This guest post by Martin from Boztopia takes a step back and discusses ClimateGate from ther perspective of an intelligent, non-scientist, observer.
I was not planning to write anything about “Climategate” (or the “Swifthack,” as Josh Nelson calls it) initially. I’m no scientist, and definitely not a climatologist, geologist, or anything even remotely qualified to discuss the science involved. I’m just a moderately intelligent guy who is privileged to run in circles with some real pros in these fields, and was content to let them do the talking rather than say something stupid — unlike roughly 99.999999 percent of the Internet.
If you want a thorough understanding of the saga and a debunking of the idea that this is some kind of massive conspiracy by SCIENCE!!!1 to defraud the world and keep Al Gore rich, I recommend you read Josh’s clearinghouse of articles and links discussing the entire issue from stem to stern. I also recommend reading David Roberts’ and Brian Angliss’ takes on it for further research and edification.
But even as a layman generalist, there are a few basic points I’d like to make. Read on if you’re interested.
- Glossing over an illegal hack doesn’t make this right. In my younger days, I was a big proponent of the whole “information wants to be free” mindset that pervades both the black and white hat 133t haX0r communities. But that precept is often interpreted in the most childish of ways, to justify any kind of wrongdoing or shady behavior simply for the sake of teh lulz or to prove a point.
Put more simply, just because someone puts a plate of tasty chocolate chip cookies on the table doesn’t mean you can just start stuffing your face. They may not be yours to have. I think the conservative noise machine is aware of this, which is why they’ve shifted the narrative from the culprit being a hacker to a heroic insider whistleblower. That plays much better in Peoria, but as I’ve said before, imagine if said “whistleblower” had released classified military documents, or, for that matter, Sarah Palin’s personal emails. The response from the right would have been very different.
Situational ethics at work — “It’s okay if we do it, but not you guys.”
- Most of this is pretty boring stuff, and the emails are being cherry-picked. I have actually had occasion to read through (some of) the collection of emails that at least one enterprising soul put up on a server (No, I won’t link to it). I don’t know who thought this was a hotbed of evil mustache-twirling villains cackling over their ability to hoodwink the public, but they clearly haven’t read anything more than a few cherry-picked, decontextualized quotes pulled from people like Marc Morano, who has a very upfront stake in the climate change denial industry, and is out to make his bones as such. But seriously, most of the emails in question are mind-numbingly tedious and dry pieces about statistics, sharing information, airing personal grievances, etc. Which leads me to my next point…
- Scientists are flawed, fallible people, just like you and I. Anyone who’s spent time in the hallowed halls of academia knows how personal and vitriolic turf battles can be. It doesn’t surprise me that some of these emails show deep dissension on what global warming is, how it works, what the effects are, etc. Remember, these purloined documents span a period of thirteen years — from March 1996 to November 2009.
Is it so impossible to believe that consensus on global warming was not immediate, and took time? That’s how science works, and sometimes it ends up revealing contradictions to what we would now consider the common wisdom.
Remember when we thought dinosaurs were cold-blooded reptiles, not warm-blooded ancestors of birds? I read a book as a kid called “The Dinosaur Heresies” that outlined this theory in exhaustive detail (Thanks for buying it, Mom!), and now it’s an accepted fact.
Just the same, global warming has reams and reams of data behind it validating the science now, and this came together through argument, debate, research, testing, and retesting, which leads me to my next point…
- One or two bad apples doesn’t indicate a conspiracy. My friend Joe Hines often gently chides me that I am too inclined to look for patterns that may not be there, as part of the human evolutionary psyche. Compared to the folks screaming that this is a full-fledged Secret Society of Science Super-Villains conspiring to put the public under their green thumb, I come off as a total rationalist.
Even if it’s proven that some of the scientists involved were deliberately conspiring to hide the rate of temperature cooling in order to preserve their hypotheses — which is anything but proven – it doesn’t invalidate the larger truth. It simply means that a few people were more concerned about their careers and reputations than the honesty of their work, and anyone who has spent time in the governmental or corporate machine knows someone like this. Does that mean we throw out everything we worked on because one person didn’t play fair? Of course not. So it is with global warming.
