The Climategate Chronicle

  • Date: 14/05/10

To what extent is climate change actually occuring? Late last year, climate researchers were accused of exaggerating study results. SPIEGEL ONLINE has since analyzed the hacked “Climategate” e-mails and provided insights into one of the most unprecedented spats in recent scientific history.

Is our planet warming up by 1 degree Celsius, 2 degrees, or more? Is climate change entirely man made? And what can be done to counteract it? There are myriad possible answers to these questions, as well as scientific studies, measurements, debates and plans of action. Even most skeptics now concede that mankind — with its factories, heating systems and cars — contributes to the warming up of our atmosphere.

But the consequences of climate change are still hotly contested. It was therefore something of a political bombshell when unknown hackers stole more than 1,000 e-mails written by British climate researchers, and published some of them on the Internet. A scandal of gigantic proportions seemed about to break, and the media dubbed the affair “Climategate” in reference to the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of US President Richard Nixon. Critics claimed the e-mails would show that climate change predictions were based on unsound calculations.

Although a British parliamentary inquiry soon confirmed that this was definitely not a conspiracy, the leaked correspondence provided in-depth insight into the mechanisms, fronts and battles within the climate-research community. SPIEGEL ONLINE has analyzed the more than 1,000 Climategate e-mails spanning a period of 15 years, e-mails that are freely available over the Internet and which, when printed out, fill five thick files. What emerges is that leading researchers have been subjected to sometimes brutal attacks by outsiders and become bogged down in a bitter and far-reaching trench war that has also sucked in the media, environmental groups and politicians.

SPIEGEL ONLINE reveals how the war between climate researchers and climate skeptics broke out, the tricks the two sides used to outmaneuver each other and how the conflict could be resolved. […]

The Time for Clear Answers Is Over

However, it seems all but impossible to provide conclusive proof in climate research. Scientific philosopher Silvio Funtovicz foresaw this dilemma as early as 1990. He described climate research as a “postnormal science.” On account of its high complexity, he said it was subject to great uncertainty while, at the same time, harboring huge risks.

The experts therefore face a dilemma: They have little chance of giving the right advice. If they don’t sound the alarm, they are accused of not fulfilling their moral obligations. However, alarmist predictions are criticized if the predicted changes fail to materialize quickly.

Climatological findings will probably remain ambiguous even if further progress is made. Weingart says it’s now up to scientists and society to learn to come to terms with this. In particular, he warns, politicians must understand that there is no such thing as clear results. “Politicians should stop listening to scientists who promise simple answers,” Weingart says.

How the Science of Global Warming Was Compromised

Part 2: From Staged Scandal to the Kyoto Triumph

Part 3: How Climate Researchers Plotted with Interest Groups

Part 4: Industry and Researchers Fight for Media Supremacy

Part 5: Scientific Opinion Becomes Entrenched

Part 6: From Deserved Reputations to Illegitimate Power

Part 7: Conclusive Proof Is Impossible

Full report

 

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