“There was an assessment by the leaders that it is unrealistic to expect a full internationally, legally binding agreement could be negotiated between now and Copenhagen,” Michael Froman, a deputy U.S. national security adviser, said at the time.
Those rooting for a climate pact at Copenhagen were left to mull over the meeting’s shrinking significance until — twist! — computer hackers turned the global climate conversation on its head with a trove of spicy e-mail messages.
The correspondence — apparently purloined from a server at a British research center — suggested that a few of the globe’s pre-eminent climate scientists were of a sniveling sort, and perhaps inclined to fudge data, stifle contradictory voices and even traffic in a bit of geeky machismo.
“Next time I see Pat Michaels at a scientific meeting,” reads a message allegedly from Benjamin D. Santer, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, referring to a fellow climatologist and skeptic of human-driven warming, “I’ll be tempted” to beat him up.
As they relate to the notion that human industry — in its myriad forms — is having some sort of effect on the climate, the effect of the hacked e-mail messages seemed negligible. “No individual or small group of scientists is in a position to exclude a peer-reviewed paper” from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra K. Pachauri, the chairman of that panel, wrote in a statement late last week.
The I.P.C.C., in reviewing the vast body of climate research, has asserted that human activity — that is to say, the combustion of fossil fuels, the burning of forests, and so forth — is “very likely” contributing to global warming.
But for those inclined to view climate change as a grand hoax perpetrated by a tight-lipped conspiracy of environmentalists and clean-technology investors, the e-mail messages were red meat.
“I certainly don’t condone the manner in which these e-mails were released,” Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma and a longtime skeptic of global-warming science, said in a statement last week. “However, now that they are in the public domain, lawmakers have an obligation to determine the extent to which the so-called ‘consensus’ of global warming, formed with billions of taxpayer dollars, was contrived in the biased minds of the world’s leading climate scientists.”
Mr. Inhofe’s call for an investigation — twist! — had barely escaped his lips when the results of a Washington Post-ABC News poll were released, suggesting that the percentage of Americans who believe that global warming is happening had dipped to 72 percent from 80 percent over the past year.
“It’s a sad state of affairs when science becomes subject to partisan politics,” Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, was quoted as saying in The Post.
“It can only be attributed to the sense that this issue has become part of a political battle.”
Of course, the matter has always been so.
Climate change pits the industrialized world, which has the financial means to adapt to a hotter planet, against poor ones demanding recompense for a problem they did little to create. It pits prosperous countries, which became so through copious use of fossil fuels, against developing economies reluctant to put a price on carbon, now that it’s their turn to grow. And it pits comparatively fuel-efficient and carbon-capping blocs like the European Union against a more reluctant and politically divided United States, itself keenly eyeing CO2-spewing trade rivals like China.