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Who are the scientists ?

september 2003

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One of the categories of people most frequently pointed at when discussing the greenhouse effect and its consequences is "the sicentists". Be they invoked to call for prudence or to support the impossibility of severe future damages, this is the term we will always see : "the scientists". A profane will perhaps figure that it consists in an homogeneous category of research workers, with a restricted number of representatives. Nothing could be more untrue !

Of course, we are sure to find climatologists when dealing with our future climate. In France, they might belong to the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique du CNRS, or in Great Britain they might belong to the Hadley Centre. These model experts try to simulate the climate of the future, what requires :

a description of the processes that constitute the climate system, which is given to them by other scientific disciplines (see below),

climate models, that are supposed to represent at best the real world. Climatologists are often helped, to design models, by people whose job is to design modelling sofware, but not necessary for climatic purposes. Such people can be found, for example, at the CERFACS.

emission scenarios, that describe a couple of possibles future paths for the greenhouse gases emissions.

But the most important point, as I just stated, is that modelling only aims at reproducing the real world (a model cannot "invent" a process, just try to reproduce it), and there is a tremendous number of disciplines that concur to explain how the real world functions, and therefore which results are used in the climate change file. I have listed below a small fraction of the scientific disciplines that are involved in the study of our future climate, and for each one I give a link as an example. NB : most links given here are relative to french or european institutes. When I have the time, I will try to enhance the proportion of "non french" examples....any suggestions welcome !

But for each discipline it's possible to find dozens - if not hundreds - of web sites. Starting from the links I give, you may discover by yourself many other teams working on the same subject : "the scientists", that's a close to a numerous crowd ! And you will see that most of those disciplines did not begin with the study of climate change, and that their contributions in the climate change file are often validated - that is accepted - in many other contextes.

So here's a first inventory of some scientists that are sollicited on the subject :

astronomers, that monitor the activity of the sun, and the variations of the orbit of the earth, all things that govern the amount of energy that we receive from the sun (what is of first importance for the climate). In France, such people can be found, for example, in the Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées,

astrophysicists, that describe some characteristics of the outer universe (cosmics rays, for example) and that might be found, for example, in the Institut d'Astrophysique spatiale,

aerologists, that study the composition of the atmosphere, and the chemical reactions and the energy exchanges that happen in it, and that might work, for example, at the laboratoire d'aérologie du CNRS à Toulouse, or at the american NOAA,

oceanographists, that study the general functionning of the ocean, that occupies a central place in the long term trends of climatic evolutions. Such people can be found at the IFREMER,

biogeochemists that determine the cycles of major elements (like carbon or nitrogen) among earth, water and air, that will be found in the LEGOS, for example,

hydrologists, that are interested in the water cycle above the ground, such as thoses of the Wallingford institute in Great Britain,

meteorologists, that own archives that allow to compare the outputs of climate models with the instrumental data, and that can be found, for example, in Météo France,

biologists and agronomists, that look at the way vegetation and crops behave when the weather conditions change, and that work, for example, at INRA,

glaciologists, that analyze the composition of more or less ancient ice and obtain that way precious information on the conditions that reigned when the snow fell, and that can work in the laboratoire de glaciologie de Grenoble,

geologists, that contribute in various specialities (carbon cycle, ground level relatively to sea level, volcanoes...), and that might be found, for example, in the institut de Physique du Globe,

physicists, that explained how radioactive isotopes are formed, and that might belong, among (many) other institutions, to the CERN,

isotopic analysis specialists, like those who work on attribution of dates based on carbon 14 decay, or that will reconstitute past temperatures with the proportion of deuterium in ice, and that might worg in the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement.

des dendrochronologists, who turn treerings of living - or recently dead - trees into evidence of the past climatic conditions, and that might work, for example, in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research (LTRR), at the University of Arizona

various measure specialists, that know how to operate the various device that now measure the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, with the world famous example of the Mauna Loa (Hawai) observatory,

I have certainly forgotten many people....but I hope that I have convinced my reader than considering that the "climate change" file is flawed is equivalent to having a pertinent opinion on the results achieved by all these disciplines. A sure thing is that it is not the case for all the "skeptics" I have heard of so far !


Are "the scientists" ecologist militants ?

One of the most commonly used argument by those who, in spite of what is exposed above, nevertheless dare to consider themselves competent enough to criticize the scientific file is that "the scientists" support false results because they are willingly part of a large conspiracy initiated by the ecologists. This supposes, to be coherent, that "the scientists" are all sincere ecologists, lying as they breathe because their most basic common sense would have vanished on grounds of their feelings and fears for the future of our planet.

Alas, hoping that this will not offend them too much, it has to be said : scientists are no more ecologists than the rest of the population, and rather less as far as I have been able to see. Almost all I know have cars, fly (much more than the average Occidental, well, plane is the worst means of transportation regarding climate change), eat meat for every meal (let's recall that agriculture is the first source of greenhouse gases in France, as it is probably in most occidental countries), live in large houses with gas or fuel oil central heating, have more household appliances than the average, etc.

Those I know - but I would not dare to affirm I know them all ! - don't seem to desire more than my neighbours to do without all this (though the fight against climate change would require it), and none I know lives in the trees, dressed with animal skin, and deeply wishing to be imitated by the rest of the population. You'd meet them in a diner, you would see "normal" individuals, in the sense that they are perfectly "in the norm". I don't know whether we should rejoice or deplore this fact, but one thing is for sure : the argument that would want that scientists are blinded by their feelings does not correspond to the slightest beginning of reality. The salvation of humanity has always been a far weaker motivation for scientists than mere curiosity....

And, as far as I know, Greenpeace or the WWF never gave a cent to the french CEA or to the NASA (that both have first rank laboratories on the subject) to finance their research work !

Those who do not accept the conclusions that we may draw from the knowledge we have of our climatic future will have to find something else : this assertion (scientists = ecologists) is purely chimeric, as are many other ones supported by "skeptics".


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