Climategate and Climate McCarthyism are both symptomatic of efforts to narrow the public debate. For twenty years these efforts have backfired. Narrowing the policy debate has fed political polarization, making political action increasingly difficult.
Now, heavy-handed efforts to narrow the scientific debate have seriously damaged the credibility of climate science. In simplistically imagining, first, that climate science could speak with a single voice and, second, trump all other considerations about how to deal with a complicated technological, economic, environmental and social problem, hyper-partisan environmental advocates and sympathetic scientists have set back efforts to address global warming.
Happily, other prominent climate scientists and researchers are beginning to speak out against the bad behavior by other climate scientists in ClimateGate.
Mike Hulme, a climate scientist who worked at the Univeristy of East Anglia in the 1990s, wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
"If we build the foundations of our climate-change policies so confidently and so single-mindedly on scientific claims about what the future holds and what therefore "has to be done," then science will inevitably become the field on which political battles are waged. The mantra becomes: Get the science right, reduce the scientific uncertainties, compel everyone to believe it. . . and we will have won. Not only is this an unrealistic view about how policy gets made, it also places much too great a burden on science, certainly on climate science with all of its struggles with complexity, contingency and uncertainty." (emphasis added)
In an interview with the National Journal, Georgia Institute of Technology climate scientist Judith Curry said advocates and partisan reporters are partly responsible for the polarization and bad behavior by some scientists:
"So what we are really seeing is the polarizing effect of the advocacy groups and the mainstream media, in forcing apparent partisanship of the scientists."
TIME's Bryan Walsh summarizes the events and issues of the last two weeks and concludes that Climate McCarthyism "must stop":
"Even a small amount of doubt is enough to shatter consensus. That is why a number of researchers have suggested in the wake of the CRU e-mail hack that climate scientists be more open with their data and engage with critics in the future. "Climate McCarthyism" -- as Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute have called the knee-jerk attacks by some climate-change advocates on those who deviate from the green mainstream -- must stop. That may not seem fair -- industry groups have played dirty for years smearing climate scientists -- but researchers will need to be above reproach. "Scientists need to consider carefully skeptical arguments and either rebut them or learn from them," wrote Judith Curry, an atmospheric scientist and climate researcher at Georgia Tech, on the blog Climate Audit."
As Walsh notes, Nordhaus and Shellenberger coined "Climate McCarthyism" in a series of four posts on their blog describing how Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Joe Romm has consistently employed McCarthyite tactics - such as character assassination, misrepresentation, and guilt-by-association - to intimidate reporters, academics, and activists, thus polarizing and limiting the climate and energy debate. Through hyper-partisan advocacy and outright bullying, those who have sought to narrow the climate and energy debate to meet their political will may have impeded any real progress that could have been made to mitigate climate change and achieve a clean energy future.
The entire Climate McCarthyism series can be accessed by following the links below:
Part 1 is on Joe Romm's Intimidation Campaign.
Part 2 is about how Joe Romm labels his opponents "global warming deniers."
Part 3 is about The Hyper-Partisan Mind.
Part 4 is about The Headquarters in Washington.
To read the full version of Bryan Walsh's article in TIME click here.