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Leaked Emails Fuel Climate-Change Firestorm

By Katherine Noyes
Nov 23, 2009 1:04 PM PT

Thousands of emails and documents were stolen from a prominent climate research center in the UK recently and posted online, firing up a fresh controversy over global warming.

Leaked Emails Fuel Climate-Change Firestorm

More than 1,000 emails and several thousand documents were apparently included in the hack attack on the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU), which is dedicated to tracking past and present causes of climate change on Earth.

The stolen materials cover roughly a decade's worth of research and also include the names and email addresses of several prominent researchers.

'Too Important to Be Kept Under Wraps'

The 62MBs of materials were first posted to a Russian FTP site.

Then, last Tuesday an anonymous poster using the name "FOIA" posted a link to the Russian site in the comments section of a loosely related post on the Air Vent blog.

"We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps," wrote FOIA. "We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code, and documents. Hopefully it will give some insight into the science and the people behind it."

The files are apparently also posted in searchable form on the blog An Elegant Chaos.

'A Criminal Investigation'

The University of East Anglia has confirmed that the hack did occur, but it doesn't yet know if all the materials are genuine.

"It is a matter of concern that data, including personal information about individuals, appears to have been illegally taken from the university and elements published selectively on a number of Web sites," said Simon Dunford, a spokesperson for the university.

"The volume of material published and its piecemeal nature makes it impossible to confirm what proportion is genuine," Dunford added. "We took immediate action to remove the server in question from operation and have involved the police in what we consider to be a criminal investigation."

The university will also conduct its own review "into the circumstances surrounding the theft and publication of this information and any issues emerging from it," he said.

Conspiracy Theories

The effect of the hack, meanwhile, has been to incite fresh controversy over the science of global warming. Skeptics of the phenomenon have seized upon the stolen materials --many of which are exchanges among prominent climate change scientists -- as evidence of a conspiracy to stir up unwarranted fear.

One email, for example, makes reference to a "trick" and mentions the need to "hide the decline" in temperatures. Another refers to deleting emails on a particular topic.

The UK's Telegraph has assembled a compilation of some of the most contentious statements contained in the hacked materials.

Officials on both sides of the controversy, meanwhile, reportedly called on Monday for an inquiry into the leaked emails, according to a report in the Guardian.

'Taken Out of Context'

Scientists charge that their comments are being distorted and taken out of context.

A post on the RealClimate blog, for example, disputes many of the accusations being thrown about as a result of the hack.

Kevin Trenberth, head of the climate analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, is one of the climate scientists affected by the hack.

Some 102 emails included in the stolen materials name Trenberth -- either as the main recipient or CC'd -- and "anything being picked up is being cherry-picked and taken out of context," he told TechNewsWorld.

Trying to "Muddy the Waters'

Indeed, "I think what's most important to remember is that there's an overwhelming scientific consensus that human emissions of greenhouse gases are changing our climate," Bill Magavern, director of Sierra Club California, told TechNewsWorld.

"There is a relatively small but very fervent band of deniers who will do anything they can to protect the fossil fuel industries and try to muddy the waters of the science," Magavern explained. "I think that's the context in which this is playing out."

That small band, in fact, is "now trying to make this much bigger than it is and use it for their agenda of preventing real change that could curb global warming," he added.

In truth, however, "there's nothing in this information that undermines the real scientific consensus about global warming," he concluded.

Copenhagen Ahead

Even the timing of the hack may be deliberate, Trenberth suggested.

With the United Nations Climate Change Conference due to take place in Copenhagen next month, "there's a tremendous amount of international debate about what should be done about climate change," Trenberth explained. "Individuals, companies and countries are all lobbying for best advantage."

In other words, "it's the nastier side of politics," he asserted, whereby "any lever -- any advantage anyone can gain" -- will be exploited.


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