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Unwritten Stories Reveal New Climate Scandal!
Alex Steffen, 24 Nov 09

There's been a lot of talk recently about the "hacked climate emails." Long story, short: Hacker steals email, posts. Wingnuts take some lines out of context, claim they show a cover-up, cry conspiracy. Scientists refute, in detail. Media covers "controversy." Driven by talk radio and oil money, the whole thing escalates into a scandal.

But a much bigger scandal is just waiting to break.

That scandal?

1) Climate change is real, it's here, we're causing it, and it's worse than we thought it was.

2) There is no "debate" about #1; the completely massively overwhelming majority of all the scientists studying this issue, from nearly every angle, agree. Indeed, they agree in such a total majority that we might as well say all scientists agree that climate change is real, is here, is caused by people and is worse than we thought it was.

3) We know what causes climate change, therefore we know how to stop it.

4) The actions we need to take to stop it will cut into some companies' profits (such as oil and coal companies); therefore they have funded a well-documented, three-decade propaganda campaign to distort the science, vilify the scientists and dupe the American people into thinking they're being lied to.

5) There is no credible institutional opposition to climate action that isn't directly or indirectly funded by these companies and their political allies. The entire "skeptic" movement is an astroturf creation: the fact that some regular guys believe it and parrot its talking points just makes it sadder, not more credible.

6) There is no good reason, ever, to repeat those talking points, or to allow them to be repeated without challenge in your presence. They are lies, and their effectiveness depends on educated people's natural tendency to try to give all the "sides" in a debate a hearing; the validation that comes from being presented as a credible position -- even if only to refute that position -- helps perpetuate the lie.

7) The American media is particularly guilt of a collapse of journalistic ethics when it comes to climate change, seizing on every opportunity to portray a given talking point as a "controversy" and therefore important news. We've seen several hundred different climate lies become "climate controversy" stories; we've seen professional climate denialists like Bjorn Lomborg be treated as serious opposing experts; we've seen the characters of serious climate scientists and leaders -- from Jim Hansen and Al Gore to the University of East Anglia (the source of the hacked email) -- assassinated through repeated innuendo and quoted slander in print and broadcast media.

8) The lies will eventually be pointed out, and people will know the truth. That's happened, and continues to happen. In the meantime, though, more and more people are convinced that with this much "controversy," there must actually be some kind of a debate. Support for climate action weakens. Progress slows. The liars win, the oil and coal companies continue to make record profits.

9) And meanwhile, altogether elsewhere, ice sheets melt, deserts grow, forests burn, crops fail, hunger deepens, storms intensify, diseases spread and the prospects of our children, grandchildren and generations to come grow dimmer, and hotter, by the day.

That, my friends, is the real scandal. Surely it'll break soon, and get massive coverage in print, radio, TV and on the Net; surely the media will be flabbergasted to know they're been had, and will respond with prolonged investigative reports and round-the-clock scandal coverage, right? Surely.

PS: If you want the full, detailed story of the manufactured opposition to climate science and climate action, look no further than James Hoggan's comprehensive and compelling Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming (Greystone, 2009). It's the real story on climate change and the media, with footnotes.

PPS: Don't even bother leaving a denialist comment. Since this is a site dedicated to solutions to the planetary crisis we face, and denialism is a dishonest effort to block progress towards those solutions, we delete denialist comments on principle.

PPPS: Yeah, I'm tired of this crap.

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I see that the oilah akbar trolls are out, the ones you put your finger on in the article.

The fact that all weather is local seems to fog and frog their minds.

Your post is a wonderful exposé !!

Posted by: Dredd on 24 Nov 09

Sadly we see it here too..comment arenas everywhere dominated by skeptics...with same old debunked arguments.

Posted by: Mikael Kandell on 24 Nov 09

And thank you for very good article.

Posted by: Mikael Kandell on 24 Nov 09

The emails do show certain climate scientists in a poor light, subject to human failings, and the data should be re-evaluated to dispel any doubt, but the deniers are trying to make a storm in a teacup. The fact remains that man-made greenhouse gases are behind the global warming that the planet is undergoing, and decarbonisation of the economy is the safest way for policy to go.

Posted by: Richard Lawson on 24 Nov 09


According to the IPCC AR4 summary for policy makers, there is a 5 to 10% chance that greenhouse emissions are NOT responsible for a majority observed global warming.

Why do you believe that the IPCC is wrong?

The field of climate change is dominated by uncertainty. The only place you'll find sweeping generalizations like the ones you post above is in political discourse.

If climate change is as important to you as you suggest, then you owe it to yourself to become scientifically literate about the issue.

