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A Climate Myth

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMarch 12, 2011 6:55 PM


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The normally level-headed Kevin Drum, who says "we now officially live in the era of guerrilla activism," spots a trend.

It started in the fall of 2009 with the infamous ACORN sting. Conservative activist James O'Keefe secretly recorded ACORN employees providing advice to a faux pimp who wanted to bring underage prostitutes into the country from El Salvador. The tapes were edited misleadingly, but there was genuine misconduct there too and ACORN was soon defunded and out of business.

I think that's a fair summation. But Drum goes off the tracks with his next example:

A few months later, hackers broke into a server at the University of East Anglia and stole a cache of emails to and from various climate researchers. Multiple investigations eventually concluded that the emails displayed no serious misconduct, but no matter. Coming right before the Copenhagen climate conference, public opinion fixated on a few out-of-context excerpts and support for action to combat global warming plummeted. Copenhagen turned into a fiasco and climate legislation in the United States collapsed.

There's a major stretch. A bunch of things doomed Copenhagen, such as oversized expectations and what Roger Pielke Jr. calls the iron law of climate policy, but the East Anglia hack? Hardly. Nor can it be blamed for the legislative collapse in the Senate last year, which as Ryan Lizza laid out in The New Yorker, had more to do with raw politics, the economic recession, and public disinterest. Speaking of the public's level of support for action on global warming, that's been pretty well documented as broad but shallow, waxing and waning slightly with the state of the economy in the last few decades. I realize its convenient for all sides to blame climategate for failures in climate policy, but it doesn't hold water.

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