Climategate: The good shepherds

Belief in conspiracy theories, let me suggest, is more a matter of personality than of evidence.  Temperamentally, I’m a conspiracy skeptic.  I doubt there are many people on earth who can be devilishly clever.

So when it comes to Climategate – the scandal triggered by the unauthorized release of thousands of emails and documents from East Anglia University’s Climatic Research Unit – I reject explanations that involve Machiavellian behavior.  I can’t see the CRU as the hub of a global campaign to impose the political triumph of green policies.

But the real explanation may turn out to be more serious and dangerous, because it casts a far wider net.  It involves the climate bureaucrats at CRU and their American allies at NASA, NOAH, and elsewhere, many agencies in many governments and international organizations, and the mainstream media virtually everywhere.  In my opinion, these people didn’t conspire together.  They just think alike.

They subscribe to a particular story about themselves and human society which is prevalent among highly educated people, and may well be the greatest threat to liberal democracy today.  My name for the story is “rationalism”; Thomas Sowell called it the “unconstrained vision.”  Some, including many who embrace it, associate this cluster of dogmas with the political left – but I believe it transcends such archaic labels.

I want to be clear about this.  I hold that many climatologists, politicians, and journalists share a number of operating assumptions, which in effect allows them to coordinate their actions without resorting to conspiracies.  That these assumptions are self-serving is undeniable but here besides the point.  They support the story of the elites as the good shepherds, and this in turn endows the believer with the moral authority for practically any action.

Here are the logical pillars for the story of the good shepherds:

A few of us are wise and good, but the average person is foolish and easily misled.

The only moral imperative is human development, and the only path to human development is power in the hands of the wise and good.

Information must be used by the wise and good, but withheld from the public to avoid panic and confusion.

Society is a tissue of outworn traditions and superstitions, and must be rationalized according to scientific principles.

Opposition to the wise and good can only come from selfish, corrupt forces and their dupes.

Evidence of these principles in action abounds in the Climategate affair, and would fill more space than I have in this post – the CRU documents alone are 160 MB.  What follows is by necessity selective and illustrative, which is to say, partial and incomplete.

First, the climate scientists.  We should think of them as scientist-bureaucrats, combining  the analytic inclination of the former and the primal hunger for funding and prestige of the latter.  Becoming saviors of the earth by using their educated brains must have been, from both perspectives, impossible to resist.  Presidents and prime ministers were now their audience.  Further, the names in the CRU documents comprise a suprisingly small group – maybe 50 persons, the power elite of climatology.

Their emails depict a world misled by false prophets, in sore need of guidance:  “I trust that history will give us all proper credit for what we’re doing here.”  As good shepherds, they sought to keep control of the IPCC process, which – as ferocious turf warriors – they intuited to be of supreme strategic importance.  If, to control the IPCC, journal editors must be purged, or the peer review process corrupted – well, the moral imperative trumped such quibbles.  Critics were unscientific barbarians, whom one wishes to pummel and in whose death one rejoices.  They must be denied data at all costs.

The CRU group perpetrated fraud and abuses in perfectly good faith, out of concern for their flock.

The IPCC represented the commanding heights of their work.  It too made news, and provided cover to politicians who advocated costly good shepherd policies and needed a global authority for this purpose.  The 2007 IPCC report obliged with a “Summary for Policymakers” brimming with authoritative dictums – “There is high agreement and much evidence” recurs like a mantra – and making the leap to policy recommendations.  (By contrast, in the full report the words “uncertain” and “uncertainty” appear “1,300 times in 900 pages.”)

The IPCC chair, Rajendra Pachauri, is nothing of a scientist but very much of a Torquemada, who responded thusly to criticism by a skeptical Bjorn Lomborg:  “What is the difference between Lomborg’s views and Hitler’s?”  Not surprisingly, Pachauri’s response to Climategate has focused on the “unfortunate” “illegal act” of divulging the CRU documents.

For politicians, global warming is like manna from heaven.  Unlike wars, recessions, or hurricanes, the crisis will come, if at all, in the far future, long after they have retired.  Yet it allows them to make messianic speeches, demand increased powers, and hammer their opponents without mercy or restraint.  They can point to the IPCC reports and play the good shepherds free of political risk.

The role demands the use of unbridled language, as Mark Steyn amusingly demonstrates.  These are elites talking to their foolish publics.  They presume simple-minded exaggerations are all such people will understand.  Critics are dismissed as illiterates – “flat earth” types, according to the UK’s Gordon Brown – or villlains.  They, the good shepherds, are wiser and nobler:  thus Brown, Nicholas Sarkozy, and – possibly – President Obama transcend mere politics and assume the robes of philosopher-kings.

