Climate alarmists conjured a world where nothing was certain but death, taxes and catastrophic global warming. They used this presumed scientific certainty as a bludgeon against the skeptics they deemed "deniers" -- a word meant to have the noxious whiff of Holocaust denial.
All in the cause of hustling the world into a grand carbon-rationing scheme. Any questions about the evidence for the cataclysmic projections, any concerns about the costs and benefits were trumped by that fearsome scientific "consensus," which had "settled" the important questions.
A funny thing happened to this "consensus" on the way to its inevitable triumph, though: Its propagators have been forced to admit fallibility.
It has been a bad—make that dreadful—few weeks for what used to be called the "settled science" of global warming, and especially for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that is supposed to be its gold standard.
First it turns out that the Himalayan glaciers are not going to melt anytime soon, notwithstanding dire U.N. predictions. Next came news that an IPCC claim that global warming could destroy 40% of the Amazon was based on a report by an environmental pressure group. Other IPCC sources of scholarly note have included a mountaineering magazine and a student paper.
Since the climategate email story broke in November, the standard defense is that while the scandal may have revealed some all-too-human behavior by a handful of leading climatologists, it made no difference to the underlying science. We think the science is still disputable. But there's no doubt that climategate has spurred at least some reporters to scrutinize the IPCC's headline-grabbing claims in a way they had rarely done previously.
Take the rain forest claim. In its 2007 report, the IPCC wrote that "up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state."