The next day, the "climate-gate" story broke, and my poor illusions shattered in a manner most spectacular.
Is global warming still real? Or has climate-gate really exposed it all as "the greatest scam in history"? More...
First of all I should point out that I am aware that I am no climatologist, and I do not intened to here make a water-tight case for global warming. However, in considering the controversy surrounding this phenomenon, it seems to me important to remember these three simple facts:
1) we know that the "greenhouse effect" is real, otherwise life as we know it would not exist;
2) we know that atmospheric gases (such as water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane) are responsible for it; and
3) we know that humans are responsible for the emission of large quantities of some of these gases into the atmosphere, mostly via industrial and agricultural activities.
While this doesn't mean global warming is necessarily inevitable (it could still be argued that there are other, as-of-yet unknown factors, like atmospheric aerosols, or cosmic rays, that could be counteracting the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases), it is important to keep in mind that the theory of global warming is by no means based entirely on the observation that the Earth is getting hotter; it would actually be surprising if this wasn't the case.
But - unsurprisingly - the planet does seem to be getting hotter, and a huge body of evidence exists to corraborate this notion: melting glaciers and icecaps the world over; the increasing incidence of droughts and tropical storms; and ocean acidification, are just a few examples. While some of this might be disputed, the key point to be made here is that the evidence for global warming has been derived from several very different fields of inquiry: if all this evidence has indeed been fabricated, climatologists have a great many co-conspirators.
(Here's a cool history of the scientific debate, in a sweet English accent to boot)
"So then what about the 'climate-gate scandal'?"
When you consider all of this, the idea that a handful of hacked emails from a single institution could somehow show that the theory of anthropogenic global warming is a huge conspiracy is absolutely laughable. Even if it turns out that the scientists involved are indeed guilty of scientific spin-doctoring the debate over global warming should not be effected by this affair in the least.
However, as of this writing, it is far from certain that these emails do show that spin-doctoring has occurred. But none of this has stopped the story from wildly snowballing, and it did not stop The Telegraph from heralding it as "the final nail in the coffin of anthropogenic global warming". Meanwhile, heated "debates" (like this gem) reappeared on the airwaves. I think climate-gate will prove to be more of a media scandal, than it is a scientific one. It's another "balloon boy"; another Peruvian human fat smuggler: it's a non-story.
(The English dude also did this excellent video, dismembering some of the media's wilder claims about climate-gate.)
Let me be clear: it is important not to be too credulous, and it is important that we are able to have a completely open discussion and consider all of the possibilities. But the arguments of the outright deniers of anthropogenic global warming have become increasingly far-fetched, and I think that the most salient aspect of the climate-gate affair is that it has highlighted the resort of many global warming "skeptics" to conspiracy theory. And those that have done so have, in my opinion, effectively exited the debate.
An international climate summit commenced today in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is set to be the largest and most important ever held, and hopes are high that an agreement to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol might be reached. If it is to succeed, people need to be knowledgeable and enlightened enough to be able to see past distractions like climate-gate, because the media are doing us few favors.