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Globe Editorial

Don’t suppress debate; win it

December 7, 2009

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AS THE climate-change experts convene in Copenhagen this week, world leaders are still wary of asking citizens to change their ways for the sake of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The experts won’t win anyone over by massaging data or tamping down opposing views.

The director of the influential Climatic Research Unit at Great Britain’s University of East Anglia had to step down Tuesday, after hacked e-mails showed that he and other scientists had considered destroying data in conflict with their predictions about global warming. They also tried to keep research by global warming doubters from being published in an official report. The e-mails, which display the unattractive frustration that many climate experts feel toward highly educated colleagues who remain skeptical of global warming, can only shake public confidence in an overwhelming body of scientific evidence.

Nothing in the exchanges challenges the consensus reached by the National Academy of Sciences, the US Global Change Research Program, or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use and the loss of carbon-sink capacity in heavily timbered forests are increasing temperatures and making oceans more acidic. In fact, the most recent data indicate climate change is happening at a faster rate than the intergovernmental panel predicted.

Even before the East Anglia e-mail flap, most Americans were not buying the consensus view. The best way to build public support for strong climate-change legislation isn’t to suppress the skeptics, but to highlight the ample evidence that they’re wrong.

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