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The Hockey Stick and Climate Wars

May 26, 2012 • EMERGING TRENDS, CRITICAL ANALYSIS, CULTURE & LIFESTYLE, Climate Change & Society, World Development

By Michael E. Mann

In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prominently featured the “Hockey Stick,” a chart showing global temperature data over the past one thousand years and how worldwide human activity since the industrial age had raised CO2 levels. The chart became a central icon in the consequent “climate wars.” Michael E. Mann, lead author of the original paper in which the Hockey Stick first appeared, shares the real story of the science and politics behind this controversy.

On the morning of November 17, 2009, I awoke to learn that my private e-mail correspondence with fellow scientists had been hacked from a climate research center at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom and selectively posted on the Internet for all to see. Words and phrases had been cherry-picked from the thousands of e-mail messages, removed from their original context, and strung together in ways designed to malign me, my colleagues, and climate research itself. Sound bites intended to imply impropriety on our part were quickly disseminated over the Internet. Through a coordinated public relations campaign, groups affiliated with the fossil fuel industry and other climate change critics helped catapult these sound bites onto the pages of leading newspapers and onto television screens around the world. A cartoon video ridiculing and falsely accusing me of “hiding the decline” in global temperature was released on YouTube and advertised through a sponsored link that appeared with any Google search of my name. The video eventually even made its way onto the CBS Nightly News. Pundits dubbed the wider issue of the hacked e-mails “climate-
gate,” and numerous investigations were launched. Though our work was subsequently vindicated time and again, the whole episode was a humiliating one – unlike anything I’d ever imagined happening. I had known that climate change critics were willing to do just about anything to try to discredit climate scientists like myself. But I was horrified by what they now had stooped to.

 
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