Climategate is the worst blow the left has received in quite some time. The only comparable episode in recent years is Rathergate, involving the bogus documents "proving" George W. Bush's malfeasance regarding his service in the Texas Air National Guard. Rathergate shook the U.S. legacy media to its foundations, proclaimed the coming of age of internet-based media, and put a period on the network careers of Dan Rather and his producer. Climategate promises to be of even greater consequence.
As the CRU uproar plays itself out, it may well fracture the left-scientific partnership that has distorted scientific research for decades, along with providing a much-needed whipping for environmentalism, the most influential offshoot of contemporary leftism.
Climategate is all the worse because it was unexpected. The warmists really did think they had it wrapped up, that they had pulled off the AGW fraud and needed only to formalize it at the international level to guarantee themselves a free ride. This was never quite the case -- polls showed increasing public skepticism as various warming horrors failed to materialize and the day-to-day weather grew cooler. But the warmists had corralled the bureaucrats and politicians, and that, they thought, was all they needed.
The impact of the CRU e-mail release has been no less than extraordinary, particularly since the story was limited almost exclusively to the net for the first two weeks. The legacy media, without exception and in a process that we have become inured to, sat on the story, evidently in the hope that it would go away. (This started even before the story proper did. A month prior to the e-mail release, BBC reporter Paul Hudson was offered the files but refused to acknowledge them. We're getting close to the point where the dictionary definition of "journalist" will have to be altered to read, "A media personality who attempts to stifle news stories out of cowardice, ideology, or for pay.") But as we've also come to expect, the story instead traveled from server to server and screen to screen, bypassing newspapers, broadcast, cable news (with the exception of FOX), and all other conventional "news" sources. If the net had been available as a mature instrument as far back as the '60s, recent history would have unfolded very differently.
Climategate's progress has left plenty of wreckage in its path, including ruined careers, damaged institutions, and a deeply chastened scientific establishment.
Phil Jones, director of the East Anglia Climate Research Unit and author of a large fraction of the offending messages, has stepped aside "temporarily" to await the results of an investigation by the university. While this seems rather less than the required minimum -- such an investigation should be carried out on a much wider scale by disinterested parties -- it is remarkable in and of itself. Memory fails to bring up any similar action by a director of a scientific institute. Nor is that the extent of Jones' troubles. He has also been thrown over the side by his dependable colleague Michael Mann, who directs a similar unit at Penn State. "I can't put myself in the mind of the person who wrote that e-mail and sent it," Mann has told the media. "I in no way endorse what was in that e-mail." Better late then never.
Mann, whose artistic talents led to the creation of the legendary "hockey stick" chart of second-millennium temperatures, has his own problems. He too is under investigation by his university, though he has not seen fit to step aside. He insists that there is "absolutely no evidence" that he has manipulated data, though interestingly enough, he is still reluctant to reveal exactly what is in his files.
It may well be that both directors will be whitewashed by their respective institutions. But discredited as they are, it really doesn't matter. Neither one of them can ever again pose as the disinterested, incorruptible scientist, and their programs will remain irrevocably tainted. Science as a discipline has its own way of dealing with these types. Papers will be returned with a thank-you note. Grant proposals will become tied up. Grad students will be advised to look elsewhere for doctoral material. Phil and Mike are now and forever climatology's used-car salesmen, and they may as well get used to the plaid jacket two sizes too large and the white patent-leather shoes...though I wouldn't put it past the Swedes to throw them a Nobel next time around.
(One of the most encouraging reactions to this mess comes from the working scientists. Out of the half-dozen or so who responded to my last piece on the topic, all but one were supportive, and that one was unhappy about my (wholly accurate) treatment of embryonic stem-cell research. It will be working scientists, the boiler-room gang who diligently and faithfully handle the basic work upon which great reputations are built, who will strike the killing blow in Climategate. How would you like it if ten years of your work had to be trashed because somebody fed you bogus numbers?) The governmental impact has been almost as serious. In Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's attempt to push through a cap-and-trade bill appeared close to fruition after Liberal (read: center-right) Party chief Malcolm Turnbull threw in his support. But on December 3rd, no fewer than half a dozen Liberal MPs walked out over the deal, leading to the ouster of Turnbull and his replacement by Tony Abbot, who views cap-and-trade as an enormous "Slush fund ... run by a giant bureaucracy."