Finally, the media.  The story of the good shepherds is identical to the ideology of news, which assumes that, without journalists, the public will wallow in self-satisfied ignorance.  Global warming was the sweetest kind of journalistic enterprise.  It demanded that people be educated against their will.  It inspired constant flattery and cajoling from the ultra-smart scientific set.

Some years back the vice president of the Royal Society appealed to “all parts of UK media” to avoid skepticism about global warming.  Shadowy people “on the fringes, with financial support from the oil industry” might try to corrupt journalists; they must resist.  (Interestingly, the released documents reveal strong “financial support from the oil industry” in CRU research.)  NYT science correspondent Andrew Rivkin appears as “Andy” in the CRU emails.  He is asked by climatologist Michael Mann, who is heaping scorn on those debunking his findings:  “Fortunately, the prestige press doesn’t fall for this sort of stuff, right?”

Climategate has been another blow to the skull of mainstream journalism.  Coverage has been scant and bizarrely slanted.  The best in my opinion has been the WaPo.  Worst by far has been the BBC, which has become a sort of Pravda of global warming – calling it, in one particularly strange post-Climategate story, a “major cause of conflict in Africa.”  But the typical MSM reaction has been muttering or silence.  One need only recall the uproar from the Pentagon papers or the leaked Bush-era domestic surveillance materials, to realize how unnatural this behavior is.

Against its own business interests, the media is looking away from a scandal.  The reason, I suggest, isn’t conspiratorial but ideological.  Journalists, like climatologists and politicians, despise the public and wish to become society’s good shepherds.

The picture that emerges is that of elites in different domains supporting and reinforcing  each others’ impermeability to public opinion.  Climatologists demand funding and the silencing of reasonable criticism.  Politicians promote huge government programs and relegate reasonable opposition to the Flat Earth Society.  Journalists can deal in doomsday and be flattered by powerful and brilliant individuals.  Nowhere, in all this, is there a place for the voter or the marketplace.  Ordinary people are foolish and must be protected from themselves.

And that should be the great concern of all.  The story of the good shepherds leaves no room for liberal democracy – for a multiplicity of choices by free citizens.  It’s top-down.  It’s nakedly authoritarian.  That so many smart people, in so many influential places, have bought into it should give one pause.

I’d almost prefer an honest conspiracy.

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10 Responses to Climategate: The good shepherds

  1. Richard says:

    Your article has some good arguments. I too veer away from Machiavellian explanations to more more moderate ones. But I also veer away from one extreme view, (Machiavellian), to the other (Altruistic). Greed is the universal motivating factor for humans.

    Also conspiracies are known to happen and conspirators are most often known to believe in the absolute righteousness of their cause.

    Also for people to conspire with each other they do not have to be devilishly clever, nor do they have to be necessarily devilishly evil.

    Climate science has grown beyond its rationality and acquired a momentum of its own, almost unstoppable like the fervour for Nazism or Islam. Little old ladies, and well meaning greenies can now be saving the world, for a little sacrifice that they are scarce aware of.

    What you have not touched upon is colossal money involved and the incentive to conform with the “consensus”. All the makings of a religious ideology.

    Just look here for the shameful things that are being done in the name of consensus.

    “Climate of fear”

    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2009/12/6/climate-of-fear.html

  2. Excellent article, thanks for leaving the link at PJM.

  3. Malcolm says:

    Your excellent argument reminds me of nothing so much as the 17th century Scottish Covenanters’ division of humanity between the ‘Elect’ and the ‘Reprobate’.
    Do-gooders are the bane of the world. I have observed the cultural degradation of native inhabitants of South American forests who had been introduced to western ‘civilization’ by earnest missionaries. The result was beer-swigging campesinos in sunglasses, wearing plastic ruanas and baseball caps. The legacy of the global warming brigade will be even worse.

  4. goldnsilver says:

    I’d almost prefer an honest conspiracy.

    Pure brilliance.

    Thank you for your article. I have long been pondering what it is about this global warming ‘debate’ that has me worried, though I haven’t been able to identify it.

    There has been an almost fundamentalist gleen in the shouting down of those who wish to make a decision after seeing the science demonstrated. Now you’ve helped identify where this comes from and why it functions.

  5. M&M says:

    I believe it’s called narcissistic personality disorder and universities are the main source, as career students are groomed and indoctrinated in the belief that they are the best and brightest and the hope of the world.
    Either that or it’s just a lot of hippies past their expo date who never discovered an objective standard of value and became the system in their obscene unwisdom.
    I foresee a global PhilJonestown or a civil war out of this.
    This is what the UN served to the children of the world last night:

    Somehow I know I paid for that and I’m mad as hell.

