Q: What's your view on the medieval warm period and the charge that the East Anglia e-mails suggest data was manipulated to " contain" that anomaly?
A: I haven't read those e-mails in detail, but the larger point is that there are cyclical changes in the climate and they are fairly well-understood, and all of them are included in the scientific consensus. When you look at what has happened over the last few decades the natural fluctuations point in the opposite direction of what has actually occurred. When they run the models and plug in the man-made pollution, the correspondence is exact. Beyond that, the scale of natural fluctuations has now been far exceeded by the impact of man-made global warming.
And again, we're putting 90 million tons of it into the air today and we'll put a little more of that up there tomorrow. The physical relationship between CO2 molecules and the atmosphere and the trapping of heat is as well-established as gravity, for God's sakes. It's not some mystery. One hundred and fifty years ago this year, John Tyndall discovered CO2 traps heat, and that was the same year the first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania. The oil industry has outpaced the building of a public consensus of the implications of climate science.
But the basic facts are incontrovertible. What do they think happens when we put 90 million tons up there every day? Is there some magic wand they can wave on it and presto!—physics is overturned and carbon dioxide doesn't trap heat anymore? And when we see all these things happening on the Earth itself, what in the hell do they think is causing it? The scientists have long held that the evidence in their considered word is "unequivocal," which has been endorsed by every national academy of science in every major country in the entire world.
If the people that believed the moon landing was staged on a movie lot had access to unlimited money from large carbon polluters or some other special interest who wanted to confuse people into thinking that the moon landing didn't take place, I'm sure we'd have a robust debate about it right now.
Q: Is that where the poles in this debate are? Is there a skeptic or critic about whom you would say, I can have an open and honest debate with this person about the facts of the case?
A: There are skeptics who do not come to their view because they have a source of income from carbon polluters. I don't mean to imply that they're all in that category at all. There are also those who are also not motivated by ideological resistance for any role of government. But I don't know of any arguments or any presenters of arguments that overturn the consensus that I think have gained any legitimacy.
I'm not a scientist, so I'm not the best witness, but I have followed the debate for 40 years. It was a somewhat harder case to make 30-40 years ago, but it was still clear. So many of the details have been filled in now, it's very hard to find a respectable argument contrary to the consensus on the main points about global warming. Some people don't want to hear that, but it's a fact.
Q: Why does the Copenhagen meeting matter?
A: We face the gravest threat that civilization has ever confronted. It's global in nature and requires a global solution. Increased CO2 emissions anywhere, whether from China or the United States or from one of the countries that is burning its forests like Brazil or Indonesia—from wherever the emissions come, they have the same effect: They trap much more heat from the sun, melt the ice, raise the sea level, cause stronger storms, floods, drought, bigger fires, generate millions of climate refugees, destabilize political systems, threaten the growing of food crops and cause a number of other catastrophic consequences which, taken together, threaten the basis for the future of human civilization on the Earth. Because these consequences are distributed globally, the problem masquerades as a distraction. Because the length of time between causes and consequences stretches out longer than we're used to dealing with, it gives us the illusion that we have the luxury of time. Neither of those things is true. The crisis is a concrete threatening reality today. It stands to get catastrophically worse unless we take action before the accumulation [of] this global warming pollution reaches such toxic levels that the problem becomes bigger than we can solve.