A slew of articles hit today reporting on the release of another batch of emails from climate scientists stolen from the University of East Anglia in the U.K. (See stories from the BBC, New York Times, and TIME Magazine). Most reports suggest they are from the same period as the last bunch that surfaced in late 2009 and led to a manufactured scandal quickly dubbed “Climategate” by climate skeptics. A series of investigations since that time have all exonerated the scientists of any wrongdoing (beyond some pettiness in their discourse). Meanwhile, the real-world data continues to paint an increasingly dire picture on emissions.
What’s interesting this time around is that the framing of the issue in the media is very different. In fact, it reflects the frame that should have applied the first time around, but didn’t. Articles today focus on the fact that whoever stole the emails committed a criminal act, that they remain at large, and that the investigation into the hack has been cursory, at best. Articles today also question the timing of this new release of emails, occurring, as in 2009, in the weeks leading up to an important international climate meeting in Durban, South Africa. Whoever is behind the hacks clearly seeks to disrupt and distract from the work that’ll take place in Durban and hijack the discourse, which is what happened to some degree at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009.
It’s too bad today’s framing didn’t prevail in 2009. Instead of “Climategate,” we should have had “Hackergate,” with the focus not on the normal exchange of emails among climate scientists, but on the who and why behind an illegal, sophisticated and extensive hacking attack. Makes you wonder where the dysfunctional national political dialogue on climate might be today if that had been the case.