It was downright "Rovian," the suspiciously perfect timing of hacked and/or stolen emails damaging the integrity of climate scientists being leaked to the Internet. And while it seems doubtful that Karl Rove had any direct hand in the leak, the release of these documents just a couple weeks before the biggest global climate conference in over a decade is reminiscent of the "October Surprise" concept. With the headlines (not the underlying facts) just now permeating many people's consciousness as they head to meet up with relatives, the concept that "global warming" is a fantasy of book-cooking scientists is primed to be a hot dinner-table topic.
So, before we go any further: Well played, anonymous criminals. Masterful.
But what's the long-term impact? The underlying significance? Do these emails really cast doubt on the fundamental truth of anthropogenic climate change?
Insofar as they show some scientists who seem willing to impede fair discussion, some could (and will) claim they tar the entire argument and call into question the integrity of all scientists who say we're warming the planet. That goes wayyyy too far, of course, considering the facts - considering, in other words, what's actually in these "damning" emails.
Let's be clear: If it's shown (which so far it isn't) that some scientists did use subterfuge to willfully squelch legitimate data, or did interfere with FOIA requests, they should be investigated and punished. What the emails show, though, is not that. They reflect more venting, carping and wishful thinking than they do action - more commiserating than colluding. So far not one actual piece of pro-climate-change data has been challenged, not one data point found that was altered or omitted, not one legit study that was "hidden."
This is of course in contrast to actual, known interference in climate-science reporting. Some of those most apopleptic about the grousing scientists seem to forget the Bush administration's eight years of manipulating EPA reports, censoring studies it didn't like and shoehorning in, for instance, a discredited temperature study funded by the American Petroleum Institute. Funny how there was no headline-grabbing congressional probe about that.
Even if a "smoking gun" study does wind up emerging from this brouhaha, it will have to go into a mix that includes an overwhelming amount of evidence "on the ground" (and in the seas) - which already surpasses the projections of some of the scientists when they were emailing a few years back. Discrediting one scientist or study wouldn't change the consensus because there are so many indicators that have continued to pile up.
But as we know, changing scientific consensus is not the deniers' intent. As always, it is instead simply to obfuscate and confuse that large portion of the public who will only see the hyperbolic headlines in the right-wing press and elsewhere, with the hope that meaningful government action can be delayed just a llittle longer.
That's why it's encouraging that President Obama chose the midst of this "scandal" to finally state unequivocally that he will attend the Copenhagen talks and that the US will pledge to cut emissions. While "climategate" will make for some fun discussions over the next few weeks, and may even succeed in hobbling the upcoming talks a bit, you can bet that in years to come the vast majority of us will look back on this "controversy" as the heavily-manipulated last-ditch smokescreen it is.