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Change in the Weather

December 2nd, 2009 · 7 Comments

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?
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Tags: climate change · climate delayers · environmental · Global Warming · global warming deniers

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kylo // Dec 2, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    You are in denial of the truth.


    “The truth” is that oceans are acidifying, ice is retreating in the Arctic,Antarctic, Greenland, and nearly all glaciers around the world, animal habitats are moving up mountains and away from the equator, etc …

    Bold, direct, forceful assertion … that is wrong.

    Climategate is further evidence that a small group of scientists, politicians, governments, & ngo’s colluded together to push forth a scare and disinformation campaign.

    The scare and disinformation campaign comes from the likes of the group that you attempted to promote via that url that is not posted here.

  • 2 Lou Grinzo // Dec 2, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Extremely well said, Martin.

    I agree completely (which is something I normally make a point not to do with anyone, just on principle), and I also want to thank you not only for writing the piece that I was planning for tomorrow morning, but doing such an excellent job.

  • 3 uberVU - social comments // Dec 3, 2009 at 12:54 am

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by ClimaTweets: [Get Energy Smart] Change in the Weather: This guest post by Martin from Boztopia takes a step back and discusses C…

  • 4 chembot // Dec 3, 2009 at 7:02 am

    Alot of this post is a strange nondefense of ethically questionable behavior. Between the emotional appeals and equivocations it is difficult to know where exactly to start, but I suppose point by point will do as well as any.

    “Glossing over an illegal hack doesn’t make this right.”

    While these emails (among other files) were obtained through illegal/questionable means, it seems to me as if this is like worrying about serving a ticket for a broken tail light when you have a dead body in the trunk. If releasing Palin’s emails had served to expose some nefarious plot of the Republican campaign last year, I am unaware of it. (Please correct me if I’m wrong!) There was no public purpose served in releasing those emails except as a nakedly vicious attempt at political/personal sabotage, so I don’t believe your compasrison is a good one. A better comparison would be if someone hacked into, say, the big tobacco companies and revealed plans and collusion between executives to make their product more addictive or hide the health effects from using their product. Here we have the same illegal hacking, but a public purpose (as a moral antiseptic) is clearly being served in revealing the information.

    “Most of this is pretty boring stuff, and the emails are being cherry-picked.”

    I agree. There is a lot of petty professional sniping and mundanity that is of no real concern to anybody. If that is all it was, nobody would care and your fist becomes immediately more valid. However, going back to my example above with tobacco execs, how many specific emails out of a large time period do you suppose would be related to active illegal collusion versus more mundane matters like running the business or harmless sniping at potentially adversarial groups like the National Resources Defense Council or Union of Concerned Scientists, or the American Lung Association?

    “Scientists are flawed, fallible people, just like you and I.”

    Again a non-defense, and is a whine about a mostly self-inflicted wound. We can’t demand infallibility, but we can demand professional integrity. I believe these scientists, like most people, aren’t necessarily acting out of evil motive. This is probably a case of good intentions (environmental concern) wrapped up in ego (“decades of my life are invested in this!” mentality) leading to a bad result. However, I would note that for the better part of two decades, the global warming industry has been promoting these people as infallible authority. They have proclaimed ever so boldly “SCIENCE HAS SPOKEN!” and used this appeal to authority as a conerstone of their argument to drive change. As political maneuvering this is fine, but it does raise the stakes if any impropriety is found. As our great commedian-commentator Jon Stewart aptly put it: If you care about an issue, and want it to be your life’s work, don’t cut corners. It’s disheartening for people inclined towards the scientific method…”

    Global warming does have reams of data behind it, but how much of it is tainted by the lack of original (non-value added) data to check these models against? How much of the data has been questionably put through a sausage factory (as commented programming code apparently states)? How much valid science was held back because as reviewers or published works they felt the need to act as guardians of “the TRUTH” rather than as the Ad Hoc editorial boards that peer review usually is supposed to be more like? The answer is that it might matter a little or a lot; we don’t know. But what is clear is that they need to become more transparent about their cdata and methods and their results need to be reproduced and verified where possible.

    “One or two bad apples doesn’t indicate a conspiracy.”

