Watching the fallout of the so-called "ClimateGate" incident in recent weeks, one would think these revealed emails actually created a dent in the science of anthropogenic climate change. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
The leaked emails from many years ago show zero evidence of a global conspiracy; nor do they reveal motivations for peddling false science; nor do they suggest that any research on the issue has ultimately been manufactured; nor do they cast serious doubts on the exhaustive conclusions of the entire international scientific community over the last couple of decades.
All they really show is that a couple of scientists were afraid some narrow data they found would be misinterpreted and overblown so as to undercut their much larger, more encompassing conclusions on climate change. The scientists shouldn't have traversed that path at all, but to twist something this trivial into proof of a massive global ruse is beyond crazy.
Nevertheless, conservatives have seized on this incident as a way of justifying their conspiracy theories (and progressives have unfortunately done a poor job explaining it for what it is). If you watch cable news, you'll see a liberal pundit facing off against a conservative pundit, the latter of which will inevitably say the emails disprove - or at least cast serious doubts upon - basic science of anthropogenic warming.
But in order to believe that, you'd have to think the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which comprises the world's most renowned climate scientists) - along with literally every accredited scientific institution on the planet - is perpetrating a vast conspiracy, which has been carefully planned out in smoke-filled rooms and executed in tandem with leaders from every nation across the world.
It's ridiculous, and it's stunning that more Democrats and progressives aren't vocally outraged by these theories, especially considering the serious impacts this phenomenon will have (indeed, is already having) on humanity and our way of life. Reality-based reports have found that the impacts of climate change have been more destructive than the direst forecasts last decade.
I've searched extensively for a single scientific institution of any country that doesn't unequivocally say human activities like burning fossil fuels are significantly exacerbating climate change. I've yet to come across one, and invite anybody to point me to one. I'm no scientist, but as a rational human being, I can't in good conscience doubt the enormous scientific consensus on climate change any more than I doubt evolution, gravity or photosynthesis.
There is, however, a small minority of independent scientists with opposing theories on climate change. But they're being continually discredited and exposed as serving the financial agendas of fossil fuel companies and the ideological agendas of right-wing think tanks, which see climate change as a threat to their prosperity. These entities have nevertheless utilized their extensive resources and clout to build an industry aimed at undermining widely-accredited science.
Conspiracy theorists will view the castigation of these scientists as further proof of the conspiracy, arguing that they're being excluded simply for disagreeing. But the more sensible among us realize that it's because they're peddling irrational conclusions that run contrary to undisputed theories - like the greenhouse effect, which says that carbon emissions resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels have a warming impact on the planet.
And it seems as though many conservatives will jump on any excuse to oppose this reality.
One example beyond these emails is their reminding us of the "global cooling" scare of the '70s - a tepid theory that was put forth by just a handful of scientists and hugely exaggerated by the media, and which bears no resemblance to the overwhelming consensus on anthropogenic warming that exists today. To equate the two is absurd.
It's ultimately up to conservative leaders if they'd like to be identified as opponents of science (just as many also doubt evolution - yes, evolution). The underlying thought process seems to be that climate change is a ruse to bring about a left-wing or socialist global order.
What's clear is that the anti-science dissent resulting from "ClimateGate" is predominantly being dredged up and fueled by an influential group of people who are simply defiant to the political and policy implications of anthropogenic climate warming - in much the same way evangelicals doubt evolution because it contradicts the word of the bible.
President Obama and Democratic leaders have put their necks on the line in championing climate legislation, only to step back in reticence when conspiracy theories like these start to catch fire. As the Copenhagen talks build a framework for tackling the threat, it is now up to them and progressive activists to push back against the hysteria and stand up for truth and common sense, or we could miss our most critical opportunity yet to address this issue.