While perhaps not front-page news in the U.S., this would ordinarily be a story of considerable political interest to be covered in detail. But along with every other aspect of Climategate, our dishonest media have given it the preemptive Winston Smith treatment. Again, this doesn't matter. The consequences are already reverberating through international political life.
In the U.K., the Conservative Party has braced up its "Wet" (the Brit equivalent of "RINO") leader, David Cameron, to oppose the warming agenda or be shown the door. Developments on this side of the big water have not been as dramatic, though at least one GOP contingent has been emboldened to travel to Copenhagen to wreck the Greens' party. We can expect more fireworks when cap-and-trade comes up for a vote early next year. A major shift is also apparent in public attitudes. The Greens labored mightily to convert global warming to received wisdom -- something "everybody knew" in much the same way they know that "abortion is beneficial" and that "we lost in Iraq." For a time, it appeared that they had succeeded. But polls taken earlier in the year by Gallup and Pew revealed a distinct softening in public belief in AGW. The first post-e-mail poll was released by Rasmussen on December 3rd with 59% convinced that scientists had cooked their data, while 52% thought that the warming question was still unsettled. Although a plurality still insist that warming is occurring, there's little doubt as to which way public opinion is going to break. It could be argued that government never shifts at all. Carol M. Browner, Obama's environmental "czar" (or should it be "czarina" here?) stated that she would continue to rely on the "consensus" as expressed in the IPCC reports. She is evidently unaware that much of the data in the reports originated from the East Anglia CRU. Or perhaps she's very much aware -- Browner is widely known to have ordered the destruction of "secondhand smoke" data in the '90s, and more recently assured that no record of alternate-fuel negotiations between her office and the auto companies would be put in writing. Browner could probably teach both Jones and Mann a thing or two. Browner's response set the pattern. On Pearl Harbor Day, the EPA announced its decision to treat CO2 as a deadly poison on the same level as DDT and Alar. If Congress refuses to pass cap-and-trade, the EPA will have no choice but to track down and apprehend any individual emitting carbon dioxide within U.S. borders. As Kimberley Strassel pointed out in the WSJ, this lets Congress off the hook by making CO2 "pollution" an Executive responsibility, which means that the ruling will never go into effect. What sane politician would allow such a series of economy-wrecking regulations to be put in place A) during a serious recession and B) in an election year?
At last we arrive at Copenhagen...only to discover that there's not much to address there at all. The grand climate summit, which was supposed to herald the advent of some sort of "global government," was in trouble even before Climategate. The preliminary negotiations were intended to provide a fait accompli for the official proceedings, but they petered out even before the first delegates boarded the U.N.'s solar-powered blimps for the long trip to Denmark. Negotiators attempted to solve the warming problem by recomplicating it with the question of how much lesser-developed countries should be paid for not polluting in the first place. Discussions naturally stalled on this point, effectively bringing the process to an end.
The opening days of the conference were overshadowed by a failed Russian ICBM test a few hundred miles north, which created a spectacular light show visible across northern Scandinavia. (With superb timing, the Russians launched the missile only hours before Obama received his Nobel. Who says that Slavs have no sense of humor?)
Reports from Copenhagen since then have been muddled, confused, and deeply uninteresting. Copenhagen was supposed to be high real-world drama, with the world's leaders frantically working to stave off the Big Heat in much the same fashion as they might a menacing comet or asteroid while the world looks on in frightened awe. The CRU e-mails, though unmentioned by anyone apart from the Saudis, have transformed it all into a cartoon, with our noble, tireless statesmen become so many Wile E. Coyotes heading off the cliff with rockets strapped to their skates.
(Another casualty is the great Al Gore, who had originally scheduled an event in which $1,200 would purchase a signed copy of his latest book, a handshake, and a personal blessing from Mother Gaia. Gore was unfortunately forced to cancel. He has to watch out for process servers now.)
All this marks considerable payoff for a few thousand e-mails. The question now is how to keep the pot boiling.
