Although arguments continue as to how much of recent climate change is natural and how much is man-made, only a few diehard skeptics doubt that the warming of the last few decades is real. Now, however, those skeptics can barely contain their glee at the release of a cache of stolen emails that they believe prove global warming is nothing but a colossal hoax.
"If you own any shares in alternative energy companies I should start dumping them NOW," one of these skeptics blogged on Friday. "The conspiracy behind the Anthropogenic Global Warming myth (aka AGW; aka ManBearPig) has been suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed after a hacker broke into the computers at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (aka Hadley CRU) and released 61 megabites of confidential files onto the internet. ... This scandal could well be 'the greatest in modern science'."
According to a more sober account of the theft offered by the Guardian, the stolen files "were first uploaded on to a Russian server, before being widely mirrored across the internet. The emails were accompanied by the anonymous statement: 'We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps. We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code and documents. Hopefully it will give some insight into the science and the people behind it.'"
The University of East Anglia has confirmed that files were stolen from its server but has not verified the genuineness of the allegedly random selection of material that has been released. The scientists involved have also refused to comment on the record, although they insist privately that "the e-mails are being taken out of context and ... are part of the normal hurly-burly of conversations between scientists working on some of the most complicated questions of our times."
Those gloating over the emails have seized in particular on expressions of hostility towards climate change skeptics and dismissals of their papers as not representing legitimate science to elaborate theories of a conspiracy to suppress debate. They are also pointing to certain brief quotations that might be taken as boasts of manipulating data or as private acknowledgments of a lack of data to support the conclusion of global warming.
One email from 1999, for example, says "I've just completed Mike's Nature [the science journal] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie, from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline." Another complains, "The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate."
In the face of current warnings of "catastrophic fire danger" as New South Wales, Australia experiences its "hottest November on record," as well as stories about "the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in Britain," attempts to use a few out-of-context quotes to paint climate change as a colossal fraud may meet with some degree of skepticism themselves.
Scientists are also weighing in on the controversy. Brian Angliss at Scholars & Rogues, for example, finds the claims of fraud "highly unlikely."
"I work in electrical engineering where I use words and phrases that, taken out of context, could be misinterpreted as nefarious by people who are ignorant of the context or who have an axe to grind," he explains. "For example, I regularly talk about 'fiddling with' or 'twiddling' the data, 'faking out' something, 'messing around with' testing, and so on. ... No matter how much the deniers scream, these emails aren’t likely to reveal any evidence of scientific malfeasance. And even if they do, there’s an entire globe of researchers whose independent research has bolstered the case that climate disruption is real and that it’s predominantly caused by human civilization."
The blog at RealClimate.org has also had a look at the emails and points out, "More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords."
But meanwhile, figures on the right are having a field day. The blogger quoted above, James Delingpole, is particularly scathing, claiming that "In the run up to Copenhagen, we will see more and more hysterical (and grotesquely exaggerated) stories such as this in the Mainstream Media. And we will see ever-more-virulent campaigns conducted by eco-fascist activists. ... The world is currently cooling; electorates are increasingly reluctant to support eco-policies leading to more oppressive regulation, higher taxes and higher utility bills; the tide is turning against Al Gore’s Anthropogenic Global Warming theory."
Perhaps the final word on the matter has already been offered by a spokesperson for Greenpeace, who told the Guardian, "If you looked through any organisation's emails from the last 10 years you'd find something that would raise a few eyebrows. Contrary to what the sceptics claim, the Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences, Nasa and the world's leading atmospheric scientists are not the agents of a clandestine global movement against the truth. This stuff might drive some web traffic, but so does David Icke."