Local groups unfazed by ‘Climategate’
December 10, 2009
ASPEN – “Climategate” has spurred some nasty letters to at least one Aspen environmentalist, but local groups working on climate change said Wednesday they won’t let the controversy alter their actions.
Aspen Skiing Co. Executive Director of Sustainability Auden Schendler, an outspoken activist on reducing greenhouse gases, said some critics have used “Climategate” as alleged proof that global warming doesn’t exist.
“We’re already getting kind of hate mail saying, ‘See, you’re wrong,'” Schendler said. Most of that correspondence is anonymous, he noted.
The controversy erupted last month when a hacker unveiled thousands of e-mails and computer files of climate scientists at a leading British university. Climate-change deniers contend the e-mails show that some scientists were manipulating data or withholding information that didn’t support their side.
Environmentalists contend the hacked information shows a lack of professionalism on behalf of some of the scientists. They contend some of the hacked material is damning because it is out of context and insist the scientific proof of climate change remains sound.
Schendler said the release of the hacked material is designed to cloud the debate and confuse the “lay public.” It won’t affect experts and the delegates of 192 countries attending the global warming summit in Copenhagen, he said.
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Schendler drew a parallel between “errors in judgment” by some climate scientists and Tiger Woods. Woods is still a “good golfer,” just as the climate science is still solid, he said.
The controversy threatens to divert attention from solving climate change to refueling debate on whether or not there is a real issue, said Michael Kinsley, a Rocky Mountain Institute consultant.
“The opponents of climate change mitigation have done an excellent job with misinformation and fibs and with what lawyers call disingenuous statements,” he said. “It’s pretty easy for them to pile on to their myth-making.”
The current myth is that scientists are skewing information to support their arguments, Kinsley said. But objective people who dig into the issue will realize the body of information confirming climate change is immense.
The global warming trend isn’t slowing, despite recent fluctuations in global temperatures year to year, says the latest report released by the World Meteorological Organization at the start of the Copenhagen summit.
Kinsley said “Climategate” hadn’t visibly sparked any skepticism among the organizations that RMI consults, and it isn’t affecting how the nonprofit approaches its mission. Since it was founded by Amory Lovins 27 years ago, RMI has contended that energy efficiency makes good financial sense for institutions, businesses and households. The organization isn’t necessarily trying to sell anyone on a philosophy.
“You don’t have to believe in climate change. You don’t even have to care about the environment,” Kinsley said.
RMI concentrates on getting its clients to overcome the challenges necessary to improve efficiency. Kim Peterson, who heads Aspen’s Canary Initiative, a program designed to reduce carbon emissions, said “Climategate” won’t deter the city from its mission. “We’re committed to our goals,” she said.
She said the vast majority of climate scientists believe the data exists to show the climate is warming, and that the use of fossil fuels by humans is contributing. The data is overwhelming, and enough independent sources say this latest controversy doesn’t offset it, Peterson said.
“The feeling is, among people who work in climate change, it’s going to blow over,” she said of the controversy.
Nathan Ratledge, interim director of the acclaimed Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE, said “Climategate” could ultimately aid the effort to act on climate change.
“If anything, I think this will force certain folks to reassess openness and clarity regarding source information. And, with an ever more engaged and educated public, that should be the natural progression anyway,” he said.
Ratledge is leaving for Copenhagen Thursday and will be part of an Aspen-Pitkin County panel that will present information on efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
CORE will move in 2010 to continue helping reduce the Roaring Fork Valley’s carbon footprint. It will promote opportunities to increase energy efficiency of buildings.
“We’re not going to go back and reassess anything” because of “Climategate,” Ratledge said.