Thousands of emails from the webserver of the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (CRU) — a top climate research center in the United Kingdom — “were hacked recently” and dumped on a Russian web server. Global warming deniers are sifting through the illegally obtained letters of private correspondence for “proof” that the scientific consensus on climate change is actually a global conspiracy to suppress “skeptics.”
This week, Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of SuperFreakonomics, embraced the fevered “Climategate” ravings of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and other global warming deniers in an interview with Fox Business Network host David Asman. Dubner purports that the hacked University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (CRU) emails reveal that the supposed consensus on global warming is because “everybody’s scared to be an outlier, everybody’s scared to be a skeptic.” After Asman compared climate scientists to Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler — Dubner did his own Glenn Beck impression, accusing “potent” scientists of “colluding” to “tell Al Gore what to say,” and “distorting evidence” to “make their findings be right for their position”:
You can’t read these e-mails and feel that the IPCC’s or the major climate scientists’ findings and predictions about global warming are kosher. You can’t. They may be, but if you read these you have to have a whole lot of skepticism about that. And of course, coming into Copenhagen these are going to have a big effect how the world looks at you. They’re going to say, “Wait a minute. You say these climate scientists have been telling us we have to stop burning fossil fuel tomorrow?”
The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio, Washington Times, and other news outlets are participating in this Swiftboat-style smear campaign, following the lead of actual Swiftboat smearer and former Limbaugh and Inhofe employee Marc Morano — instead of bothering to understand what the scientists were actually talking about in the hacked emails.
However, as climate scientist Richard Somerville explained yesterday, “The ice has no agenda.” Arctic sea ice is at historically low levels, Australia is on fire, the northern United Kingdom is underwater, the world’s glaciers are disappearing, and half of the United States has been declared an agricultural disaster area. And it’s the the hottest decade in recorded history.
By asking whether “we have to stop burning fossil fuel tomorrow,” Dubner — a top blogger for the New York Times — gets to the heart of why this bizarre theory of a cabal of all-powerful climatologists is getting support from conservative media and politicians. The incontrovertible science — based not on manipulated data but on decades of basic research — is that the burning of fossil fuels is drastically reshaping our planet’s climate and acidifying the oceans. And the only known way to restore conditions to those safe for human civilization is to dramatically reduce the use of fossil fuels. Doing so, however, would affect the incredible profits and power of the oil and coal industries, and of their ideological allies.
In fact, if we stop treating our atmosphere like a sewer, the climate system will heal itself over time, potentially more rapidly than we expect. That our past inaction will continue to bear consequences into the future is a reason to act with greater swiftness, not to dither further. The longer we delay, the more difficult and expensive the challenge to reduce pollution while adapting to a hostile world becomes.