When the annual reviews come in for 2012 and climate change, the activists will likely focus on some headline numbers–the low extent of ice this summer in the Arctic, the hot year in the U.S., indications that parts of the Antarctic are warming, confirmation by an independent Berkeley research team of temperature trends–all against a backdrop provided by tropical storm / hurricane Sandy, the dud at Doha and the leak of a draft of the IPCC’s next report.
It’s a pity that there were a lot of other stories this year–stories that will detract and distract from climate discussion. Worse, they will have been ‘unforced errors’–mistakes by activists that diminish credibility and cloud the issues.
Activist Peter Gleick stole documents from Heartland and either forged or published a forgery of their strategy. Illegal, unethical and terminally stupid, Gleick’s idiocy captured the headlines and relit the fires under a number of skeptics.
Stephan Lewandowsky used tactics worthy of a circus charlatan in gaming a survey to ‘prove’ that skeptics are ‘conspiracy nuts,’ again inspiring a flood of blog posts (and a few attempted lessons in survey construction and analysis on my part–lessons that were deleted summarily from Lewandowsky’s weblog).
Joelle Gergis and colleagues withdrew a paper following the publication of criticism by climate auditor Steve McIntyre–and the ham-handed way they went about it only served to feed the skeptic fires.
As has also been the case in recent years, the activist side of the climate debate has done themselves more harm than the efforts of their opponents. They could have canceled the COP 19 conference in Doha and talked about the CO2 they didn’t emit while traveling, instead of trying to put a brave face on its failure–which was pretty much pre-ordained. They could have called for additional review of papers that might be considered controversial. They could have published a set of ethical guidelines designed to show that climate science understands that it needs not only to be clean, but to be demonstrably so.
None of the self-inflicted wounds of 2012 undercut climate science. CO2 does what it does and temperatures do what they do as a result. But the repeated stalling of the climate train in front of landslides precipitated by members of the team only put further off into the future the chance of agreeing on some concrete action.
When smart people do unbelievably stupid things to counter a disorganized and underfunded opposition, at some point we have to ask why. Where is the pressure coming from to do idiotic things that will damage their cause?