I hesitated before weighing in on the global warming issue, because the specifics of climate science are way beyond my ken–also because I respect science and scientists enough that I prefer to steer clear of sloganeering. I understand that there is an overwhelming consensus among responsible scientists that global warming is both real and anthropogenic, though as with all science, there is considerable debate about the details and significant uncertainty about how things will ultimately play out (though virtually none of the scenarios provide much reason for optimism). Most of the scientists who deny the phenomenon of human-caused climate change have much in common with the astroturf “researchers” who obfuscated the connections between tobacco usage and cancer in decades past; they have been co-opted by one or another deep-pocketed interest, such as the fossil fuel industry, that has a stake in maintaining the status quo–their goal isn’t to explore alternative hypotheses or otherwise seek out the truth but to generate plausible-sounding doubts that propagandists and lobbyists can exploit. Which isn’t to say that some dissenters aren’t sincere–the eminent theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson for example, is cranky, eccentric, and downright heretical, but certainly not corrupt. And it isn’t to deny that Al Gore and some of the other global warming Cassandras sometimes claim to know more about the future than anyone could–see today’s story in the London Times, “Inconvenient Truth for Al Gore as his North Pole Sums Don’t Add Up“–and have economic stakes in the issue themselves. Science is a subtle thing; activists’ and politicians’ rhetoric is anything but.
But if Al Gore is occasionally sententious and smug, the stakes are incredibly high and the best science we have supports him. Denialists like Senator James Inhofe, Ex-Governor Sarah Palin, and syndicated columnist George Will are more often than not downright disingenuous–and they have seized on the CRU e mail scandal as something that it’s manifestly not: the smoking gun that proves that anthropogenic climate change is constructed entirely out of whole cloth, that it’s a fiction, a conspiracy cooked up by the usual CFR One World types to undermine the free enterprise system and subvert American sovereignty.
Here’s Inhofe: “Al Gore has been out there making hundreds of millions of dollars pushing anthropogenic global warming. It’s clear now that we shouldn’t listen to him. He represents the far-left extreme of Hollywood, which calls the shots for the Democratic party. He has an extremist mentality.” Here’s Palin’s op ed in The Washington Post (click here to read the whole thing):
With the publication of damaging e-mails from a climate research center in Britain, the radical environmental movement appears to face a tipping point. The revelation of appalling actions by so-called climate change experts allows the American public to finally understand the concerns so many of us have articulated on this issue. “Climate-gate,” as the e-mails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have become known, exposes a highly politicized scientific circle — the same circle whose work underlies efforts at the Copenhagen climate change conference. The agenda-driven policies being pushed in Copenhagen won’t change the weather, but they would change our economy for the worse.
The e-mails reveal that leading climate “experts” deliberately destroyed records, manipulated data to “hide the decline” in global temperatures, and tried to silence their critics by preventing them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals. What’s more, the documents show that there was no real consensus even within the CRU crowd. Some scientists had strong doubts about the accuracy of estimates of temperatures from centuries ago, estimates used to back claims that more recent temperatures are rising at an alarming rate.
And here’s Will, also in the Post (click here to read the whole article):
Disclosure of e-mails and documents from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) in Britain — a collaborator with the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — reveals some scientists’ willingness to suppress or massage data and rig the peer-review process and the publication of scholarly work. The CRU materials also reveal paranoia on the part of scientists who believe that in trying to engineer “consensus” and alarm about warming, they are a brave and embattled minority. Actually, never in peacetime history has the government-media-academic complex been in such sustained propagandistic lockstep about any subject.
What the CRU scandal does prove–as anyone who has followed science in the most casual way well knows–is that scientists are not immune to politics, favoritism, and the demands of PR. Click here for the AP’s summary asssessment of the so-called scandal:
As part of the AP review, summaries of the e-mails that raised issues from the potential manipulation of data to intensely personal attacks were sent to seven experts in research ethics, climate science and science policy.
“This is normal science politics, but on the extreme end, though still within bounds,” said Dan Sarewitz, a science policy professor at Arizona State University. “We talk about science as this pure ideal and the scientific method as if it is something out of a cookbook, but research is a social and human activity full of all the failings of society and humans, and this reality gets totally magnified by the high political stakes here.”
In the past three weeks since the e-mails were posted, longtime opponents of mainstream climate science have repeatedly quoted excerpts of about a dozen e-mails. Republican congressmen and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have called for either independent investigations, a delay in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gases or outright boycotts of the Copenhagen international climate talks. They cited a “culture of corruption” that the e-mails appeared to show.
That is not what the AP found…..in the end, global warming didn’t go away, according to the vast body of research over the years.
None of the e-mails flagged by the AP and sent to three climate scientists viewed as moderates in the field changed their view that global warming is man-made and a threat. Nor did it alter their support of the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which some of the scientists helped write.
“My overall interpretation of the scientific basis for (man-made) global warming is unaltered by the contents of these e-mails,” said Gabriel Vecchi, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist.
Gerald North, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, headed a National Academy of Sciences study that looked at — and upheld as valid — Mann’s earlier studies that found the 1990s were the hottest years in centuries.
“In my opinion the meaning is much more innocent than might be perceived by others taken out of context. Much of this is overblown,” North said.
Conspiracy theory about the JFK assassination, 9/11, the New World Order, ACORN and the SEIU, or The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion more often than not reflects the psychology of the conspiracist–the need to assign blame, to impose a coherent narrative on the terrifying randomness of catastrophes, to alchemize a personal feeling of impotence and disaffection into focused outrage. It’s unfortunate, it’s disturbing, it’s irrational, but it’s what it is. Climategate is something else altogether. It’s cynical, it’s opportunistic, and it’s horrifyingly dangerous.
Hume’s Ghost put it well (click here to read his entire post):
You’ve got people promoting the interests of the business sector by promoting a conspiracy theory about nefarious forces plotting to rule the world, where scientists have taken the place ususally held by Jews, Illuminati, Masons or some such.
That virtually the entire scientific enterprise at a planetary level is involved in a conspiracy to hoax the planet in order to overthrow capitalism and install planetary totalitarian rule is every bit as absurd as the conspiracy posited in The Protocols of Zion. What’s more, it’s just about as hateful.