Tag Archive: Climategate


For all my skepticism toward most “climate skepticism,” I find the case of Judith Curry very interesting. This recent post at her blog Climate Etc. repeatedly resorts to metaphors like “‘Alice down the rabbit hole’ moments” and “bucket[s] of cold water being poured over my head” to describe her experiences venturing outside the warm world of academic climate science to one that’s exposed to the harsh winds of public and media scrutiny. The post includes an account of her journey from mainstream climate scientist to one who is “sadder and wiser as a result of the hurricane wars [that followed the publication of an article published in the aftermath of Katrina], a public spokesperson on the global warming issue owing to the media attention from the hurricane wars, more broadly knowledgeable about the global warming issue, much more concerned about the integrity of climate science, listening to skeptics, and a blogger (for better or for worse).”

In recounting her story, Curry writes:

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fomenting “rebellion”

I’ve just read Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article on “The billionaire Koch brothers’ war against Obama”, which I’m happy to see is publicly available online. It’s a good summary of what corporate watchers have been saying for years (see, e.g., here and here), but with a lot of interview material updating what the libertarian duo have been up to more recently, including their connections with the Tea Party movement. (I really should be putting “libertarian” in scare quotes, since good people like Noam Chomsky use the term to refer to a love of liberty, though their definition of liberty is much more substantial than the kind of free-for-all-for-the-wealthy that the Kochs stand for.)

Charles and David Koch (pronounced “Coke”) are on Forbes’ list of 20 wealthiest people in the world, and they, along with Scaife, Olin, Searle, Bradley, Coors, and other millionaire family foundations, have provided the funding that’s built up the network of conservative, libertarian, and right-wing organizations, think-tanks, pseudo-populist front groups, and spin machines that has kept this country in a right-wing holding pattern for the last three decades.

It’s true that their “more than a hundred million dollars” spent on these causes is a drop in the bucket compared to their multibillion dollar fortune, but the money gets amplified as it works its way through the system — which is why Americans for Prosperity, which has fought health-care reform and cap-and-trade climate legislation, among other things, can plan to spend another $45 million dollars between now and November on electoral races around the country.

On the Kochs’ climate and environment connections, see Joe Romm’s piece from last April, this update, and David Levy’s piece here.

Swift/climate/boating the media

Having published the results of its 12-part investigation into the leaked/hacked climate scientist e-mails at the University of East Anglia, the Guardian is now inviting “web users to annotate the manuscript to help us in our aim of creating the definitive account of the controversy.” It’s a kind of public version of peer review for something that has been so public already that the issues at stake have gotten lost in the din.

I haven’t read the full report, which concludes (not surprisingly) that the whole fracas was a PR disaster for climate science, but that it has not at all damaged the solidity of the scientific case for anthropogenic climate change. (Yet the silliness continues even in Fox News et al’s weather reports.) But The Wonk Room’s assessment of it as A Case Of Classic SwiftBoating (How The Right-Wing Noise Machine Manufactured ‘Climategate’) captures at least part of it. If you recall, the attack campaign by “Swift Boat Veterans Against John Kerry,” much of it based on unproven allegations and unsupported smears, helped sink the 2004 Kerry presidential campaign, leaving his campaign team with too little time to turn popular response around. The mass media reaction, then as now, involved too little critical analysis of claims and too much “following the leader.” This only tells us what we already knew about the American media, though it strengthens the case for a stronger left and progressive presence in the media landscape.

U.S. television’s few spaces for progressive-leaning critical analysis are already dwindling, with Bill Moyers and David Brancaccio both scheduled to end their shows on PBS. The significant exception is MSNBC, whose conversion to the liberal left still surprises me, given the network’s ownership by armsmaker General Electric (with a minority share held by Microsoft), and I keep wondering how long that will last. As Robert Parry has put it, “There is, after all, a big difference between Murdoch’s News Corporation’s longstanding commitment to a right-wing perspective on Fox News and General Electric experimenting with a lineup of a few liberals after other ratings strategies had failed.” Part of the problem is that Olbermann, Maddow, Matthews, et al. too often come off as predictable and repetitive — the left version of Fox News — which though I enjoy watching it, is not necessarily going to convince the unconvinced.

