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Friday, July 16, 2010

Climate Denial Machine -- how Morano feeds it

This Man Wants to Convince You Global Warming Is a Hoax

by John H. Richardson, Esquire, March 30, 2010

Early on the morning of November 17, 2009, Gavin Schmidt sat down at his computer and entered his password. It didn't work. Strange, he thought. He tried a few other accounts and none of them worked, either. Now he was alarmed. As a leading climatologist with NASA’s Goddard Institute in Manhattan, he’d been hacked before. He was used to e-mails from people who disapproved of his work, threatening e-mails that detailed the romantic life he was going to have in prison. So he knew what to do: He logged in via the Unix shell command.

A second later, the computer logged him off — and locked him out. Someone was in there, fighting him in real time. Schmidt sent an emergency message to his Web server:


When they started the system up again, hours later, Schmidt found a forged Web page and a link to a file holding thousands of what looked like private e-mails written by some leading climatologists who study global warming. In addition to being a massive theft, it was a dark joke. Because the Goddard Institute is the professional home of James Hansen, the scientist famous for first sounding the alarm on rising temperatures back in 1988, and these particular e-mails had been compiled as part of a bitter Freedom of Information fight launched by contrarians who insist that global warming is a hoax, the hacker was posting the e-mails as a malicious tweak. He came in via a misconfigured proxy server in Turkey that was on a list of the proxy servers people use if they want to hide their tracks.

But the hacker had moved on. He'd been working on this for weeks, maybe longer, risking prison on charges of industrial espionage. A few hours later, he posted this note on a blog called The Air Vent:

"We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps. We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code, and documents. Hopefully it will give some insight into the science and the people behind it.

"This is a limited time offer, download now."

Two days later, Marc Morano is riding up the Pacific Coast Highway in the back of a rental car, a big cheerful guy with five o'clock shadow that makes him look like Barney Rubble. He was eleven when his older brother got him a job on the Reagan campaign placing sound bites with radio stations, which eventually led to a job with Rush Limbaugh and three years as communications director for Senator James Inhofe, where he made the words Global warming is a hoax world famous. Now he's forty-one and he's enjoying the downtime between political speeches, catching glimpses of the California ocean — on these lecture tours, he just runs and runs and runs until all he wants is a quiet place to drink a beer and smoke a cigar.

But a call comes in from Anthony Watts, a retired TV weatherman who runs one of the leading contrarian blogs, and he has astonishing news about some e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England. There's explosive stuff there — in one, a scientist actually rejoices over a contrarian's death. How's that for scientific detachment? Another says he's using a trick to "hide the decline" in temperature. A trick!

It's exactly what the contrarians have been saying for years. The leading global-warming scientists are scamming the world. Billions of dollars in green energy and CO2 restrictions and it all comes down to their reputations and their grant money.

So Watts is posting a note on his Web site: "The details on this are still sketchy, we'll probably never know what went on. But it appears that University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit has been hacked and many many files have been released by the hacker or person unknown..."

"Many many" files is right. There are thousands of them, nearly a million words total. Fortunately, the hacker took the time to draw up an annotated list. Watts is posting some of the juiciest.

The timing is perfect. The United Nations climate conference starts in Copenhagen in three weeks. The activists are pushing for a 40 percent cut in CO2 emissions within ten years, a revolutionary number. The eyes of the world are open wide and suddenly here's this tremendous gift: Climate-gate, they'll call it. With any luck, it will be just like the story that put Morano on the map, the one he wrote in a hurry late on a Friday afternoon in the spring of 2004 that was supposed to be the beginning of a vacation. He was working at the time for the right-wing CNS News service, and his boss wanted a pound of flesh before he left, as bosses do, so he made some calls and a contact suggested he call a guy named John O'Neill down in Texas. A few minutes later O'Neill was on the phone, sounding surprised. Yeah, he was leading a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, hundreds of them, all ready to declare that John Kerry was unfit to be commander in chief. Yeah, nineteen of them had actually served with Kerry. They even had his commanding officer, who said he'd had thorn pricks that were worse than some of Kerry's wounds.

Morano knew it was big. He stayed late, digging through clips and calling Kerry's office for comment. "You asked for a pound of flesh," he told his editor. "I may have given you several."

The story ran on Monday under the headline "KERRY UNFIT TO BE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF," SAY FORMER MILITARY COLLEAGUES, when Morano was down in North Carolina, at Nag's Head with his two baby girls. It blew up into international news, turning the Swift Boaters' press conference into a mob scene, the beginning of the end for Kerry, who simply didn't understand what he was up against. It didn't matter that the claims of the Swift Boaters would later be documented to be lavishly financed lies; the actual truth was a lumbering dinosaur in the face of a blitzkrieg. Morano followed it with stories like KERRY'S MEETING WITH COMMUNISTS VIOLATED U. S. LAW and FBI FILES SHOW KERRY MET WITH COMMUNISTS MORE THAN ONCE.

But that was when he still had some institutional support behind him. Now he's all alone in a hotel room with a laptop, a phone, and a BlackBerry, and his only weapon is a Web site called Climate Depot.

Listen and learn, pilgrim. This is how the information wars are fought in the age of the Internet, when an isolated outside voice can swing the debate and change the world. The story starts with Hansen's congressional testimony back in '88: "The greenhouse effect has been detected and it is changing our climate now." Within a few years, the fossil-fuel industry was fighting back with films like The Greening of Planet Earth, which said that more CO2 would actually be good for farmers. Big Oil and Big Coal funded sympathetic think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and also outright front groups with names like Friends of Science and the Global Climate Coalition, all of which came up with an endless stream of arguments for why global warming wasn't happening and even if it was, nothing should be done about it. Some of their criticisms were valid, like questioning the more extreme predictions for ocean-level rise or the dubious link to hurricanes, and they were certainly right to bring up the cost-benefit analysis of cap-and-trade. But as the science piled up, each bit of evidence more convincing than the last, more and more people were starting to believe that global warming was real.

The first turning point was 1997, when the nations of the world agreed to limit their CO2 emissions at the Kyoto Protocol. A year later, the American Petroleum Institute hired a conservative PR expert named Steve Milloy to develop a "Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan." They had to tell a better story and tell it fast. They had to change the narrative. Milloy ran a Web site called Junk Science, joined in time by Climate Audit and Ice Cap and a thousand others, all hammering the same message — ignore global warming. There was even an evangelical-Christian faction, led by something called the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. Then, in 2006, Al Gore killed them with An Inconvenient Truth. On one side you had a Nobel-prize-winning vice-president, the world's leading scientists, a Hollywood cheering section, and a growing public consensus. On the other, a handful of legitimate scientists and a small but noisy group of amateurs, ideologues, and cranks. At the peak of the consensus, 84 percent of Americans thought global warming was a threat. The only thing they agreed on more was the existence of God.

Then Morano got hired as the communications director for Jim Inhofe, the dyspeptic senator from Oklahoma. Setting to work, he began compiling so many inflammatory stories and documents on Inhofe's Web site, Newsweek said he was "more like a wire service than a spokesman." He began to use the Web in pugnacious new ways, like printing the e-mail addresses of reporters and scientists and inviting readers to pester them. All this made Inhofe's office the global center of the resistance, but it also infuriated people. "Morano is unquotable and uncitable," said one influential climate blog. "Besides his penchant for smear, he just makes stuff up." Another investigated his e-mail list. A scientist threatened him with a libel suit. Eventually other Republicans started telling Inhofe to fire him — he was unprofessional, they said. He appealed to Inhofe's worst instincts.

Morano took those as compliments.

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