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10 years on

Filed under: — gavin @ 17 November 2019

I woke up on Tuesday, 17 Nov 2009 completely unaware of what was about to unfold. I tried to log in to RealClimate, but for some reason my login did not work. Neither did the admin login. I logged in to the back-end via ssh, only to be inexplicably logged out again. I did it again. No dice. I then called the hosting company and told them to take us offline until I could see what was going on. When I did get control back from the hacker (and hacker it was), there was a large uploaded file on our server, and a draft post ready to go announcing the theft of the CRU emails. And so it began.

From “One year later”, 2010.

Many people are weighing in on the 10 year anniversary of ‘Climategate’ – the Observer, a documentary on BBC4 (where I was interviewed), Mike at Newsweek – but I’ve struggled to think of something actually interesting to say.

It’s hard because even in ten years almost everything and yet nothing has changed. The social media landscape has changed beyond recognition but yet the fever swamps of dueling blogs and comment threads has just been replaced by troll farms and noise-generating disinformation machines on Facebook and Twitter. The nominally serious ‘issues’ touched on by the email theft – how robust are estimates of global temperature over the instrumental period, what does the proxy record show etc. – have all been settled in favor of the mainstream by scientists plodding along in normal science mode, incrementally improving the analyses, and yet they are still the most repeated denier talking points.

Sure, there has been some change in community awareness of how email can be weaponised, and consequently a greater separation (thankfully) between official email and more casual fare. There are better support networks for scientists caught in the “firehose of shit” than there used to be (CSLDF!). There is surely less naivety about how politicised climate science can become. But the drive of right-wing ‘think-tanks’ like CEI and the American Tradition Institute, to FOIA their way to more email-related scandal has run aground – the political appetite for more ‘revelations’ of scientists doing science and being human has apparently evaporated. Meanwhile the hacks involved have resorted to suing each other over whose hands should be in the dark money cookie jar.

There are still folks insisting that the ’emails speak for themselves’ without ever being able to articulate what they say without getting the context or timing or people totally wrong (see here for a typical recent example of absolutely certainty coupled with almost total ignorance). This is an indication that for some, ‘climategate’ has simply become a banner to be waved around on the battlefield to encourage the troops. Obviously, that has nothing to do with science, or scientific practice.

The bigger changes over the last 10 years have nothing to do with ‘issues’ in climate science either. The ‘facts on the ground’ have shifted dramatically. The warmest years on record, increasing influences of climate change on wildfires, hurricane intensity, heat waves, coastal flooding, coral bleaching, etc. have meant that outright denial of science isn’t as marketable any more as the wider conversation has moved to solutions. The issues associated with how we actually reduce emissions involve mostly a different group of people, with different (and diverse) expertise and controversies that revolve far more around theories of political change and questions of equity, than they do arcane issues in paleo-climate or weather station homogenization. Some people will continue to obsess of two-decade-old minutae which even at the time were obscure and irrelevant, but now I don’t see why anyone sane would want to even bother.

As I said more than a decade ago, no political decisions have ever been made based on 15th Century trees – not even in the 15th Century. The development of the politics of climate over the last 10 years simply underlines that.

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116 Responses to “10 years on”

  1. 101
    Al Bundy says:

    Titus: It might help explain why climate change has been consistently at the bottom of folks concerns in polling studies

    AB: please stop lying. Climate change is steadily in the top three concerns of folks in current polls. Seriously, that your closely held beliefs are being shown via research, via polls, via economic results to be total garbage is just something you should deal with. You CAN grow. I have FAITH in you.

    OK, now I’m lying. And I’m treading ever so close to the “be nice” line in the sand I’ve drawn for myself.

  2. 102
    nigelj says:

    Titus @98

    “Apology for not being clearer. I was talking about Climategate being the tipping point of many folks into skeptic/denial status which has continued to develop to the present day.It might help explain why climate change has been consistently at the bottom of folks concerns in polling studies. Also explains why the protagonists are upping the rhetoric using descriptions like ‘apocalyptic consequences’ to get attention.”

    Wrong. Acceptance of climate science and concern about climate change have actually increased in America and my country since climategate according to polling as below. Climategate might have caused a blip of public scepticim at the time, but it doesn’t appear to have had a lasting effect.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/do-most-americans-believe-climate-change-polls-say-yes/580957/

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/sep/15/americans-climate-change-crisis-cbs-poll

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/114485675/poll-new-zealanders-climate-change-fears-are-growing

    Climate change is not at the bottom of peoples concerns. In my country its in the top 4 concerns. If you continue to twist things and exaggerate you will be treated with the contempt you deserve.

    http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/7534-roy-morgan-problems-facing%20new-zealand-february-2018-201803152343

    We can probably thank several things for concern about climate change not being at the top of the list, including the campaign to spread doubt orchestrated by the fossil fuel industry and right wing business institutes like the Heartland Institute as documented in books like Dark Money and Merchants of doubt, along with peoples complacency and materialistic motives.