  6. Adriana says:

    Brilliant post! Pretty much spells out my position on the climate change madness and politics. it’s pure authoritarianism and collectivism, a man-made – and therefore ‘controllable’ catastrophe – whilst providing the equivalent of ideology.

    The good shepherd theory is absolutely spot on, though I’d say one point is missing – the desire to control others. Yes, it is entailed in the shepherd metaphor but I think it bears emphasising. The need to control is a source of much evil.

    To elaborate, the moral imperative of human development, progress, whatever is the ideological component, a moral high-horse from which the opposition can be clobbered, as in your last ‘pillar’. However, the practical, every day impulse of the good shepherds to limit freedom of others is driven by control-freakery of the worst kind.

    Incidentally, Paul Johnson’s book Intellectuals backs up your good shepherd ‘principles’ and motivations with examples.

  7. Smokey says:

    Good article. I agree with your view, but not enough is mentioned about the corrupting influence of outside money directed to the climate science clique. Specifically, the £millions paid to Mann, Jones and the rest – with a cut to their employers – by foundations [Tides, Heinz, Grantham, etc.] and by individuals [Soros] – all Leftists without exception, who have a one-sided AGW/World Government agenda.

    No one can honestly serve two masters. So who gets shortchanged? The taxpaying public, who pay these climate scientists in return for an honest work product? Or the big money non-profit outside entities? We know the answer to that question.

    The CRU/Penn State/UN scientists crave that agendized grant money, which is much, much more than their salaries. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and these scientists have become corrupted by the grant monies coming to them from outside NGOs, individuals and quangos such as Greenpeace, the UN, the WWF, and dozens of others. [CRU had proudly posted a list of the millions granted over the past year to Phil Jones and other CRU climate scientists. But since the emails appeared, it is no longer available on line].

    Years ago George Soros said he was surprised at how little money was required to buy loyalty. All that is necessary is to keep the grants periodically flowing. The recipients know, without having to be told, that future grants will go elsewhere if their conclusions don’t support the AGW hypothesis. Love of money is the root of all evil – that applies to the UN and Copenhagen attendees, too. We see how strongly they react to any perceived threat to their gravy train.

    [And speaking of money, I hope you regularly hit the WUWT tip jar, since the body of your posts always contain a link to this site. Free advertising should be appreciated. I donate more than my share to the Best Science site. Every month, without fail.]

  8. hkyson says:

    “Climategate” started out when there appeared on the Internet a collection of e-mails of a group of climatologists who work in the University of East Anglia in England. These documents reveal that some climatologists of international preeminence have manipulated the data of their investigations and have strongly tried to discredit climatologists who are not convinced that the increasing quantities of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are the cause of global warming.

    It is true that a majority of the scientists who study climatic tendencies in our atmosphere have arrived at the conclusion that the world’s climate is changing, and they have convinced a group of politicians, some of whom are politically powerful, of the truth of their conclusions.

    A minority, however, is skeptical. Some believe that recent data that suggest that the average temperature of the atmosphere is going up can be explained by natural variations in solar radiation and that global warming is a temporary phenomenon. Others believe that the historical evidence indicating that the temperature of the atmosphere is going up at a dangerous rate is simply not reliable.

    Such lacks of agreement are common in the sciences. They are reduced and eventually eliminated with the accumulation of new evidence and of more refined theories or even by completely new ones. Such debates can persist for a period of decades. Academics often throw invective at one another in these debates. But typically this does not mean much.

    But the case of climate change is different. If the evidence indicates that global warming is progressive, is caused principally by our industrial processes, and will probably cause disastrous changes in our atmosphere before the end of the twenty-first century, then we do not have the time to verify precisely if this evidence is reliable. Such a process would be a question of many years of new investigations. And if the alarmist climatologists are right, such a delay would be tragic for all humanity.

    The difficulty is that economic and climatologic systems are very complicated. They are not like celestial mechanics, which involves only the interaction of gravity and centrifugal force, and efforts to construct computerized models to describe these complicated systems simply cannot include all the factors that are influential in the evolution of these complicated systems.

    All this does not necessarily indicate that the alarmist climatologists are not right. But it really means that if global warming is occurring, we cannot know exactly what will be the average temperature of our atmosphere in the year 2100 and what will be the average sea level of the world’s ocean in that year.

    It also means that we cannot be confident that efforts by the industrialized countries to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will have a significant influence on the evolution of the world’s climate.

    Alas, the reduction of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would be very costly and would greatly change the lives of all the inhabitants of our planet–with the possibility (perhaps even the probability!) that all these efforts will be completely useless.

    Harleigh Kyson Jr.

  9. […] collapse of the “science” of global warming will surprise no one who has been paying attention. Climategate shone a light on scientists who treated data like poker chips and embodied the inquisitional spirit […]

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