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What Happened At Heartland?

The Heartland Institute yesterday lashed out at the blogosphere for reporting on the contents of leaked documents that appeared on DeSmogBlog.  Their prepared statement contained this appeal to the better angels of our nature:

“…honest disagreement should never be used to justify the criminal acts and fraud that occurred in the past 24 hours,” the statement said.  “As a matter of common decency and journalistic ethics, we ask everyone in the climate change debate to sit back and think about what just happened.”

Yes, let’s think of what just happened – and why stop 24 hours ago (or, more accurately, 48 hours ago at this point)?  Why not go back a decade or even two?  Or a century?  Or longer?

Let’s think of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which aggregates research from thousands of scientists and then summarizes it in conservative assessment reports that have been vetted hundreds of times over before being released to the public.

Let’s think of the people who attack the IPCC – people who have no qualms about pulling isolated sentences out of early drafts of thousand-page documents and then using them to try and discredit an entire body of research.

Let’s think of climate scientists – geeky types who, for the most part, grew up with a sense of wonder at the world around them, devoted their lives to learning, and now spend their time modeling clouds and currents or digging into ice sheets.

Let’s think of the community of climate science – which spent the last century modeling the skies and the seas as early generations grew old and died and subsequent generations carried on, tested the theories, discarded the ones that didn’t hold up, and kept the ones that did.

Let’s think of how the notion emerged that man’s activities were first going to alter the atmosphere, then might be altering the atmosphere, and – finally – were almost certainly altering the atmosphere.

Let’s think of how this evidence slowly began to mount across the scientific community, how it came into focus from data points across the globe, from ice sheets and tree rings to physical measurements.

Let’s think of how scientists – as is their wont – questioned this evidence, attacked it – “honestly disagreed” with it – until they had no choice but to acknowledge that their worst fears were, in fact, coming true.

Let’s think of how they came to realize that our current practices were bringing us to a cliff that will kill our crops, dry our prairies, and destroy our economy.  Let’s think of the subsistence farmers in Kenya who are currently suffering a drought that Arizonans can’t even comprehend, or the indigenous tribes of the Amazon who will suffer under climate change – or the mass migrations that will threaten our national security.

Let’s think of the absurd belief that a global community of highly-educated scientists would collude to create a false body of knowledge just so they can make a buck.

Let’s think of the military, which is already taking steps to protect us from the consequences of our own apathy.

And let’s think of the unsavory tactics that were used to discredit credible scientists – tactics that have been documented over and over again in books like Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway and Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming by James Hoggan with Richard Littlemore (who also launched the DeSmogBlog in 2006).

Let’s think of the consequences of these tactics – of the inexpensive solutions that have been deferred – and made unnecessarily expensive – as a result, and of the nasty tone of our rhetoric – a tone that doesn’t come naturally to most of us, but which we will adapt if we have to.

Let’s think of a shepherd tending his flock, threatened by vandals.  Let’s think of the moment he puts down his staff and takes up his spear.  Let’s think of the costs of that action: the untended flock, the unwoven coat, the uneaten meat.  Let’s weigh that against the cost of inaction.

Yes, let’s think of what just happened – and why it happened, and what’s at stake, and what we can do about it.  Let’s look at the science and not the subterfuge.   Let’s examine the costs of action and weigh them against the costs of inaction.  Let’s examine the evidence for and against, and weigh the veracity of of both.  Let’s get real.

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