We’ve reached a moment of truth for the climate-change debate, which is a good thing since “the truth” is what everyone has been screaming about all along.
Last week, someone released thousands of emails and other documents from the highly influential Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England. I say “someone released” because it’s unclear whether the deed was done by an outside hacker, an inside whistleblower or someone else.
In any case, the contents are staggering.
Now on display are the scientists’ apparent attempts to manipulate climate data to fit their narrative of an ever warming planet. So, too, are their schemes to withhold and even delete documents sought under Freedom of Information laws, as well as to prevent contrarian researchers from publishing work in scientific journals and United Nations climate-change reports.
Then there’s the plainly incoherent climate data at the heart of their work, as described by the poor computer programmer tasked with compiling it in a database upon which governments around the world depend.
So far there have been no protests from the scientists or the university that any of the information was falsified, only laughably weak attempts to act as if none of it is terribly important.
Yet this episode obliterates the public credibility once enjoyed by these scientists. And these are not just any scientists: Their work has been integral to the reports of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the related push for legal restrictions on carbon emissions. It is hard to imagine what they could do to re-earn such prominence and trust.
This new information is extremely timely, because next month the U.N. will meet in Copenhagen with hopes of drafting a climate-change treaty that would regulate trillions of dollars worth of global commerce.
Any new treaty would be based in no small way on the work of the scientists involved in the present scandal. The only responsible option is to postpone the Copenhagen agenda while this new information is digested.
Yet as critical as the climate-change debate’s outcome is to our future, this story has even broader significance than that. For it fits the running theme of 2009’s big news stories: truth versus “trust us.”
In the past year-plus, the politics of “trust us” has brought Americans bailouts for Wall Street and Detroit, a $787 billion stimulus bill, and health “reform” bills with cost estimates about which the estimators themselves are skeptical.
This is a partial list. The politics of “trust us” is wearing thin.
The trust deficit, if not the budget deficit, was supposed to be made whole once George Bush left office. Yet the Obama administration, rather than operating with the promised transparency, has been burning through public trust as fast as it’s been spending real currency.
The administration’s attempts to restore this trust keep falling flat. Look no further than the job-creation statistics the White House rolled out to show the stimulus was working. Journalists and bloggers doing basic fact-checking uncovered wild inflation in these figures, including hundreds of phony jobs in non-existent congressional districts.
The politics of “trust us” points to one of the most fundamental arguments for limited government. When government is involved in activities it can’t account for, it is too big.
Like the East Anglia crew, it doesn’t matter whether big government is intentionally deceptive or just incompetent. The result is the same: We just can’t trust it.
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