- If you want a conspiracy, I got one for you. I mentioned Marc Morano earlier. The guy anchoring this whole “GLOBAL WARMING IS A HOAX!!111? campaign was not only deeply tied to the Swift Boat scandal, and was a former aide to insane climate change denialist and Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, but is in deep with Rush Limbaugh and the conservative news networks that recycle blog posts, tweets, and articles into one huge sonic scream of craziness. These people are connected. That’s how these incidents become scandals so quickly. Someone feeds info to Rush or Glenn Beck, they get it on their show, and then it’s parroted by blog networks and Twitter users without a second thought. It’s not even a conspiracy, really. It’s more like Pavlovian response in action. And, lest there be no doubt…
- These people hate science. Now, I’m generally a spiritual guy and hardly a hardcore “science uber alles” sort, but there’s a difference between having your own beliefs and outright seeking to eradicate everyone and everything that disagrees with you. This was made clear to me today in reading a post at the Discovery Institute’s blog about the ongoing saga. (The Discovery Institute, for those who don’t know, is a faux-scientific think tank funded by the evangelical Christian movement that advocates young-Earth creationism and intelligent design as the foundation of life, rather than evolution.) Quoth post author Michael Egnar: The ID-Darwinism debate clearly demonstrates that venality and shameless self-interest, as well as a toxic leftist-atheist ideology, runs very deep in the scientific community. Science surely provides much benefit to mankind, but we may need to pursue scientific truth with a different set of scientists than the ones we have now. In other words, it’s time to cull the nonbelievers and replace them with good, right-thinking Christian soldiers. It’s not about truth, facts, or evidence with them, but about maintaining total ideological purity. Now who’s promoting some kind of groupthink, I ask you?
- But what if global warming isn’t our fault, or doesn’t exist? Listen, if a smoking gun should ever arise that definitively, conclusively, irrevocably proves that wide-scale climate change is NOT the work of humans, I will get up off my big, fat, white ass and do a jig. Why? Because it means we’re not responsible for at least one instance of fucking up the planet, as we are with so many other things. And that’s the real crux of the matter. Conservatives, so big on personal responsibility, shirk any accountability for global warming. Why? Because to fix it would mean a massive change to our lifestyles, lives, and livelihoods. We would have to give up the culture of aggressive growth that has fed everything from our unsustainable exurban lifestyles to our desires for war and power. Everything about America, like any other empire, is about being bigger than the other guy–more, more, more. To reshape our lives in order to reduce carbon emissions would involve giving up our SUVS, living in smaller homes, using less energy, etc. Most of us aren’t ready to embrace that kind of massive paradigm shift. We’re only now realizing that we may not enjoy the same standard of living as our parents, thanks to years of economic predation and disaster capitalism. To be told that we have to make do with even less is something we simply can’t accept yet. That’s why conservatives rail so hard against any human responsibility for protecting the Earth — because it’s a lot easier than trading down from an outsize McMansion to a humble condo.
- Even if global warming isn’t our fault, it is our responsibility. The United States alone produces 220 to 230 million tons of garbage a year — 4.6 pounds per person. Most of this is not recycled, but simply dumped or buried in landfills, where it contaminates groundwater and produces health hazards for anyone living nearby. This is unquestionably our responsibility. We made this mess, and we must clean it up. And when it comes to global warming, the question must be asked, “Who is going to handle it?” Who else can address the issue of sea levels rising as the polar ice caps melt? Who else can come up with solutions to entire cultures being destroyed due to rapid climate change? The answer is the same. It’s up to us. We try to deny the existence of human-caused global warming so as to deny our part in destroying the planet — a concept so vast it renders people utterly helpless. But now’s not the time to be helpless, or to be swayed by naysayers who refuse to accept the truth right in front of their eyes. It’s a time to be bold, brave, and visionary, and step forward to accept our responsibility to clean up the planet and not let Nature suffer for our mistakes. If that’s not being personally responsible, what is?