Posted by: Jason on 24 Nov 09

Climate denialist comments deleted, as promised.

Posted by: Moderator on 24 Nov 09

Jason: wait for the next IPCC report. The margin of uncertainty you're citing -- which was itself in part a political "softening" -- won't be there, I'd bet. The science is pretty unequivocal about point #1.

There are uncertainties, but not about the fundamentals.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 24 Nov 09

More climate denialist comments deleted, as promised.

If you post a denialist comment, or an offensive comment of any kind, we're just going to delete it, so go elsewhere if you want to have that discussion.


Posted by: Moderator on 24 Nov 09

I've wondered a lot myself about how to respond to people who don't particularly follow this subject but are curious, concerned citizens and are confused by the "doubts" expressed in mainstream media.

I've found the response that seems to work best is this: If your doctor, along with 99.9% of expert doctors in the world, diagnosed you with a fatal disease, then recommended a certain procedure for you, would you get the procedure? Would it matter that a tiny minority of non-practicing "doctors" whose work has never appeared in a medical journal believe the disease isn't real? Keep in mind you don't personally understand the science involved - it's just too complicated and technical, and you don't have the time or expert training to figure it out. Your decisions must be based purely on the word of 99.9% of doctors against the word of a few outliers who may or may not even be experts in the field.

To choose not to get the procedure would essentially mean you have absolutely no belief in the power of the scientific method or the community that practices it. In effect, it would mean you don't believe in science.

The metaphor for climate change should be pretty obvious at this point. If not, you're probably wasting your time trying to argue with an idealogue. Sadly, they do exist.

Posted by: Andy Lubershane on 24 Nov 09

Thanks for writing this post about the hacked emails quickly, decisively, and clearly. I still bummed East Anglia has made our work that much harder but this post helps!

Posted by: Cathy Tuttle on 24 Nov 09

Andy, I like your doctor analogy but I find it difficult to convince some folks that 99.9% of actual doctors do agree... there is so much FUD out there about the scientific consensus that I think many people don't believe any sort of agreement exists, even among experts.

Wasn't there some sort of Climate Denialist Wiki out there to counter the "no scientific consensus" argument?

Posted by: JGS on 24 Nov 09

There are excellent rebuttal sites at both How to Talk With a Climate Skeptic and RealClimate.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 24 Nov 09

Here's another untold story. How did the Obama campaign choose the "1990 levels by 2020" target (=14% below 2005 levels)?

Where's the investigative report detailing how much internal-deliberation airtime, if any, was allotted to the scientific assessment that, to have a fair chance of staying below a 2 degree limit, and given most equity interpretations, industrialized nations need to cut emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels, by 2020? Instead of simply meeting 1990 levels by then, as in the Obama campaign and subsequent budget proposal.

*What* economic analyses, if any, were used? *Whose* analyses?

How did they come up with the 14% below 2005 levels by 2020 target?

Analysts and the Obama administration alike point out that one of the reasons the US is not leading the charge with a 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 target is that we wasted the Bush years.

Nevertheless, analysts ALSO point out that it would be so easy and cheap for the US to meet a target at or 5-10% below 1990 levels by 2020. We have ALL the low hanging fruit available. And that if we want to be part of the new energy economy, we really need to pick up the pace.

"Bush" works as an answer to the question why we are not doing 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. But "Bush" does not explain why we are only doing ca 1990 levels or ca 5-10% below, by 2020.

There's a gap between these figures, and it corresponds to a credibility gap for the US, domestically and internationally.

Would that investigative reporters asked questions and told this unwritten story.

Posted by: paulina on 24 Nov 09

paulina, that 2 degrees Celsius figure is one largely plucked out of thin air. I'd like to see scientific evidence that even one degrees Celsius rise does not involve huge impacts.

Posted by: Phil on 24 Nov 09

Although it has the lion's share of coverage, climate change is NOT the single most pressing issue facing humanity today. Like all environmental issues it is merely a SYMPTOM of today's most pressing issue, human ecological footprint. Population times per-capita impact. By all means we must carry on with the quest for technological weaponry to combat climate change and other problems, but it can be only a part fix. Addressing the environmental pressures of global population growth and our materialist/consumerist culture must occupy the centre of our long term plan. Ultimately we must shift the focus onto the planet's carrying capacity, our population and the culture that encourages its runaway growth. The very validity of our economic model as an appropriate social system for the future is in question.
To a very large degree it has been energy, via technology, that has facilitated our runaway growth. The deployment of more energy, more technology, no matter how cheap and clean it may be, will be a prolongation of the problem, not a solution. The quest for techno-fixes is a deadly distraction from the main game which ultimately is a social and cultural one. I'd love to be hearing a lot more on this subject.

