Saturday, November 28, 2009

Climategate's Irony

One of the first great statements of the need to protect the environment is Chief Seattle's 1855 letter to President Franklin Pierce, a letter which echoes his environmentally conscious 1854 speech before Isaac Ingalls Stevens, then Governor of the Washington Territory.  The letter is poetic in its depiction of the connection between Man and nature:
We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.
The letter is also, alas, a lie.  There is no evidence Si'ahl--Chief Seattle--ever wrote such a letter, or even said what is ascribed to him in the 1854 speech. 

"No evidence" seems to be a recurring theme among those who proclaim great concern for "the environment", as the recent release of emails obtained by a hacker from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) strongly suggests.  Just as there is a seeming wide gulf between the historical reality of Si'ahl and the mythology of the environmentally prescient Chief Seattle, there is a wide--and growing gulf--between the dire predictions of the global warming "alarmists" ensconced in the CRU and the actual empirical data.  So dramatic is the disparity between the published CRU findings and their source data that one journalist, James Delingpole of the Daily Telegraph, has somewhat portentiously (and perhaps prematurely) proclaimed the growing scandal "the final nail in the coffin of 'Anthropogenic Global Warming'?"   The "science" that has inspired the nations of the earth to gather first in Kyoto, now in Copenhagen, and soon in Mexico City, all for the sake of reversing 'Anthropogenic Global Warming', is as much of an airy piece of chicanery as the words of their philosophical forebear Chief Seattle.

Some might argue that it matters not if the scientists at the CRU were perhaps overly aggressive in their statistical manipulations....errr...analyses...of climate and temperature data.  Given that the world over we see glaciers receding and ice caps melting, it is perfectly obvious that something is changing in our environment--and a changing climate can greatly impact our own quality of life, even our viability as a species.  If the problem is real, what does it matter if some well-meaning scientists "exaggerated"?

The answer is found first in Jerry Clark's concluding paragraph of his 1985 debunking of the Chief Seattle myth:
Does it really make any difference today whether the oration in question actually originated with Chief Seattle in 1855 or with Dr. Smith in 1887?  Of course it matters, because this memorable statement loses its moral force and validity if it is the literary creation of a frontier physician rather than the thinking of an articulate and wise Indian leader.  Noble thoughts based on a lie lose their nobility.  The dubious and murky origins of Chief Seattle's alleged "Unanswered Challenge" renders it useless as supporting evidence.  The historical record suggests that the compliant and passive individual named Seattle is not recognizable in the image of the defiant and angry man whose words reverberate in our time.
No matter how noble the intentions of Dr Mann and the researchers at East Anglia's CRU, the nobility of their purpose disappears in the mendacity of their method.  Their zeal and insistence to put forward their climate hypotheses as the only viable explanations for what we see in the world around us is the behavior of religious fanatics, not objective scientists; they have replaced the skeptical scientist's persistent question of "why" with the fundamentalist's fervent proclamation of "because."  That is their great error, their great sin, and, ultimately their great downfall.

Science is more clearly defined by what is unknown rather than what is known.  Even a lay person may see the world around him changing, but it is the scientist who ponders that change, who seeks the underlying cause or causes of that change.  It is the scientist who ever asks "why" and never presumes the answers to be final--and when a scientist excludes all hypotheses but his own from consideration, he ceases to be a scientist.

Moreover, because even the lay person can see the changing world around us, not only is it not necessary to manipulate and misrepresent data, it is not helpful.  If the changing world threatens humanity's existence, then accurate information and proper scientific inquiry are what humanity needs most, not the arrogant zealousness of a benighted few.  In matters of climate, as in all matters, the truth is what matters, not who proclaims that truth.

And in matters of climate, there is one truth that resonates today as it did in 1963, when President John F. Kennedy gave his commencement address to the graduating class of American University:
So, let us not be blind to our differences - - but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.
Unlike Si'ahl, Kennedy actually did say those words.