When discussing man-made climate change (or anthropogenic global warming), I often drift into unfamiliar (and sometimes disturbing) territory. That territory is what I call The Land of the Afraid, Ignorant and Lost.
In this weird alternative dimension there are doomsayers who are convinced the world is going to end in 3 years time, there are conspiracy theorists who totally believe the moon landings were faked and everyone seems to be taking a potshot at Al Gore.
As with my research into the 2012 doomsday phenomenon that continues to cause a stir (especially after Roland Emmerich's use of killer neutrinos in the movie "2012″), I have found that no amount of scientific evidence can change the minds of conspiracy theorists or individuals with a grudge.
And the subject of accelerated climate change always causes upset (and/or rage).
Fighting Fire With Science?
When I first blogged about the subject, I went in with a very pure idea that science holds the answer to our problem, and that was enough. The logic seemed simple (after all, I was a scientist before I became a writer), so I stuck with it. Unfortunately, this wasn't only a naive standpoint, I was hopelessly wrong.
When presenting the scientific facts behind climate change, global warming and the human influence on our biosphere, I was always hijacked by a vocal minority that cried foul about my "bias" to one side of the debate.
Debate? There's a debate?
For my whole academic life, I've known that humans impact our atmosphere severely and our relentless production of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) amplify the effects of the naturally occurring "greenhouse effect" that keeps our planet habitable. The more CO2 we pump into our atmosphere, the warmer the atmosphere gets.
This is a scientific fact based on decades of scientific study. The main cause of the increase in global average temperatures in recent history is not down to any natural cycle - although natural cycles do exist - it is down to us.
NOTE: At this point, you look outside and say, "Huh? This guy is nuts, we're under 10 ft of snow and experiencing record-breaking low temperatures! It's not global warming, it's global cooling!" you're not only incorrect, you don't understand the process of climate change. It may not be tropical in your back yard, but on average the world is heating up. Don't take comfort in the fact you're buried under snow, equatorial regions are telling an entirely different story.
Science and Agenda, Not The Same Thing
So what is all the fuss about? Surely global warming is real (and humans are to blame), all the science says so (yes, it really does), so why do some people think there's a global warming "debate"? To have a debate, both sides of the argument needs to have some credibility; it seems a bit silly to deny that man-made global warming exists.
However, there seems to be a growing tide of global warming deniers who claim the science is wrong, the government is lying, scientists are idiots and they "know" there's another cause.
Actually, I can see why there might be some strong opposition to climatologist's findings. After all, "global warming", "green energy", "carbon credit schemes" and "sustainability" are just a few of the buzzwords that have been banded around by politicians these last few years.
Unfortunately, regardless of whether politicians are making honest moves to cut carbon emissions or to please some special interest group, to climate change deniers the mere fact that a politician is saying it, they are obviously corrupt.
Hence all the slurs about Al Gore and his SUVs and private jet trips.
So, apart from the obvious lack of trust for politicians, what else do the deniers have? They attack science at the source; they make climate scientists who shape policy look like the bad guys. I mean, why not? All scientists are megalomaniacs hell-bent on global domination, right?
Hacking The "Truth"
As if climate change deniers needed a reason to go on the offensive, a few days ago, hackers broke into the server at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit and posted damning "evidence" that the UK's climatologists have been lying about the extent of global warming. Like any good conspiracy, this is just the tip of the (melting) iceberg; all climatologists are implicit in this plan to overstate the case for global warming.
If you are to believe the crazy accusations, the same scientists have been falsifying results to fit their nefarious plans to fool the world about the real cause of global warming.
Personally, the most interesting thing I find about this affair is the overstatement of the importance of the whole thing. Some columnists have even given it a name: "Climategate."
I love it! I wish lab work was this exciting when I was in research. I can see it now: climatologists in balaclavas breaking into buildings, stealing sensitive data that proves climate change is a lie, covering up the "truth."
Cutting to the chase, in Climategate, the hackers pulled some "sensitive emails" between climatologists and discovered a few emails sounded a little fishy. However, from the "thousands" of emails, the deniers were only able to pull a tiny selection of text to "prove" their case. One UK source lists some of this compelling non-evidence in an anti-science diatribe.
However, this is not evidence, it's not proof, all it proves is that the climatologists involved assumed their emails would have remained private. The deniers have cherry-picked small selections of text and taken the discussion out of context.
If my inbox from my postgraduate research days was raided, I'm pretty sure - if given the same treatment as above - people would think I falsified all of my results, botched all of my programming and worked out that I can't spell, played Unreal Tournament too much and spent 110% of my salary on socializing (actually, the last two points are probably true).
In reality, my research was proven to be correct (through peer review, on countless occasions), and I like to think I helped to shape our understanding of the solar corona in some small way.
The banter I had via email with colleagues had very little to do with the final outcome of my studies.
The Way Of The Conspiracy Theorist
I've seen this tactic countless times when researching claims by doomsayers that they have "proof" that the world will end in 2012 (and NASA is hiding the evidence).
One classic theory is that NASA discovered a massive brown dwarf (an object about 80 times the mass of Jupiter) in 1983 using the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS). In actuality, the data indicated the "discovery" was in fact distant young ultra-luminous galaxies.
So where did the conspiracy theorists get this idea that NASA had found a brown dwarf? And why was the agency keeping it secret that Planet X (or Nibiru) was arriving in the inner solar system in 2012 to cause all kinds of doomsday havoc?
It all stems from a paper that was published in 1984, and an interview with a scientist in 1983 announcing the initial results from the survey of which a Washington Post article pulled out the juicy bits. However, over 20 years later, 2012 doomsayers (who desperately needed some evidence for their wacky claims to sell a book on the subject) jumped on the IRAS findings and cherry picked the "evidence" that suited their goals.
This tactic of disinformation is widespread and the raid of the Climate Research Unit's computers is probably the lowest tactic yet. The climate change deniers didn't cherry pick from published data or articles or papers, they had to rip it directly from private messages that were stuffed full of banter, jokes and sarcasm.
All the hackers did was to pull up misinterpreted private correspondence to fill the gaps in their botched theory that there is some climatologist conspiracy to dupe the world into believing their agenda.
Unfortunately, some media outlets have decided to make a mountain out of a molehill, avoiding the fact that a crime was committed (i.e. illegal hacking), and pointing the finger at innocent climatologists who were too casual in their emails.
If this is the only evidence conspiracy theorists have for a climate change cover-up... I think that's rather weak.
Image credit: NASA