The first order of business should be calls for the release of e-mails, data, and related files from the other institutions involved in Climategate. NASA/GISS has been the source of several pieces of questionable "evidence," particularly the Y2K glitch that universally raised recent temperatures by more than a degree Fahrenheit. No explanation of this "glitch" has ever been offered. I, for one, would like to hear one. The institute is also the playground of James Hansen, the most florid Green of them all, who would have skeptics thrown into camps without trial if he could. Hansen was part of the CRU round-robin. His own professional communications would at the very least make for entertaining reading.
(The Competitive Enterprise Institute has announced a lawsuit to pry the files out of GISS.)
Mann's department needs to open up also so that we can better admire the creative thinking that went into the "hockey stick" (or "sticks" -- there are actually quite a number of these floating around, each subtly different, but each the work of the same hand). In fact, we need to hear from everyone who was on the CRU e-mail list. All are under suspicion and will remain so until a full public investigation takes place.
As for the question of lawsuits, it's safe to say that most of these boys will be spending large amounts of their remaining years in one courtroom or another. There's the matter of violating Freedom of Information statutes, the careers sidetracked or ruined, and the worthless data knowingly distributed to individuals, institutions, and governments. This may even stretch to wrongful death lawsuits -- many of us recall the northern town and county governments who ceased maintaining snow removal equipment and buying road salt in the late '80s and '90s because "it wasn't gonna snow no more," along with the ensuing accidents and deaths. This could become far more convoluted than anyone can now foresee.
Of course, the big target is Al. There are thousands of lawyers burning office lights until all hours figuring out how to take down Al Gore. Thousands more are being decanted from the lawyers' replication vats for the sole purpose of pleading "Gore v. Whoever." The legal aspects of the new industry of carbon offsets remain in large part unexplored. I'm sure that Al will relish his role as a pioneer in establishing necessary legal benchmarks, as he has in so much else.
Above all, we need to keep pounding. Far from being accepted wisdom, global warming has always been viewed warily by the average American as yet another excuse for governmental interference and pickpocketing. It won't take much in the way of reiteration to turn this into a raging conviction, with considerable ancillary damage to the progressive program as a whole.
It's too soon to say that warming is dead -- these ideas return from the grave even more often than Jason and his axe. (The other day, I came across a piece dealing the terrors of overpopulation in the same tone that I first heard in the late '60s, and with a similar solution -- adopting the Chinese "one-child" policy. The writer overlooked the fact that the Chinese, through a cultural preference for boy children, have arranged for themselves a nationwide population crash that will halve the Chinese population, throw the country into perhaps permanent recession, and, not the least, end any worldwide "population explosion.")
But warming is politically dead. It would require a brave politician to inconvenience voters, steal their money, and ruin their jobs based on premises that may be fraudulent. That "may" is the crucial term -- fraud doesn't have to be proven. Doubt is all that's required. When fraud enters the picture, everything else -- certainty, veracity, trust -- gets up and leaves. Fakery distorts everything it touches. To claim that even though the last batch of data was tainted, the next batch just might be okay is the same as saying that the last e-mail offer you got from the Nigerian president's office may have cleaned out your bank account, but this one you just opened has got to be for real.
This is the exactly position of contemporary climatology. In their eagerness to put over their thesis, the CRU crew ran roughshod over the rules of their discipline. They piled one lie on top of the other until the whole thing came down on them, bringing their field down with it. It will be a long time before anybody accepts a check from a climatologist.
It would be nice to learn what actual effects the increase in CO2 might be. (It has always been unlikely that a shift of 40-50 parts per million, which is the amount we're talking about, would have any dramatic atmospheric effects.) But we're not going to learn that from this crew. It would also be nice to have a society that pays serious attention to the environment and our impact on it, above and beyond all the little clichés about recycling and carbon footprints, in which serious thought is given to what kind of balance between a modern society and nature is possible and how far we want to go in achieving it. But we're not going to get that from environmentalism, which has proven itself to be fanatical, dishonest, and dangerous. Eventually, we're going to require a revival of the old concept of conservation, adapted to the needs of a new millennium.
But don't hold your breath waiting for it. J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.