    ——————–

    “It’s called FOI of the work paid for by the tax pay and used by others to input into new related research. ”

    Whatever. Al Bundy is right about this. Many FOI requests are made in bad faith and are time wasters. Our media has just done an article documenting this problem.

  3. 103
    nigelj says:

    Titus, further to my other comments.

    https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/18/a-look-at-how-people-around-the-world-view-climate-change/

    Majorities in most surveyed countries say global climate change is a major threat to their nation. In fact, it’s seen as the top threat in 13 of 26 surveyed countries, more than any other issue the survey asked about.

    People in Greece express very high levels of concern, with 90% labeling climate change a major threat (similar to the 88% there who cite the condition of the global economy). People in South Korea, France, Spain and Mexico also express strong concerns. Eight-in-ten or more in each of these countries say climate change is a major threat. Americans are less likely to be concerned about climate change, with 59% seeing it as a serious threat.

    Concerns about climate change have risen significantly in many countries since 2013. The share of people expressing concern about the threat of climate change around the world has grown since 2013, when Pew Research Center first asked respondents whether they see it as a major threat to their nation. In 2013, a median of 56% in 23 countries said climate change was a major threat; in the Center’s most recent Global Attitudes survey, a median of 67% in the same countries hold this view. And in 10 countries, the share of people who see global warming as a major threat has grown by at least 10 percentage points. For example, 83% of people in France say this, up from 54% in in 2013, an increase of 29 points. Mexico has seen a similar increase, from 52% to 80%, or 28 points.

  4. 104
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Titus: “Wow, looks like I pressed a nerve.”

    Yes, I have an innate aversion to lying sacks of shit. Even if you take all three tranches, the release was still selective. It didn’t present the discussions in context. Context requires understanding of the science. That is why it’s importance eludes.

  5. 105
    Titus says:

    Al @101 says “Climate change is steadily in the top three concerns”

    Hmm. Putting your personal diatribe aside. I did a Google search and a couple of hits on first page:

    This looks an interesting one where you can do filtering and sorting. Also comes up to date.
    http://data.myworld2015.org/

    This one rates USA well down the list of countries on folks concern:
    https://yougov.co.uk/topics/science/articles-reports/2019/09/15/international-poll-most-expect-feel-impact-climate

    Aside from polls I have a lot of personal observation and experience to add. I guess we just agree to differ.

  6. 106
    Titus says:

    Al @100 says: “That fries my cupcakes” That would be disgusting. Sorry about bringing that on.

    Government funded science aye? So those who dont give a flip are in cahoots with those who only care about truth. In your world that must sound like an oxymoron.

    Hope indigestion not too painful and you recover soon:).

  7. 107
    Titus says:

    Ray@104: You say: “I have an innate aversion to lying sacks of shit”

    Wow. That could have serious health consequences if not dealt with. Sorry to hear that.

    You go on to say: “Context requires understanding”. Exactly, which takes us back to my original comment: “What was the context behind Jones telling the team to delete emails?”

    The only response so far is to keep them from pesky climate deniers/sceptics. Which we agreed was pretty lame.

    Look after that health of yours…………..

  8. 108
    nigelj says:

    Titus @107, RL answered your question adequately with a very likely possibility, namely that no normal decent person is going to release emails knowing they will be quoted out of context and used against them. So why do you go on saying that its just “scientists annoyed with the pesky sceptics?”

    Do you think the scientists were ethically wrong to be concerned about how their emails would be used? How would YOU react if someone quoted you out of context etc?

    Being a sceptic has its place, but doesn’t entitle you to lie, ignore what people on this website say, and misrepresent what people say. Time had a good hard look in a mirror while there’s still hope.

  9. 109
    Al Bundy says:

    Titus: The only response so far is to keep them from pesky climate deniers/sceptics. Which we agreed was pretty lame.

    AB: No. No. No. “We” agreed that peer-reviewed literature is close to the only thing one should consider. “You” agreed that California-Teenage-Girl levels of gossip is close to the only thing one should consider. (Apologies to CTGs for utilizing a terrible and inaccurate stereotype. I hope you consider the intent)

  10. 110
    Mal Adapted says:

    Titus:

    The only response so far is to keep them from pesky climate deniers/sceptics. Which we agreed was pretty lame.

    Titus, you claim to be interested in dialogue. You have yet to acknowledge, however, how lame Steve McIntyre’s hostile FOIA attack on the CRU was. Why do you give McIntyre a pass, but not Phil Jones? It’s as if you think Jones has more ethical responsibility than McIntyre does. That doesn’t help with McIntyre’s credibility problem, you know.

    What, then, is your ‘warrant’ (per Gavin) on this thread? Yes, some of Jones’s behavior was ill-considered, perhaps even unethical. In your estimation, was his intent to deceive the world about anthropogenic global warming? Does its lameness disprove the hockey stick shape of GMST over the past 1000 years? Do you think it overturns 200 years of climate science?

    I respectfully anticipate your reply.