Posted by: George Trembath on 24 Nov 09

Who has the time, the money, and the inclination to lie about the weather?

Mainstream media don't seem to be too concerned about it (apart from our local culture warrior, Andrew Bolt)

The skeptics have been 'handed' a nice big bowl of juicy cherries but, curiously, have yet to have find many twigs attached to them. I would have thought that ten years' worth of conspiratorial chit-chat would have contained at least one cherry tree. Maybe even a whole orchard?
(Of course, that is an awful lot of cherries to devour, there could well be reverberations in due course!)

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 24 Nov 09

Sorry Alex, the Real Scandal is the bad science that Climate Change is based on - REGARDLESS of whether it is showing warming or cooling.
Trying to cover up the bad science is just as bad as the bad science. What matters is the TRUTH!

Posted by: Dan Cooper on 24 Nov 09

The truth is what Alex is alluding to, Dan.

Consider my question.

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 24 Nov 09

I am sympathetic with your frustration, but disagree with your argument that skeptical (you call it denialist) arguments should be treated with hostility for two reasons: 1) hostility begets hostility (and mistrust and contributes to insane conception of a hoax or conspiracy and ultimately sabotages political will for action); 2) skepticism is healthy and will lead to a better understanding of key remaining uncertainties such as the effect of climate change on water vapor, the likely incidence of more severe storms, etc. as well as pushing models to become more granular and accurate. Some skeptics raise good questions and are concerned, responsible people (and of course some are vain and petty, just like the East Anglia scientists appear to be). The whole issue is desperately in need of being framed in terms of probabilities and risk and not of truth. Skeptics can be skeptical but are they willing to risk civilization and human life while they pursue an absolute certainty that is chimerical? The risk is obscene and the level of certainty (greater than 90%), so profound that only the most reckless would fail to act.

Posted by: Ed Morris on 24 Nov 09

Nice post by Andy Lubershane, which I read after posting my own (above). I use the same method Andy, but use stock portfolio as my metaphor instead of doctor's procedure. (Same outline: nearly expert, and every organization of expets, says divest and a few say don't divest; you would divest). This is my point about framing in terms of risk not truth, because it is NOT true, that we are 100 percent certain. But, man, are we certain enough to act. I have found that this concession of a small degree of uncertainty (truthful) goes a long way to creating dialogue.

Posted by: Ed Morris on 24 Nov 09

Oh yes, and you people are now being brainwashed. The global warming as i'd like to call it climat change (and that makes a BIG difference) is not caused by green house gases, in 60-70s they were proclaiming all over the world that a global cold is coming, and what? Now you are being fed the opposite bull**it, please do explain to me why vikings could live in greenland (in their times there was no ice/snow on that island), could they be producing enormous quantities of green house gases out of what? Their ass, out of the burned cities? I doubt that. Learn a bit more people and face the fact that earths ecosystem is in fact too complicated that we could predict it easily. It is unseen that the biggest producer of green house gases is in fact nature and you fail to see that the nature is self-stabilizing, it is a natual ecosystem that lasted millions of years, look that CO2 is just a fraction of the air you are breathing with and it has not always been like that because of nature not people.

Posted by: Bender on 24 Nov 09

You failed to discover that even before passing various CO2 bills a company that was ONLY trading CO2 (trading CO2, isn't it just plain stupid if you think about it?? How can you trade it?? ) earned millions of dollars? I agree, that western civilization started using more resources than necessary and i agree it is positive to make them think about it but DON'T feed us this bulls**t about us causing the global warming.

Posted by: Bender on 24 Nov 09

I agree, Ed. I would much prefer to see troll posts (like the above one) suppressed rather than deleted so that people can, if they so wish, expand the suppressed item to see what it was. (It also prevents claims of cherry-picking opinions)

It wouldn't be hard to do, but I have yet to see a CMS provide it.

Posted by: arf on 24 Nov 09

'More climate denialist comments deleted, as promised.

If you post a denialist comment, or an offensive comment of any kind, we're just going to delete it, so go elsewhere if you want to have that discussion.


Who in heaven's name countenanced the decision to filter out objection, scepticism and rational argument?

Such befuddled thinking will only mock and question the sincerity of Worldchanging and by their association, its contributors.

What an own goal!

Posted by: Michael on 24 Nov 09

A healthy level of skepticism is necessary for science to operate.

Have you read the emails? Some of the 'lies' here are very real -- there has been some inappropriate behaviour on the side of the scientists that does taint the work done at CRU, and by extension, a lot of the work that relies on their work.

