it is bad enough what we do see. They have absolutely no scruples, no compunctions against attacking the messengers and scientists involved in all the research, the thousands of people who have so painstakingly put together an irrefutable case for a cataclysmic threat to this planet over the coming century.
Only a fool would deny the science, try to bury it, ignore it, dismiss it. The risk is too profound. After all, if the science does prove to be overstated, if global warming were to prove modest and fairly innocuous over the coming decades, would our precautions against it be harmful to us? Of course not. We are embarking on a remarkable mission to replace fossil fuels, whose emissions not only include greenhouse gases, but toxic pollutants as well, with clean, renewable alternatives like solar power and wind, and nuclear power if we can resolve the issues that currently make it so costly to generate safely. Furthermore, fossil fuels, especially oil, are depleting rapidly, becoming increasingly expensive to extract. They won't last forever. We must find alternatives. Fortunately, the most prodigious energy source of all - the sun - is a virtually inexhaustible and limitless source, if we would only get off our duffs and harness it. So our response to global warming is win-win, no matter how serious or not the threat.
Not so if the deniers have their way, and they are prevailing in this "debate," as polls show the public is becoming less and less convinced that global warming is real, or if it is, that it represents a serious threat. Nature doesn't care what we think. It will take its course. If we do nothing, and if the scientists are right, or even half-right, we face a catastrophic future for which there will be no antidote. And what if it is worse than what they predict? Once the greenhouse gases have been released into the atmosphere, except for water vapor, they linger for a long time, 100 years for carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, a dozen for methane. They don't fall back as rain. Temperatures will continue to climb for decades after we finally stop emitting them, until an inferno-like equilibrium is reached. Weather will become volatile, violent, extreme and unpredictable as atmospheric energy increases.
We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by developing a vast new world of renewable energy sources. There is no excuse for delay. None.