Reversal of Fortune: “Climategate” and the Deepwater Horizon Blowout

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For those who accept the premises that global warming and “peak oil” are major problems facing humanity, we appear to be in a bellwether period. Unfortunately, this is true in a negative sense. Events through 2010 indicate that American society has made an implicit decision not to address those issues, and U.S. policy obviously has a major effect on international agreements. This paper examines the impacts of two of those events – the “Climategate” controversy and the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico – and their implications for the future state of energy policy and the environment.

The year 2010 may be remembered as the year that climate policy came to a standstill. The failure of the Copenhagen Summit in 2009 and the collapse of a climate bill in the U.S. Senate in 2010 have left advocates of action on the problem of global warming at an impasse.

The impact of the controversy known as “Climategate” on this state of affairs should not be underestimated. Far from being merely a spat between warring scientists and advocates, or just another media circus, “Climategate” was part of a calculated strategy to undermine public confidence in science and its institutions. Its immediate effect in weakening support for both federal legislation and a global accord is only a short-term impact. The longer term implications point to an end of public policy not directly controlled by private interests.

The release of e-mails, documents and computer code from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in November 2008 was described initially as a “hack” and subsequently as a “leak.” The source of the leak remains unknown as of this writing. The sequence of events by which “Climategate” was brought into the world, however, is fairly clear.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011

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  • Globalisation and Ecological Integrity in Science and International Law
    This volume returns to one of the major themes of the Global Ecological Integrity Group: the interface between integrity as a scientific concept and a number of important issues in ethics, international law and public health. The main scholars who have worked on these topics over the years return to re-examine these dimensions from the viewpoint of global governance.
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