The problem here is that you had to justify that there is no debate about it using some evidence, that is to say, that there was unanimous consensus on the matter. Well now it's not so clear that the consensus was achieved honestly, and the findings aren't as rock-clad as they should have been, if more honest scientists were involved.

Personally, I still think there's enough evidence in favour of catastrophic human caused climate change, but I see posts like this as adding fuel to the fire as far as reasons why not to trust the scientific consensus of our day. Why are you being so defensive? The science should be clear as day -- there should be an open 'debate' because we would win if only we were honest about our data, which it appears, we aren't as a whole.

Get back to me if you want once you've read the email archive.

Posted by: themusicgod1 on 24 Nov 09

I agree that skeptical argument should be kept on the board. However I do believe that it is possible to be skeptical without having to use "bull***t" in every one of your posts, Bender.
I believe that the only way for the right answer to be found is with some level of doubt. It causes us to stop and think about the choices that we are making. It is similar to living your life not being consumed by fear, but allowing yourself to be fearful of some things, which is the reason that many of us pause to look both ways before crossing the street or stop ourselves before we do a cannonball into shark infested waters.
I, for one, believe this "scandal" that was recently "uncovered" to be a sad attempt by the oil/coal-funded mainstream media and those leftovers from the scientific denialist Bush era to shut the rest of the world up while they line their pockets and leave future generations to clean up the mess. It makes me sick. I can only remain hopeful and continue to argue the facts and do my part until my government and my country decide to retake the mantel of world leaders and help us dig ourselves out of this gigantic mess that so many want to deny exists. Good luck folks.

Posted by: cmann64 on 24 Nov 09

I find it amusing that some comments here advocate suppression of skeptical arguments - that's the same mentality as behind the bad science.
In a free and open society it harms the cause (as is now self evident).
BTW, Tony Fiskon, the TRUTH, as you suggest Alec is alluding to, has been tainted, aspects of it brought into question and lingering doubts will remain over the entire 'science'.

Posted by: Dan on 24 Nov 09

The 'truth' Alex was referring to is not the one you are referring to as 'tainted'.

Again, consider my question: who has the time, the resources and the inclination to lie about the weather?

Meantime, enjoy the cherries, while they last.

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 25 Nov 09

While I don't for a second believe that the e-mails undermine the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, I'm not sure if censoring denialist comments reflects well on this site.

The comments on a website don't reflect well or poorly on its editorial content - this is the internet, after all - so it's not as if displaying comments by deniers represents any kind of tacit agreement.

The moral of their story is, they're wrong, but if they're posting it on this website, they're not doing any harm; they're merely making themselves look ignorant. Censoring that seems to demonstrate just the sort of boy's club hypocrisy and deception that right-wing bloggers are frothing at the mouth at with regards to the hacked climate e-mails...

Posted by: Andrew Leinonen on 25 Nov 09

Aren't they sort of doing harm by wasting everyone else's time (which is of course finite), and expecting this site to live up to a standard that if the situation was reversed, they certainly would never bother taking seriously?

Posted by: Harris Wilkes on 25 Nov 09

As someone who has only recently taken an interest in climate change issues, and who knows very little about it, I'm actually finding it frustrating to get information on what information is being used to determine that catastrophic human-caused climate change is actually in the works, as well as various details on what's causing it, what feedback effects are expected, what sorts of disruptions we can expect at various amounts of change, et cetera.

I'm sure there are many others in my position, and, for us, it's certainly not crystal clear that the climate change denialists have no case whatsoever - primarily because I at least am not sure where to look in order to get comprehensive, unbiased information.

For that reason, I would really prefer that the climate change denialists' comments here not be deleted, but instead, if all of their arguments truly have been debunked repeatedly in the past, post responses to their comments with links to information that debunks them. It'd be helpful for convincing me, anyway - I'm currently pretty sure that catastrophic man-made climate change is in the works and that we urgently need to fix it, but if you were to actively engage the climate change denialists' arguments as they come up and thoroughly disprove them, I would instead be absolutely certain.

(Although for that matter, including an easy way go get to succinct reports of our current information in general would also be very helpful.)

Anyway, those are my thoughts on this whole argumentation bit.

Posted by: Chris Paff on 25 Nov 09

Yeah, I don't know Andrew. I feel like the owner of the site can do whatever he wants with regards to comments, and if they don't like it, they should feel perfectly fine to ignore the comments and post elsewhere.

Like Grist for example. They've been frothing at the mouth all over that board for a couple days now. They'd only really be censored if NO blogs allowed them to post comments. But plenty of places all over the internet are perfectly fine to entertain them ad infinitum, just not here.

Posted by: Matt Petryni on 25 Nov 09

"Science hasn't accomplished anything" he tweeted on his Blackberry from an airliner at 30,000 feet.

