Sunday, January 31, 2010

Climategate: Al Gore and the politicization of science

Roger Simon has been excellent on Climategate lately. I'm guessing this is because he tended to be more of a believer in it in the first place. As a former believer (somewhat) he probably feels more betrayed than someone like myself, who lost belief in Apocalyptic Chicken Little Science as I was growing up. (Click here to read my take on Chicken Little Science.)

From Roger Simon:

One of the most disturbing outgrowths of the global warming controversy over the last twenty or so years has been the increased politicization of science. Of course, this is far from the first time this has occurred, but it may be one of the most important, because we are at a particularly fragile moment in the global economy. Indeed, had it not been for the release of the Climategate emails and documents in November, the recent Copenhagen conference might have succeeded in reallocating billions, even trillions, of dollars, possibly leading to a form of global bankruptcy. Less than two months later, with the so-called science now unraveling on an almost daily basis, the whole thing seems close to insane. How could we have done it?

Well, how could we have done it?

Okay, I’ll take a pass at that – with the caveat that this is a very early narrative of a story that many will tell and examine in the future, undoubtedly in book form. In fact, it deserves several books.

But let’s start with the obvious. Most of us love Mother Earth. It’s a beautiful planet to live on with many extraordinary places and creatures “in’t.” Most of us want to preserve it. And for decades we have been trying to do so – liberals and conservatives in sometimes different ways – via governmental and non-governmental means. To greater or lesser degrees, some of these means worked – or at least improved things. Anyone who lives in Los Angeles, as I do, knows the benefits of air quality legislation. You can actually see the hills and your eyes don’t tear, as they once did, when you walk into the back yard.

As we know, while these things were going on, organizations were growing and forming in protection of the Earth, or what was perceived to be the protection of the Earth. Many of these groups would phone us or go door-to-door asking for money, which many of us, I among them, gave. We were all good servants of Gaia. No matter what our religion – or lack thereof – it was the right thing. The Earth was in jeopardy. We had to defend it.

And these organizations continued growing. Being “green” became the normative behavior, in practically every aspect of our existence, from the school to the supermarket. We lived in a “recycling world.” (Yes, I know there were many environmental errors and misidentifications of endangered species, etc., but mistakes are the way of the world. Let’s pass over that for the moment.) Environmentalism had become for many a replacement religion rather than the simple common sense that it is.

Enter Al Gore. Recently having lost a highly-disputed election for the most important position in the world, he was ripe for a cause and became influenced by a small group of scientists who had deep and sincere beliefs in an impending catastrophe from CO2 caused Anthropogenic Global Warming.

The most prominent of these scientists is James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who is said to have a general dislike for industrial civilization and what it has wrought. Whether this is true or not or whether Gore knew it, I don’t know, but it doesn’t appear to have mattered. Gore – who had no scientific training and indeed had an exceptionally poor academic record in general – seized upon the information proferred by Hansen and the others, not questioning them, as far we know, for a second. (As you will see from this link, many, including director superiors, are questioning Hansen now.)

Go read the whole thing.

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