But Maddow can be brilliant, and it’s great to have a bit of European-style political diversity in the mass media landscape. Now if there was more of a unified infrastructure — not marching in lockstep, but at least in communication with each other — of progressive think-tanks and political pressure groups of the kind that the Right has built up over the last 40 years (thanks to billions from the Scaifes, Olins, Koches, Bradleys, et al), maybe that media diversity can hold out for a while, and even expand. Relying on philanthropy is ultimately not a very good answer to a desperate need for more democracy. But surely the George Soroses of the world could be convinced that science, environment/health, justice/fairness, and good governance — the cornerstones of today’s progressive left — are all principles worth supporting. (I know that “progressive left” hasn’t always meant all those things, but it’s a good time to come to an agreement that it does, or should, today.)

Published simultaneously at Indications. Hat tip to John Quiggin at Crooked Timber for news on the Guardian investigation.

climate rage


Just a quick follow-up to the previous post…

After the East Anglia flare-up, Paul Krugman was right to ask what fuels the rage behind climate denialism. Anyone who has perused any popular web site on environmental and climate issues will be struck both by the numbers and the utter vehemence of the denialist community. Looking at their own web sites is even more disconcerting (I won’t draw your attention to them; they’re easy enough to find).

One of the things that fuels this is, of course, that it’s well funded by the fossil fuel lobby (we’ve known that for years). Another is simply the organic totality of the American right, the evangelical-capitalist resonance machine, for whom climate change has become a hinge issue, just as abortion and gay marriage have been for some years now. Krugman puts it down to anti-intellectualism and “mommy party” politics — “Real men punish evildoers; they don’t adjust their lifestyles to protect the planet” — which sounds a little like George Lakoff’s argument about red staters’ “strict father” politics versus blue staters’ “nurturant mother” (which he later changed to “nurturant parent”) politics, an oversimplification that captures something, but misses more.

Identity, however, is clearly an important piece of it (as the Identity Campaigning blog knows), which is why global ecopolitics is now at least as much a matter of communication, image production, and cultural activism as it is of science or policy formulation.

Asked by an old and dear friend what I make of the recent “Climategate scandal,” I thought I’d do a quick check on sources summarizing the effect of the hacked East Anglia e-mails on climate change science.

To my surprise, the Wikipedia article on the topic is probably as good a place to start as any (as Wikipedia often is, despite its known flaws and potential unreliabilities; the fact that it’s both up-to-date and reasonably thorough on this topic allays my fears about Wikipedia’s slow decline, as reported in the digital media a little while back).

This article, published early last year in EOS: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, summarizes the results of an extensive survey of climate scientists, which shows that while just over half of Americans believe there is a scientific consensus about human-caused global warming, 97.4% of actively publishing climatologists agree that human activities are bringing about a warming of the global climate. The study was carried out before the East Anglia e-mail flare-up, but the main thing that the latter would have done to this data is to bring down the level of trust in climate science among the public, especially the American public, not to change the scientific consensus. This editorial in Nature, one of the two most respected scientific journals on the planet, presents a fair assessment of what the hacked e-mails mean for the scientific community. (The other of the two, Science, has not editorialized about it, but here’s the news piece they published soon after the e-mail issue broke.)

This piece by Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters usefully summarizes an earlier study by Brown, Pielke, and Annan that shows more or less the same result, and mentions a few of the reasons for the mass media’s overemphasis on climate skepticism. Links to other studies of the scientific “consensus” and to statements by leading scientific organizations can be found at the Wikipedia page on scientific opinion on climate change and on the climate change consensus.

While there’s little scientific value in these, I find David McCandless’s visualizations at Information is Beautiful to be a neat summation of the main arguments pro and con and of the scale of consensus (though some of the commenters make a valid point about his approach, which is not very statistically rigorous). The first of these, however, follows the popular media frame of believers-versus-skeptics (“is climate change real or not?”), which is part of the problem of why so many in the public remain underinformed and unconvinced. Coby Beck’s How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic, at Grist.org, delves into the various arguments put forward by the (fossil fuel industry-fueled) denialist machine and by the (reasonably) befuddled public.

That ought to do for a start…