No scientific body of national or international standing has offered a dissenting opinion.
“It’s a very, very strong consensus,” says Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council. The level of certainty within the scientific community that burning fossil fuels warms the global atmosphere is comparable, he said, to the level of scientific certainty that vaccines prevent diseases such as measles and polio.
Perry and some other skeptics say that the scientific consensus on climate change is a fraud perpetrated by scientists working in concert—and that climate scientists falsely manipulate evidence to show that climate change is taking place so they can secure funding or prominence. Scientists say that the rigors of the independent peer-review process effectively make the former claim impossible—and that the latter claim simply doesn’t make sense, because what brings the greatest fame and fortune in science is successfully disproving accepted theories.
“The whole system works on evidence, repeatability, doing the same calculations, testing rigorously to get the same result,” Cicerone says. “If you’re working on a topic the public is interested in, there are more and more people watching what you’re doing. You couldn’t perpetrate a fraud if you wanted to.”
Some skeptics also point to the “climate-gate” controversy as evidence that that the body of climate science, or the peer-review process, has been undermined.
In November 2009, just before a major U.N. climate-change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, aimed at forging a world treaty to cut fossil-fuel emissions, hackers breached the server of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and released thousands of e-mail exchanges between the university’s climate scientists. A small number of those messages contained language that Republican politicians, including Inhofe and Palin, said indicated that the scientists were attempting to falsify climate data. Every independent review of the e-mails concluded otherwise.
Despite the exoneration, the e-mail release succeeded in changing the public debate in the U.S., where GOP lawmakers continue to point to the East Anglia e-mails as evidence that climate science is not settled—and as a reason not to act on climate change. Last month, just a week before this year’s U.N. climate summit in Durban, South Africa, hackers released a second batch of East Anglia e-mails, culled from the original batch released in 2009, evidently with the aim of once again reigniting climate-science skepticism. Once again, the scientific community said that the e-mails do not disprove the core underpinnings of climate science—but they do give new fuel to climate skeptics.
“The science at East Anglia was fine,” Cicerone says. “But I think [the East Anglia scientists] were just angry. They were too poorly equipped, scruffy, and informal an outfit to show everyone all their data all the time. On the scientific consensus, there’s no impact at all—although on public opinion there was an impact.”
Some senior Republicans who have left the battlefield of electoral politics are starting to go vocal with their worries about their party’s stance on climate change—and to take action to stave off its electoral consequences. They fear, in the words of one GOP operative, “that the party is going to drive itself off a cliff with this.”
Conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a senior adviser on McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign who now heads the American Action Forum, a center-right think tank, is working with the climate-policy advocacy group Clean Air-Cool Planet. The New Hampshire-based group has flown Holtz-Eakin to the state several times over the past few months to talk to voters in small living-room meetings about the economic threats of climate change—and the economic benefits of addressing the problem.
Another prominent Republican, John Warner, the former senator from Virginia and secretary of the Navy, is a senior adviser to the Pew Project on National Security, Energy, and Climate, which focuses on the need to develop alternative energy to combat climate change and lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Warner, who cosponsored a major cap-and-trade bill when he was in the Senate, now travels the country, including stops at military bases, calling attention to the national-security concerns of climate change and fossil-fuel dependence.
Working with Warner on the Pew climate-change project is George Shultz, President Reagan’s secretary of State and an adviser to George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. Last year, Shultz, who is a distinguished fellow at Stanford University, cochaired the “No on Prop. 23” campaign in California, which successfully defended the state’s pioneering cap-and-trade law against an oil industry-led effort to overturn it.