  11. 111
    Titus says:

    nigelj @108, Al @109, Mal @110

    Firstly, thks for the more civil replies. Appreciate that.

    Secondly, I confirm there’s a problem with comments posting as only just seen these even though total number showed correct.

    Thirdly, Steve McIntyre is a professional statistician and would have been invaluable to the work if invited to contribute instead of rejected. As I mentioned, science is about disagreement https://www.nature.com/articles/nmeth.3798

    Fourthly, there was evidence that ‘peer’ review became managed ‘pal’ review. Also data was shared with some folks and not with others?

    Fithly, the only reason I see for Jones to tell the team to delete emails is that they contained bad stuff. They would never had been looked at if he had run an open shop from the beginning. That’s the whole reason behind tax payer funded stuff needing records of accountability.

    I could go on but that was what was behind my motivations. I agree with you, it was ill considered and unethical. Along with experience/observations in my work life at the time and recent events, that has only deepened my scepticism.

    IMO, my two cents etc….
    Thks for engaging……

  12. 112
    Anonymous Coward says:

    How about: we all failed to provide scientists working on a politically sensitive topic both the public and institutional support they would have needed to feel confident that their work would not be unduly discredited and that they would not suffer undue consequences for being put under an extraordinary level of hostile public scrutiny?
    That wasn’t just lame but also indefensible and damaging. After what happened in the US Senate during Kyoto, there was no excuse anymore for naivete about how political the issue was.
    Limiting the scope of public inquiry to the peer-reviewed literature is a terrible idea. We would all benefit from more transparency but there is a price to pay, and there’s no invisible hand automatically spreading the cost around.

  13. 113
    nigelj says:

    This seems relevant:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/12/opinion/climate-change-republicans.html

    “The Party That Ruined the Planet
    Republican climate denial is even scarier than Trumpism.

    As I’ve written in the past, climate denial was in many ways the crucible for Trumpism. Long before the cries of “fake news,” Republicans were refusing to accept science that contradicted their prejudices. Long before Republicans began attributing every negative development to the machinations of the “deep state,” they were insisting that global warming was a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a vast global cabal of corrupt scientists.

    And long before Trump began weaponizing the power of the presidency for political gain, Republicans were using their political power to harass climate scientists and, where possible, criminalize the practice of science itself.

    Perhaps not surprisingly, some of those responsible for these abuses are now ensconced in the Trump administration. Notably, Ken Cuccinelli, who as attorney general of Virginia engaged in a long witch-hunt against the climate scientist Michael Mann, is now at the Department of Homeland Security, where he pushes anti-immigrant policies with, as The Times reports, “little concern for legal restraints.

    But why have Republicans become the party of climate doom? Money is an important part of the answer: In the current cycle Republicans have received 97 percent of political contributions from the coal industry, 88 percent from oil and gas. And this doesn’t even count the wing nut welfare offered by institutions supported by the Koch brothers and other fossil-fuel moguls……”

  14. 114
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Titus: “Thirdly, Steve McIntyre is a professional statistician and would have been invaluable to the work if invited to contribute instead of rejected.”

    Did the mean girls tell him he couldn’t be in the climate science club? Funny, all you have to do to be a member is publish articles in climate science in respected peer-reviewed journals. Let’s count Steve’s peer-reviewed publications, shall we? One…er…I guess that’s it. Dude, the only one who ever kept Stevie from publishing was Stevie.

    Titus: “Fourthly, there was evidence that ‘peer’ review became managed ‘pal’ review.”

    OK, let’s count the avalanche of retracted papers and corrigenda issued in the wake of the climategate nontroversy. Ready, here we go! Er…zero. Dude, until the 12th century, you’d have needed to live in Asia or Meso-America to count that low!

    Fifthly, how about that Jones et al. were more interested in doing climate science than in cataloguing all of their emails over the past decade and releasing them to fundamentally dishonest trolls who don’t give a damn about the science and will quote mine them for anything that makes you look bad–which, as it turned out, was exactly what they did. Sounds like Jones was prescient.

  15. 115
    Titus says:

    Anonymous Coward @112. You say: “How about: we all failed to provide scientists working on a politically sensitive topic both the public and institutional support…”

    You make a good point. “Red team-Blue team”, as used by the military, sounded a good idea but appears to have died. The situation needs some sort of platform for a fair debate. IMHO it appears that the believers are the ones stepping aside as they believe the science is settled and needs no debate. However, there is a mass of folks whether openly or in private (I believe the majority) are skeptical. A change here would help at least to open dialogue.

  16. 116
    nigelj says:

    Titus @115, you want a fairly based debate on the climate issue? There has already been a 30 year fairly based debate on climate change, called the peer reviewed literature which anyone can publish in, and the IPCC evaluation process. Some ridiculous red / blue debate cant hope to better this, because it cannot hope to review wide enough literature without becoming just a repetition of the IPCC process.

    You think most people don’t accept climate science. But numerous polls show most people accept climate science. Your beliefs otherwise are just emotion talking, like not liking the verdict in a trial despite a huge pile of compelling evidence.