Three leading scientists who yesterday released a report documenting the accelerating pace of climate change said the scandal that erupted last week over hacked emails from climate scientists is nothing more than a "smear campaign" aimed at sabotaging December climate talks in Copenhagen.
"We're facing an effort by special interests who are trying to confuse the public," said Richard Somerville, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a lead author of the UN IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
Dissenters see action to slow global warming as "a threat," he said.
The comments were made in a conference call for reporters.
The scientists—Somerville, Michael Mann of Penn State and Eric Steig of University of Washington—were supposed to be discussing their new report, the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a dismal update of the UN IPCC's 2007 climate data by 26 scientists from eight nations.
Instead they spent much of the time defusing the hacker controversy, known in the media as "Climate Gate."
The scandal began on November 20, when an unknown hacker stole at least 169 megabytes of emails from computers at the prominent Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia and put them online for the world to see.
CRU is considered one of the world's leading institutions concerned with human-caused global warming. The leaked emails contain private correspondence on climate science dating back to 1996.
Skeptics of global warming say these messages are filled with evidence of manipulated data from lead authors of the UN's highly influential IPCC reports.
U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma, pictured here), a climate skeptic, said he would launch an inquiry into UN climate change research in response.
In an interview with the Washington Times radio show, Inhofe explained the investigation would look into "the way [the UN and the IPCC] cooked the science to make this thing look as if the science was settled, when all the time of course we knew it was not."
CRU Vice-Chancellor of Research Trevor Davies responded in an official statement:
"There is nothing in the stolen material which indicates that peer-reviewed publications by CRU, and others, on the nature of global warming and related climate change are not of the highest-quality of scientific investigation and interpretation."
Michael Mann, co-author of the Copenhagen Diagnosis and lead author of the UN IPCC Third Assessment Report, blamed skeptics for taking the personal emails out of context.
"What they've done is search through stolen personal emails—confidential between colleagues who often speak in a language they understand and is often foreign to the outside world. Suddenly, all these are subject to cherry picking," he said.
They've turned "something innocent into something nefarious," Mann added.
The vital point being left out, he said, is that "regardless of how cherry-picked," there is "absolutely nothing in any of the emails that calls into the question the deep level of consensus of climate change."
This is a "smear campaign to distract the public," said Mann. "Those opposed to climate action, simply don't have the science on their side," he added.
Professor Davies called the stolen data "the latest example of a sustained and, in some instances, a vexatious campaign" designed "to distract from reasoned debate" about urgent action governments must take to reverse climate change.
According to Somerville, the comments in the emails "have nothing to do with the scientific case" for climate change.
It is "desperate" to launch this right before Copenhagen, Eric Steig, co-author of the Copenhagen Diagnosis, said on the call.
Sen. Inhofe, meanwhile, lauded the timing of the incident.
"The interesting part of this is it's happening right before Copenhagen. And, so, the timing couldn't be better. Whoever is on the ball in Great Britain, their timing was good," he said.
Science Can't Silence Skeptics, Still
The fallout from the scandal is putting some of the world's leading climate scientists on the defensive and underlining the influence of skeptics, even as the case for human-caused warming gets stronger.
According to the Copenhagen Diagnosis report, climate change has rapidly accelerated beyond all previous predictions and humans are to blame.
The findings are a synthesis of 200 peer-reviewed papers that continued to pour in from all over the world after the the UN IPCC issued its 2007 analysis. Somerville described the report as an "authoritative assessment" of the newest climate change data.
The results reveal that global warming emissions in 2008 were nearly 40 percent higher than those in 1990. Further, sea level rise is 80 percent above past IPCC predictions.
If 2 degree Celsius warming is to be avoided—the point at which catastrophic damage is predicted to occur—fossil fuel emissions must peak between 2015 and 2020, "and then decline rapidly," the authors warn.
"There's an urgency to this that is not politically or ideological driven," said Somerville. This is "objective scientific reality," he added, and we're "running out of time," to stop the problem.
On Tuesday, three of the UK's leading science organizations—the Met Office, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Royal Society—issued an unusually strong statement in advance of Copenhagen. They wrote:
"The scientific evidence which underpins calls for action at Copenhagen is very strong. Without co-ordinated international action on greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts on climate and civilisation could be severe."