Monday, December 7, 2009

The Whole Truth

Today is the first day of the 2 week climate summit in Copenhagen. I have hesitated to blog about it because lately it seems more politically charged than scientifically motivated. First, there was the debate about which sessions President Obama would attend (on his way to Oslo to accept his Nobel Peace Prize - another politically charged discussion), then there was the debacle of the leaked emails from the British scientists. In case you haven't heard, the emails refer to things such as "tricks" in how the data is presented. All in all, it did not show the scientists in the best light.

The summit has only just begun, but here is the one thing I think we have already learned: we need the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on this issue. Climate change science is muddy right now because we're trying to spot present-day trends that are best viewed from a distance (meaning hundreds, thousands, and millions of years from now).

Research studies don't always come out the way you expect. I learned this on a simple level when I was teaching Junior Achievement to a group of 2nd graders last month. We did an exercise that was supposed to show why assembly line production is much faster than individual unit production. Great concept, except it didn't work out that way. That's okay - I didn't fudge the data, I just used it as a chance to teach the importance of communication and how that may have impacted the results of our exercise. The research on climate change isn't going to be perfect and likely won't all point to the same answer - and that's okay. It's all part of the bigger picture we need to understand what's going on.

Just as we need to teach our kids the value of honesty, we also need to expect it in our leaders, scientists, journalists - everyone. Let's not lose sight of the issue just because we want to be right. Do I believe in climate change? Yes, I do, but I also know there is a lot we still don't know. Did I change my opinion after hearing about the email scandal? No, the fact that some people want to bend the data to make their case more compelling is disturbing, but it doesn't change the science behind it.

And, what do I say to those who don't think there is any scientific proof to back up climate change? To them, I say, let's look at this from a common sense perspective. Does it seem like a good idea to be releasing all these gases and chemicals into the air? Even if we don't know the cause, do you think we should be worried about the icebergs melting? From a common sense perspective, I would say we should be worried and be doing our very best to get the best scientific answers we possibly can - regardless of whether that science proves or disproves current theories.

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