Politicians may flutter in the wind of public opinion polls, but science doesn’t care what people think, say climate scientists as they fight growing public skepticism about global warming and its causes.
Today, some 2,000 scientists and economists sent a letter to the Senate, asking for immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This follows yesterday’s announcement by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Re-arming themselves with scientific facts from a report on climate change that won the 2007 Noble Peace Prize, the IPCC has launched a campaign to counter the "climategate" image sewn by climate change detractors and deniers.
But, even as scientists come out swinging, they have yet another opinion poll to deal with: a Gallup poll, just released, that shows nearly half of the American public are unconcerned about global warming, with many of them doubtful it even exists. This is up from 30 percent not so long ago.
For very good reason, the IPCC believes public opinion is driven by those trumpeting small mistakes in the climate science community. Last year, leaked emails from climate scientists were depicted in the world press as "climategate" proof that science itself could not be trusted. In the midst of that to-do, two minor details in IPCC’s report were revealed as being inaccurate.
The revelations almost overshadowed and certainly helped cripple the world conference on climate change in Copenhagen, which ended in virtual failure as countries couldn’t reach a strong, binding agreement on fighting climate change. Since then, political foes of climate change legislation in the U.S. Congress have used "climategate" to help fuel their attack efforts.
Against all this, the IPCC is fighting back. A special program on Public Radio International depicts the campaign as an effort to prove the integrity of climate science in the face of "unbalanced media coverage." Here’s what PRI said:
The IPCC announced an independent panel to further review research. And leading figures—including the president’s science advisor and the head of the National Academy of Sciences—have launched a full court press to defend the integrity of climate studies.
Penn State University Geosciences Professor Richard Alley, who helped write a section of the IPCC report, says the errors in the report, while minor, had a big impact with the public.
"It’s shaken the confidence of some people in the public who have heard a lot of excitement about a bad paragraph and who may possibly think that because there’s one bad paragraph, it’s all bad," he said. "It’s completely absurd. The effort that the authors put in, the quality of the science is very, very high."