If they cannot attack Scientists or the Scientific community, Deniers ultimately attack Science, and here we get to the nut in the shell.

Posted by: Paul Wolborsky on 25 Nov 09

"There is no good reason, ever, to repeat those talking points, or to allow them to be repeated without challenge in your presence."

True enough... but there are simply so many people on the Internet willing to parrot these talking points merely by copying and pasting articles from other websites, while I, as a scientist, feel actually obligated to research the validity of these points first to rebut them.

And that gets so _tiring_ at times. There is so little time in a day, and so many parrots...

Posted by: Jürgen Hubert on 25 Nov 09

Paulina, you said

"Nevertheless, analysts ALSO point out that it would be so easy and cheap for the US to meet a target at or 5-10% below 1990 levels by 2020. We have ALL the low hanging fruit available. And that if we want to be part of the new energy economy, we really need to pick up the pace."

As someone relatively new to this subject, I am one of those people who has probably been damaged by a propaganda. I've been led to believe that such measures would be extremely expensive, disruptive to any meaningful recovery in our economy and therefore extremely difficult to sell to the American public (remember, Obama could be defeated when he runs for a second term, so he is probably trying to be very careful that he can justify any such actions to the public.)

I was hoping you could point me to some literature that enumerates this low hanging fruit.

Posted by: Green Whisper on 27 Nov 09

If were to be takn serously we nede to spel chek use proper punk-tuaton and basikly rite everthing beter then the unwarshed idjuts were tryin to edjukate. Doncha thenk?

One little slip of the finger (or brain) can turn a thoughtful post into something only a mother could love. This goes double for the lead article! Our thoughts are only as valid as our ability to communicate them to others.

Posted by: Charles J Friesen on 27 Nov 09

Here's another one for you to delete. Just remember who is doing the censoring here, regardless of your rationale. When the backlash hits, and it surely will, I hope you stew in it so angrily, so badly that you implode all over yourself. In truth, you...not them...are the Climate Change Denier, because:

1) Climate change is real. That's the "denier's" argument, you disingenuous, Intellectually Dishonest Toad. It's the "humans are causing part" for which there is little evidence, and all the controversy.

2) Climategate is evidence in part of why your "massively overwhelming majority" may well be nothing more than an anthropogenic illusion.

3) And the Coup de Grace for you to chew on: What, exactly, caused the climate to change so dramatically before we arrived? Without manmade CO2, what would the climate have done these past fifty or so years? Suddenly STOPPED changing? Suddenly stayed nice and flat? (HINT from Mr. Kettle: "That's why you're the Climate Change Denier, Mr. Pot)

No response needed to the rest of your silly prattle, except to say that you wouldn't have even bothered with such a litany of regurgitated rubbish if you weren't worried. So delete at will, Mr. Censor, and have a nice backlash.

Posted by: Steven Douglas on 29 Nov 09

Generally, I am utterly dismayed by the reaction of environmental commentators on this issue, and this article kind of typifies it a bit. Experts in the field have a duty to inform people in an intelligent manner and not to simply use the public forum as a vehicle through which to vent their frustrations. The issue is far too important to allow for such a luxury. I absolutely agree with the points made, but the simple fact is that we will never progress until commentators and scientists alike accept that ordinary peoples' belief and commitment in action against climate change can be shaken by incidents like this, and that a simple wag of the finger is patronising, and will ultimately create more disaffection within the wider public. Overall, the leaked e-mails should not be more than a minor blow for climate change, but the reaction of the very people who should be showing leadership is doing little to help us arrive at this point.

Posted by: David Allen on 30 Nov 09

This one is difficult. "Censoring" comments is not strictly a free-speech issue, as the denialist remains free to publish on his own server (there's even a school of thought that quasi-anonymous commenting undermines freedom). And a blog owner can reasonably insist that denialism constitutes "off-topic" discussion.

But it's obviously true that blunt "censorship" is counter-productive. Just look above. Crowd moderation would probably work, as people have said.

The wider point is the modern anti-rationalism and obsession with conspiracy theories. Society is ill. I'm still not sure I understand it, but it sure is depressing to watch.

Posted by: Rollo on 1 Dec 09

I'm not sure how I feel about this censorship either... It really isn't perceived well, and as Worldchanging likes to say, culture is the real engine of change. What culture are we creating around the issue of our time by using these censorship tactics.

In hindsight, it might have been best to annotate each denier comment with a refutation. Sure, it's a lot of work, but I'm sure other's would have stepped up to help if you'd asked for it in an updated footnote to the article. :)

Posted by: Pat on 1 Dec 09

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