Pondering the impacts of Climategate one year later

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | November 18, 2010 | Climate Change

One year ago this week, in late November 2009, more than 1,000 stolen e-mails from scientists at England’s University of East Anglia were made public. Climate skeptics, eager to find evidence of a conspiracy, had a field day claiming these emails showed scientific misconduct and argued these emails should cast doubt on decades of findings.

Although a small percentage of the hacked e-mails exchanged over a 13 year period may have shown climate scientists in an unprofessional light, nothing revealed in those emails actually changed scientific consensus on global warming.  In fact, while the controversy was still unfolding, the World Meteorological Organization announced on Dec. 8 that the 2000-2009 decade would likely be the warmest on record, and that 2009 might be the fifth warmest year ever recorded.

The timing for the release of these email was not coincidental – these stolen emails hit blogs and newscasts just as hundreds of leaders and delegates and technical experts, business leaders, advocates and concerned citizens began to gather in Copenhagen, Denmark for the United Nations’ 15th annual Conference of the Parties for international climate policy. And while plenty of people heard about Climategate through headlines last December, how many know that four independent investigations in 2010 all found that no scientific data was compromised by the contents of the emails?  Significantly fewer, I would wager, since a report released many months later that assigns no blame doesn’t sell as many newspapers as a sensational, breaking story that whips up controversy.

What are the impacts from Climategate one year later?  The scientific data continues to build conclusively proving that the Earth is warming. Just today, the National Climatic Data Center based in Asheville, NC confirmed that 2010 is already tied with 1998 as the warmest year on record based on date from January through October 2010.  When the final two months of the year are computed, 2010 may emerge as the uncontested ‘winner.’

On the other hand, and most ironically, climate skeptics have grown more vocal in the past year.  Most of the 37 Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate in the 2010 midterm elections publicly questioned climate science, including Marco Rubio from Florida and Jim DeMint from South Carolina. Moreover, the midterm elections did usher a large number of skeptics into power in Congress and governors’ mansions and state general assemblies.

The combination of troubling data and climate-hostile lawmakers is daunting, to say the least, but there is a positive development.  Earlier this month, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) announced that at least 700 climate scientists will take part in an initiative to speak out about climate science findings by engaging with the media, including dozens who will comprise a ‘rapid response team.’  This is welcome news because climate scientists have traditionally shied away from engaging in politics and speaking with media outlets.  However, a scientific speakers bureau alone cannot reverse the tide of public skepticism and it’s still critical that citizens and business leaders compliments those efforts by continuing to urge support for actions and policies that will reduce carbon pollution and minimize the impacts of global warming.

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