Do I think there’s a big conspiracy over global warming? Oh, absolutely. There’s some strong evidence. I mean, conspiracy theories in general wouldn’t attract me a bit. I’ve read a bit about the psychology behind them: basically, some people have a burning need for the world to make sense, and for there to be meaning to life. That’s why they would even rather believe that the world is run by a malevolent, evil cabal than that stuff just happens randomly.
Well, I’m definitely in the “stuff happens randomly” camp. I don’t think there’s a master plan, either divine or mundane (or diabolic, come to that). I once read “never suspect conspiracy when incompetence is an adequate explanation” and it’s become a guiding principle of how I interpret events. I’ve worked in large organisations, and I’ve seen how things work in, say, the British or American governments, or big corporations such as Microsoft. And incompetence is a pervading basic principle of reality, like gravity. It pulls everything down.
That’s the major failure of most conspiracy theories: they assume a supernatural level of competence in ordinary, fallible human beings. Keeping the saucer engineering secret for fifty years. Smuggling tons of explosives into the Twin Towers without the office workers noticing. That kind of thing.
But the global warming conspiracy; that’s different. There clearly is a concerted, organised effort to manipulate, deceive and discredit. Look at the notorious “hacked e-mails” incident. An archive of 13 years of e-mails between climate research scientists was stolen from servers at the University of East Anglia and made available from a server in Russia. OK, what do we learn from that? That there are people who will commit crimes to get what they want.
It wasn’t an isolated incident though. Another example shows the global reach of the conspiracy. At the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, hosted at the University of Victoria, attempts have been made to hack into computers. Well, OK, any kind of computer can be the subject of hacking attempts. But how about when that is followed up by a visit by two “network computer technicians” trying to get access to the data servers? They ran away when challenged for identification. In a separate event, a climate scientist at the Univesity had his office broken into and a computer was stolen. However, it was an unused “junk” machine.
See, that’s how conspiracies actually work: incompetently. Take the wrong computer. Fail to obtain fake ID.
But who’s behind it? In the United States, oil and gas companies have put tens of millions of dollars per month into lobbying against energy efficiency and carbon-limiting legislation. Some of the acivities which may have been funded by that pot have definitely crossed the line into illegality. Check out http://www2.dailyprogress.com /cdp/news/local/local_govtpolitics/ article/letters_sent_to_perriello_called_fakes. _area_advocates_names_forged_by_d.c./43439/
But that would be boring. Do we have to have a conspiracy that is as dull (but insidious) as the tobacco industry’s campaign of cancer denial in the last century? The 160 megabytes of scientists’ e-mails was first uploaded to a Russian server. From Russia with love. Is there some secret involvement from the Russian government? Why would the largest (and growing) supplier of fossil fuels to Europe want to discredit the predictions of climate change? Who put the polonium in my coffee?
As far as computer hacking is concerned, there are unrelated cases where fingers have pointed at Russia (attacks on Georgia and the Baltic countries) but these seem to have been amateur efforts, although conveniently not investigated by Russian authorities. For a recent series of hacking episodes where a government has been suspected: look to China-Googlegate. Hackers used a newly-discovered flaw in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to access the e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights campaigners. (Incidentally, if you’re still using IE yourself, you’re basically screwed as far as security is concerned. There’s still no fix for the problem.)
And it has been widely documented by insiders that China was the government which caused the Copenhagen conference on climate change to fail. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/ environment/2009/dec/22/copenhagen-climate-change-mark-lynas) China’s current economic growth is based on cheap coal. The country is a huge investor in renewable energy technology, but it’s too soon to rely on it if you want to be a superpower.
To throw another tidbit into the mix, the hacking incident at East Anglia is now being investigated by police officers from the UK National Domestic Extremism team. It was bloody subversives! I knew it! Dammned commie bastards trying to overthrow our democracy! Er, no… wait…
To tell the truth, a vast conspiracy involving China, the Russian FSB, US Senator Inhofe, the BNP’s “smiling” Nick Griffin, and the world’s largest fossil fuel companies seems unlikely. It’s probably really a lot of separate little conspiracies bumbling along. Incompetently.