We interrupt your weekend with MAJOR SCIENCE/POLITICAL NEWS. As the headline of this ThinkProgress blog entry notes, this is indeed a political bombshell. MacArthur “genius” grantee Richard Muller, a highly respected physicist and self-declared climate change skeptic has changed his mind in precisely the way a scientist should: He examined the evidence.
As far as the science goes, this is nothing new. Nor is Muller’s conversion from climate skeptic a total surprise. A few months ago, he announced that his research had convinced him that global warming is happening, but his work had not determined whether human activity was to blame. Now, based on further research by his Berkeley Earth project, he has gone further, stating that he supports the broad consensus view that human activity is to blame. He writes this in a New York Times Op-Ed article:
Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.
My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis…. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.
Skepticism becomes denial when you ignore the evidence. Muller was a strong skeptic of anthropogenic (human caused) global warming, but he was never a denialist. Now that he has been able to examine the evidence thoroughly, he supports the consensus view. In fact, he notes that his group’s findings go beyond those of the consensus view as stated in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
What makes this even more remarkable is that his research was funded by the Koch Foundation, whose fossil-fuel billionaire benefactors, brothers Charles and David Koch, have been arguing against the consensus for years with little evidence and lots of bluster.
So on this issue, Dr. Muller has become a strong supporter of the consensus view. But if you take the time to read his New York Times article, you will see that he has not surrendered his scientific skepticism. Like a good scientist should, he challenges predictions that he calls “alarmist.” He doesn’t rule those out entirely, but he needs to see more evidence before accepting them.
He closes the article by removing his scientist hat and donning his citizen’s one: “I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.”
As anyone who has observed the US political scene in recent years knows, agreement will be hard to find. Perhaps politicians can learn something from scientists in framing their arguments: policies need to be developed by looking at the evidence with a skeptical but open mind.