    But it does matter whether thse “Bad Apples” are Paul Dirac and Albert Einstein or Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons. The people named in these emails are leading researchers in their field and have produced a large amount of highly visible work. As such, they have outsized influence in the field and their integrity is of the utmost importance. A few bad apples shouldn’t capsize an entire field of research. Again, making there data and methods completely transparent, and perhaps reproducing some of their published works that might be affected by the revelations of this incident would go a long way to vindicating these scientists. In short, all of the FOIAs that were ignored or sabotaged need to be remedied immediately, and the scientists directrly involved should not be in the position of reviewing others’ papers for publication until their names have been cleared of any scientific misconduct.

    “If you want a conspiracy, I got one for you.”

    So there is a bunch of loony wing-nuts out there looking for (riding in?) black helicopters preaching their gobbledegook denialism. These people are, if nothing else, a highly colorful and visible reminder to not feed the troll. If the scientists hadn’t cut corners and given credence to the claims of loonies’ conspiracy theories, they would continue to exist in the marginalized worlds inhabited by antigovernment militias and apocalyptic cults. As I’ve said before, this is a self inflicted wound.

    “Even if global warming isn’t our fault, it is our responsibility.”

    And this is the true problem. “Climate change advocacy” has become nothing more than a vehicle to promote other political aims.


    Other political aims?

    It has sucked the oxygen out of many other more worthy near term environmental goals

    So, how do sensible actions on “near-term environmental goals” stand in contradiction to action re Global Warming. For example, cleaning up the air by reducing fossil fuel pollution (and the resulting health impacts, acidification of oceans, etc …) is also helpful re Global Warming. What are those “other more worthy … goals” that are not serviced by becoming energy smart?

    on the hopes of achieving galactic transformational change in one fell swoop.


    If global warming isn’t our fault, it is NOT necessarily our responsibility. It is then a natural phenomenon, maybe even a natural disaster, but if all of our civilization, with all of the environmental havoc we wreak is not causing global warming, it is likely out of our hands to “fix”.

    The vast mass of scientific effort shows that humanity almost certainly has a major role in driving climate chaos. There is no serious science that says humanity is irrelevant to change.

    The whole idea of achieving “climate stasis” in this scenario smacks of unbridled hubris. We might as well say such things a as “hurricanes are bad, it’s our responsibility to stop hurricanes” or “earthquakes are bad, we need to control plate tectonics”. I posit that even you would say such claims sound rediculous. We may say that we are masters of our environment, but nature does still have its way of putting us in our place.

  • 5 chembot // Dec 3, 2009 at 7:04 am

    darn it. that sentence should have read “If that is all it was, nobody would care and your *first point* becomes immediately more valid.

  • 6 chembot // Dec 3, 2009 at 9:48 am

    The “galactic” change I am referring to is the whole raft of solutions that will be applied to solving climate change, from the phase out of incandescent light bulbs to forced emission cuts through Kyoto style treaties, Cap’N Trade, et al. The idea is to wrap as many disparate environmental issues up as possible under the rubric of “climate change” and use it as a vehicle to get all sorts of legislation passed that otherwise would have little chance of passing absent a crisis.

    I do not question that there may be a crisis, but I do think that this strategy for achieving environmental goals is inherently flawed. You can only keep the emotional sense of urgency high for a limited amount of time before people get worn out. If the crisis doesn’t fully materialize quickly enough, you risk a lot of disillusionment that will ultimately make environmental goals harder to achieve than if a more incremental strategy was chosen.

    But the type of environmental problems I see as getting less attention than they deserve are such eminently treatable problems like: dumping untreated sewage into local waterways, remediation of acid mine drainage, deforestation, clean up of nuclear research/testing/waste sites, promoting simple environmental reforms to the chinese coal power industry (ash bags, scrubbers), etc.

    Treating these problems is not in contradiction to action re Global Warming. However, many of these can be at least partially solved in an incremental fashion without encountering nearly the same reflexive opposition that using the totalizing philosophy and legislation required for action to global warming leads to.

    As to your last comment on my comment, I made no judgement on the scientific merits for that particular section. In fact, I would agree that we are a contributor to the recent climatic warming trend. My issue was simply with your assertion that if there was no AGW at all that it was still our responsibility to fix it. To me, there is a world of difference between solving a man made problem and stopping a natural force. The first IS our responsibility, the second we simply have to adapt to.

  • 7 A voice of sanity silenced … // Feb 19, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    […] stood out. There is a reason that I reached out to cross-post one of his pieces here at GESN. In Change in the Weather, Martin tackled ClimateGate with the perspective of a non-expert judging what logic and sensible […]