Whether or not the world faces ruinous warming, debate over the issue of climate change has taken a welcome turn toward reason.
The Royalty Society of London, which describes itself as a “fellowship of the world’s most eminent scientists,” has retreated from its former advocacy for “urgent steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, as much and as fast as possible, to reduce the more severe aspects of climate change.”
That position appeared in a June 2007 document responding point by point to arguments made by “those who seek to distort and undermine the science of climate change and deny the seriousness of the potential consequences of global warming.”
Much has happened since then. A landmark 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, hailed as the end of argument about the need for aggressive warming precaution, has been found to contain major flaws—all favoring political activism. And a UK research center that provided data central to IPCC research has been caught mixing science with politics.
The Royal Society had its own foment. According to UK press reports, 43 of its fellows rebelled against the certitude and conclusions of the 2007 document.
The new report certainly differs in tone and substance.
No longer is climate science a compulsion to reengineer energy markets. Instead, it’s an “essential basis for future climate projections and planning and must be a vital component of public reasoning in this complex and challenging area.”
The new report pays much more attention than its predecessor did to uncertain areas of science, including crucial questions about water feedbacks.
The Royal Society’s new report is not an excuse to ignore the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the warming observed during the Industrial Age, and the likelihood that the gases account for much warming of the past 50 years.
It is a commendable review of what’s known about these phenomena and—just as important and largely new to public debate about this issue—what’s not.
(Online Oct. 1, 2010; author’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)