‘Climategate’ is the first in a new wave of attacks

Alberta tar-sandsby Chris Genovali
The Ecologist

The emails hacked from the servers of the University of East Anglia continue to cause controversy. But it was not a singular attack, says Chris Genovali,just the only successful one so far…

Sceptics in Canada have used the so-called ‘Climategate’ controversy to call for a cautious approach at COP 15 or even an abandonment of mitigation measures.Climategate does not change the fact that all the credible evidence vetted in countless scientifically peer-reviewed papers shows the primary cause of climate disruption is anthropogenic and that global warming poses severe risks to humanity, requiring immediate action to limit carbon emissions. Rather, Climategate is a convenient sideshow the doubters have seized upon in a continuation of their desperate efforts to defy reality and sway public policy. But Climategate is not the scandal the denier camp thinks it is.

A coordinated campaign

As online journalist Richard Graves, director of Fired Up Media, recently put it in an opinion piece for CommonDreams.org: ‘The real scandal is not the email archive, or even how it was acquired, sorted, and uploaded to a Russian server, but rather the emerging evidence of a coordinated international campaign to target and harass climate scientists, break and enter into government climate labs, and misrepresent climate science through a sophisticated media infrastructure on the eve of the international climate talks’.

There now appears to be a concerted effort, via espionage, to undermine and attack climate scientists and their research. As reported by Judith Lavoie of the Victoria Times Colonist, during the last year here in Canada there have been two break-ins at Dr. Andrew Weaver’s University of Victoria office and several attempts to hack into the computer system.

From the Times Colonist article: ‘The intrusions came as no surprise to Weaver, Canada Research Chair on Climate Modelling and Analysis and a member of the Nobel-winning International Panel on Climate Change. Like other scientists working in the climate-change field, Weaver says they face a well-orchestrated campaign of harassment by global-warming skeptics’.

Big Tobacco all over again

Current climate denying tactics are also reminiscent of malicious efforts by the tobacco industry to obscure the undeniable proof associating smoking with lung cancer. The purpose was not to prove tobacco harmless, but to cast doubt on the science and delay governments from taking action.

The denier sect is relatively small, but has the advantage of being bankrolled by greenhouse gas producing industries. Media researcher David McKnight, of the University of New South Wales, explains their three-fold strategy: ‘First, the implications of the science are frightening. Shifting to renewable energy will be costly and disruptive. Second, doubt is an easy product to sell. Climate denial tells us what we all secretly want to hear. Third, science is portrayed as a political orthodoxy rather than objective knowledge’.

McKnight concludes: ‘Climate denial may turn out to be the world’s most deadly public relations campaign’.

Indeed, implementing politicised, ineffective half-measures to address climate disruption would essentially constitute a game of global Russian roulette.

Reflecting on the Canadian government’s continued foot dragging on the climate change file, as well as its predilection for ‘shouting down critics and environmental activists’, as a December 11th Toronto Star editorial highlighted, one has to wonder what is exactly at the root of this obduracy and antagonism.

Is it solely the fact that the prime minister and the environment minister are from Alberta and feel compelled to defend the oil sands? Or is there something more, such as a lingering disbelief that climate change is even occurring? The fact is the prime minister has a track record of being a climate change sceptic. In the U.S. climate denial has become a crucible of sorts amongst the political right; let’s hope this dangerous mentality hasn’t migrated to their conservative brethren in Canada.

Chris Genovali is the Executive Director of British Columbia-based Raincoast Conservation Foundation

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.