Opinion: Say it ain't so, Joe

NEW YORK — Last December, having recently led the creation of a multimedia look at climate change for the Council on Foreign Relations (Crisis Guide: Climate Change), I got an email from a CFR colleague alerting me to a post in a well known climate blog, “Climate Progress.”

The post, written by a guy named “Joe” for the Center on American Progress, seized upon the fact that in the nearly four hours of video interviews, hundreds of documents and thousands of words of analytical and explanatory writing in the guide, we had included a link to a speech by James Inhofe, a noted climate change “denier,” as a footnote.

The post, published in typical blog faction without the benefit of any reporting, said in part:

“I am asking all Climate Progress readers to start an email campaign to Richard Haas, President, Council on Foreign Relations, E-mail: [email protected]. Please feel free to post your emails as comments.]

I was worried the media would be duped by Inhofe’s repackaged disinformation. Turns out the first to bite was the Council on Foreign Relations, widely (though it would seem, incorrectly) viewed as an uber-credible, centrist organization.

They have a list of what they claim are 'Essential Documents: Vital Primary sources underpinning the foreign policy debate.' Yes, you guessed it, the latest addition is 'U.S. Senate Minority Report: More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims Scientists Continue to Debunk “Consensus” in 2008.'”

Besides the fact that he misspelled the name of my boss at the time, Richard Haass, and led dozens of other misguided souls to shoot similarly misspelled emails to Haass, Joe the blogger didn’t bother to look at the piece of content he was attacking, which was a documentary about the dangers of inaction on climate change, nor was he willing, even after I called him on his mistake, to reconsider his position. To Joe the blogger — Joe the Protector of Truth — the fact that anyone would dare to republish claims that run counter to his own view of the truth was the point. The fact that I totally disagreed with Inhofe, too, was irrelevant to him.

Objectivity didn’t seem to ring a bell, either. Nor the idea that, in the upper chamber of the American Congress, where the Bill of Rights was fashioned, linking to the transcript of a speech by a U.S. senator was not a crime. Another irrelevant fact: That this document was one of more than 40 such documents, and the only one that represented the views of “climate change deniers.”

So the day unfolded with one nasty email after another directed at my boss, at me, and at some of the world’s leading scholars of climate change — all of whom support the idea of taking serious steps to address it. I was shocked, naïf that I am, to learn later that day that “Joe” was Joe Romm, a former undersecretary of energy in the Clinton administration, and a guy with a Ph.D. from MIT (but apparently, no pedigree in either journalism or spelling).

I had forgotten the incident until a few weeks ago, when what the Right has now dubbed “Climate-gate” erupted in Britain. For those not familiar with the tale, hackers broke into the database holding communications of climate researchers at the University of East Anglia — one of the world’s leading climatology institutions — only to discover what looks to anyone acquainted with the concept of “objectivity” very much like a concerted effort among the world’s leading scientific thinkers to silence anyone who dared to challenge their research.

Predictably — and sadly for the planet — the usual suspects have piled on, claiming to have at least exposed the lie beneath this “hoax” we call climate change. The moral here, of course, is that the suppression of facts, once exposed, destroys any possibility that facts will ever have the impact they should have. The water is permanently muddied by the sophistry of zealots like “Joe” and his friends at East Anglia.

The adoption of this false moral high ground is an old trick: Anti-communists were particularly good at it during the Cold War, but communists practiced the art wonderfully, too. An old saying in the Spanish Civil War declared “anyone to my left is my brother, to my right, a target for my gun.”

If the Earth dries up and life shrivels away, will the thought police of the climate wars bear as much responsibility as those who willfully deny the phenomenon out of economic or political motivations? Of course not. But those who would rather suppress debate than engage in it fairly wind up helping the enemy. I’m not afraid of James Inhofe, and I really find it funny someone with a Ph.D. from MIT would be.

Now, such tactics have super-powered the opposition to rational action. Congratulations, bloggers! I’m sure you’ll all sleep well tonight as action in Copenhagen gets further watered down by the firestorm you’ve created. Yes, your motives are pure, but your methods are fascist.

Michael Moran, a columnist for GlobalPost, was executive editor of CFR.org from 2005 to 2009. During his tenure, his crisis guide series won two Emmy awards.