The paper unsettled climate circles. Expert critics suggested to Post reporter Chris Mooney that the paper failed to account for atmospheric aerosols and other factors that can confound warming estimates. Scientists will not suddenly adopt the rosier assessment. That will take much more scrutiny, debate and research.
Moreover, even if the paper’s conclusions are correct, it is no excuse for inaction. Human activity would still clearly be warming the planet. People would still have to stop burning fossil fuels, and quickly, to avoid very bad climate outcomes. The real argument to act on climate change never assumed that experts’ most alarming predictions were guaranteed to happen. The experts were never definitive enough to justify that assumption. The real argument rests on the notion that humanity should minimize the risk, precisely because the future is uncertain.
Yet the fact that a major scientific journal, run by and for the very experts the denier crowd so often attacks, published this and other challenging papers shows that the scientific establishment is not corrupt. The scientific process is working. This is what rigorous disagreement looks like.
President Trump is only one of the powerful Americans who have called climate change a “hoax.” Depending on whom you hear, the notion that emitting massive amounts of heat-trapping gases has influenced the measured warming of the planet was cooked up by the Chinese to harm U.S. industry, liberal statists eager to eliminate air conditioning, credulous scientists seeking grant money or a mix of the above. More reasonable-sounding doubters are less outrageous but still argue that mainstream experts are failing to conduct their work with necessary modesty and care. That scientists’ research always seemed, year after year, to indicate that the problem is more dire than previously thought served only to confirm suspicions.
So much for that. The organs of the expert climate consensus do not suppress findings that buck previous conclusions. They merely ask that criticisms meet basic standards and survive the same review that all other serious papers must endure. That radical dissenting literature is not published in reputable journals says more about the intellectual rigor of extreme climate doubters than it does about the honesty of those who conduct and publish legitimate scientific research.