I haven’t addressed the issue of climate change here very much other than mentioning it in posts about conspiracy theories or science denialism. However, with the recent hacked email “scandal” at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, I thought it deserved at least a mention.
The reason I find it relevant to this blog, which tends to focus on issues where religion or dogma interfere with rational thinking, is that climate change seems to be one of those issues. It’s a scientific issue and the deniers tend to be, almost without exception, right-wing and/or religious… classic science deniers, though they’ll never admit as much. All the deniers that I’ve spoken with or read about fully believe they are basing their views on good, accurate science and that whatever it is they’re denying (climate change, vaccinations, evolution, etc) is only promoted by a conspiracy of dogmatic, agenda-driven scientists working with inaccurate, misinterpreted, or subversively modified data.
Frequently, it’s fairly easy to discern a denier’s ulterior motive. In the case of climate change science, the motive is most noticeably political… specifically financial. The “logic” goes something like this.
- Any action taken to mitigate climate change would be very expensive and would harm the economy.
- Therefore, scientists whose research indicates the Earth is getting warmer are wrong… perhaps fraudulent.
The rest is just smoke and mirrors… making unsubstantiated claims, getting the science wrong, misunderstanding the science, misdirecting from the main issues, taking things out of context, putting things in the wrong context, blowing things out of proportion, waving arms frantically, acting offended, and being dismissive.
The CRU email scandal is a combination of those actions. The illegality of the email hacking is a separate issue from the climate change issue and, for the purposes of this post, irrelevant. The content is what’s important and, as many other bloggers have already concluded, is mostly a non-issue. Chris Mooney does a good job explaining the issue in a post at Science Progress.
The truth, however, is that while the CRU emails donâ€™t always look very goodâ€”and not all of them can necessarily be defendedâ€”in the end this saga amounts to little more than a distraction from the real and burning issues in climate science and climate policy.
The reason why the email amount to “little more than a distraction” is explained in detail in his article, but a quote that summarizes the conclusion is this (also from Mooney):
Unfortunately for climate skeptics, the CRU hacking incident fails to support the burden that they have placed upon it. Whatever behavior was revealed in these emails, even its most salacious interpretation can scarcely undermine the global edifice of knowledge about the causes of ongoing climate changeâ€”which may be bolstered by, but certainly does not rely solely upon, CRUâ€™s research and analyses.
In essence, the most damning evidence in the emails, viewed with even the most scandalous interpretation, does nothing to undermine the vast, vast amount of evidence supporting the very real issue of climate change.
The American Meteorological Society, in response to questions about the email hack, re-affirmed their position on climate change, stating in part…
For climate change research, the body of research in the literature is very large and the dependence on any one set of research results to the comprehensive understanding of the climate system is very, very small. Even if some of the charges of improper behavior in this particular case turn out to be true â€” which is not yet clearly the case â€” the impact on the science of climate change would be very limited.
In addition to addressing what is in the emails, RealClimate notes another interesting point.
From the RealClimate blog:
More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to â€˜get rid of the MWPâ€™, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no â€˜marching ordersâ€™ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords.
I think it’s important to note that the emails in question span the past 13 years. If there were to be evidence of a giant scientist-created conspiracy, one would expect there would be at least something of an inkling about it in 13 years of email exchanges… but there’s not.
Deniers will continue to trot out snippets from the emails, however, with claims that all the climate research to date is now invalid, or that their (fallacious) claims have been verified, or that the scientific process has monumentally failed. They’ll continue their claims that climate change is not real, is not man-made, is not an environmental issue, and is not a cause for concern. They’ll continue to oppose any actions that would curb carbon emissions (and thereby curb pollution in general). They’ll continue to feign understanding of climate science (or even science in general) in order to give themselves the illusion of credibility. They’ll continue to use any bit of misrepresented, out-of-context, irrelevant data they can in an attempt to discredit actual scientists doing actual research into actual climate change.
They’ll continue to deny reality.