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Dionne Award Winner: Science Category

July 30, 2012

credit: ICJ Project

Physicist Richard Muller doesn’t express moral outrage in his column in Saturday’s NY Times, but he does something that is, I think, at least as important:  he  demolishes the arguments of so-called “climate skeptics” who don’t believe human activity is the cause of global warming.

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 by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. 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.

For this column, and for his willingness to allow the truth of his findings to change his mind, Muller is the latest recipient of the Dionne Award, named for Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne and given at the whim of this blog to a “habitually even-tempered and fair-minded commentator for excellence in expressing moral outrage”.

Unfortuantely, as Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum points out, “Climate skeptics are skeptics because they don’t like the idea of global warming, not because there’s truly any evidence that it doesn’t exist. It’s politically inconvenient, economically inconvenient, and personally inconvenient, so they don’t want to hear about it.”  Thus, it’s unlikely that climate skeptics (including powerful interests like ExxonMobil and much of today’s Republican Party) will be influenced by Muller’s conversion.

Their self-interested stubbornness is a different issue for a different day.  Today it’s enough to celebrate Muller’s research and his willingness to act like a true scientist—one who follows the scientific method where it leads, regardless of any blows it may strike against his prior hypotheses.

h/t: Kevin Drum

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