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November 30th 2009 print

J.F. Beck

Watch on the Left

Wikileaks justified the publication of Sarah Palin's stolen emails as in the public interest. There was no outcry from the Left condemning the theft of the emails or questioning the possibly unethical publishing of personal material.

During the run-up to the 2008 U.S. Presidential election a hacker gained unauthorised access to Vice Presidential contender Sarah Palin’s email account at Yahoo, releasing the contents for public scrutiny. Whistleblowing website Wikileaks posted some of the stolen material including emails generated by Palin in her capacity as Alaska’s governor but also including highly personal items such as family photographs.

Wikileaks justified the publication of this material as in the public interest. There was no outcry from the Left condemning the theft of the emails or questioning the possibly unethical publishing of personal material.

The Left’s immediate, and in some quarters ongoing, reaction to the theft and release of emails and other documents from a computer at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit has been, well, somewhat different. Stealing the emails was wrong! The emails are personal correspondence! The emails should not be read, quoted or discussed!

Taking the emails was indeed a crime. The emails are not really personal correspondence, however. The University of East Anglia (UEA), a public institution, warns staff that the computer network is subject to monitoring, further advising that “The [Freedom of Information] Act gives everyone both in and outside UEA a right of access to ANY recorded information held by UEA.” This includes emails, of course.

The release of the emails was therefore an appropriate act of whisteblowing, of which the Left is normally so proud. As they document the behind the scenes communications of some of the world’s most influential climate scientists the emails are of great public interest. At the very least the emails are interesting reading for those who suspect that global warming is proved more through smoke and mirrors trickery than through cold, hard data.

Early on it was thought that the emails would be the “smoking gun” proving the gross manipulation of data by climate scientists. There is ongoing debate concerning the degree to which the emails (and related documents) discredit consensus climate science but the emails are nonetheless a huge blow to the proponents of anthropogenic global warming.

It seems likely that whoever hacked the emails did so out of frustration at these particular elite climate scientists’ lack of transparency. The CRU emails’ authors are not keen to share information with outsiders, going so far as to frustrate legitimate Freedom Of Information requests. It is obvious that this small group of elite climate scientists was not about to share information with anyone holding non-consensus views of global warming.

The CRU emails group operates within what amounts to a closed shop of like-minded individuals, which in turn operates within a larger but still small group of like-minded climate scientists. Such a self-affirming environment is great for maintaining consensus and rubber-stamp peer review but is not in the best interests of science, and especially so when the research underpins what amounts to a United Nations drive to restructure human civilization. Imagine questioning a colleague’s findings and immediately being pigeon-holed as a “denier” – that would be a career-killing move if ever there was one.

Some on the Left outright refuse to address the issue, ABC radio presenter Jon Faine choosing to ignore the email story because coverage “suits the conspiracy theorists beautifully”. Thus were the ABC’s apparently delicate listeners protected from hearing of possible problems with climate science.

Tim Flannery, Australia’s highest profile global warming believer, wrote off the emails as showing nothing more than a robust, behind the scenes scientific interchange, but did manage to put his foot in it by saying that unexplainable “cooling is occurring”, his “cooling” assessment contradicted by the 26 climate scientist authors of The Copenhagen Diagnosis.

George Monbiot, perhaps the most articulate and outspoken of global warming activists, was mortified to discover through the emails that climate scientists are something less than the noble truth-seekers he had supposed.

Confronted with crisis, most of the environmentalists I know have gone into denial. The emails hacked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, they say, are a storm in a tea cup, no big deal, exaggerated out of all recognition. It is true that climate change deniers have made wild claims which the material can’t possibly support (the end of global warming, the death of climate science). But it is also true that the emails are very damaging.

The response of the greens and most of the scientists I know is profoundly ironic, as we spend so much of our time confronting other people’s denial. Pretending that this isn’t a real crisis isn’t going to make it go away. Nor is an attempt to justify the emails with technicalities. We’ll be able to get past this only by grasping reality, apologising where appropriate and demonstrating that it cannot happen again.”

So the climate scientists and many of their political supporters – and make no mistake, global warming is more than anything else a high-stakes political issue – have hunkered down in their bunkers to sit out the storm. But with high profile Lefties like Monbiot calling for climate scientists’ heads to roll it seems unlikely that climate science’s problems will just simply fade away over time.

Perhaps hoping to divert attention away from the emails debacle Peter Singer, “Australia’s best-known philosopher”, likened a failure to reduce carbon emissions to an act of war:

Now that we know the effects of our greenhouse gas emissions, we are harming people in Bangladesh almost as surely as if we were dropping bombs on them.

Such hyperbolic pronouncements smack of desperation. If Peter Singer wants to assume responsibility, environmental or otherwise, for the rest of the world, good on him, but he should not use guilt as a tool of coercion. 

The climate change Left shows utter contempt for the Australian voting public, which must at all costs be herded into supporting a total top-to-bottom reorganization of the way we live our lives; not to do so is claimed to endanger not only humanity but the whole of the planet.

We must be frightened into action because failure to act will be catastrophic. Millions, perhaps billions, will starve. Whole countries will be inundated. There will be mass extinctions. The Great Barrier Reef will die. Hardly a day passes without the revelation of some fanciful new carbon doom scenario.

The release of the CRU emails seems to have tipped the scales, however, with climate change skepticism spreading beyond the “Climacaust deniers” camp and throughout the mainstream. I suspect but cannot prove that this growing public skepticism arises not from firsthand public knowledge of the emails, instead simply hearing about the documents prompting minds already suffering “doom fatigue” to question the whole global warming package.

Global warming’s true believers are unshaken, however, still insisting that mega multi-billions of dollars must be spent solving the problem, also arguing that developed countries must spend further billions helping the less developed countries to reduce their emissions and help them adapt to a changing climate.

Thus will taxpayers get to watch as their national governments pour huge sums into the United Nations which will forward the cash to the developing world, creating a Leftist’s dream: a multilevel, multinational bureaucratic pyramid scheme with coercive taxation powers. To paraphrase P. J. O’Rourke, other people spending other people’s money given to them by still other people is neither wise nor efficient.

Stealing the CRU emails was wrong; releasing them was right. It’s one more of life’s little paradoxes.

J. F. Beck, a keen observer of the Left, is a West Australian blogger