UK press has cool reaction to second batch of UEA emails

  • 24 Nov 2011, 15:00
  • Ros Donald

Contributors to the comments sections of skeptic websites may be getting the popcorn out to sit in front of their computers and watch new revelations emerge from the second release of hacked emails from the University of East Anglia (UEA) on Monday, but UK news journalists have all but ignored the story.

Despite the fact that the new release has come the week before the UN Durban Climate Change Conference is due to start, apparently with the intention of disrupting the lead-up to the event, even the Daily Mail, hardly the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's biggest fan, sounded unimpressed by the latest batch of emails.

Indeed, only two pieces appeared after UEA gave a press conference yesterday.

The Independent's environmental editor Michael McCarthy gives a straight report today of comments by UEA vice-chancellor Edward Acton and Climatic Research Unit (CRU) member, Phil Jones.

McCarthy notes that the university has geed up its response time in contrast to a rather dismal performance in 2009, and has been quick to reiterate that the release doesn't subvert climate science.

The Express, meanwhile, puts a rather misleading headline on a piece that draws heavily on yesterday's coverage (which picked a few of the hacker's highlighted quotes, as we discussed), as well as whacking in some soundbites from skeptic bloggers and lobbyists. Andrew Montford calls for an enquiry, and Benny Peiser says the emails in which scientists debate their findings show "scientists are less certain about the science than they proclaim".

So why isn't this another huge story?

Well, first - short of revealing the edifying information that one scientist had to go for an operation at one stage - so far it seems there is nothing qualitatively new in the emails. Presumably the hacker picked the best bits to release in 2009 - beside which, the new information seems pretty repetitive.

Even further evidence that scientists may have avoided responding the hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests they received - which Fox News and the GWPF have predictably noted - isn't very meaty, because we already knew about it.

It's also notable that the University at the centre of the story have been more pro-active this time around, holding a press conference and issuing explanatory notes to some of the snippets of emails that have been doing the rounds. Perhaps this reflects that Phil Jones is in a better state of mind than last time, and maybe they've also learned a few lessons by being put through the wringer.

BEST: a "different scientific background"

The Mail also mentions that the release has come "against a rather different scientific background":

"[A]fter the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature review of climate-science data by prominent climate sceptic Richard Muller, which analysed 1.6 billion temperature records, and concluded that global warming was a genuine effect."

The Mail and the majority of climate scientists part ways here, though - even Muller says it makes sense to reduce CO2 emissions - with the paper claiming it's unclear who is responsible for the warming.

The political background has also changed

The lead-up to Copenhagen  - the period when the first emails were leaked - was unusual due to the public and political confidence that countries would reach a binding deal, and unprecedented public support for consensus climate science. US President Barack Obama had yet to suffer the anti-environment onslaught from Republicans that has led to the abandonment of cap and trade legislation and repeated attempts to gut the country's Environmental Protection Agency.

As we know, the countries didn't manage a binding accord. Meanwhile, polls appear to show a fall-off in public support for or confidence in national and international climate change mitigation, although many commentators think that 'Climategate' mark one is only partly responsible for this.

As Canada's National Post says:

"Whatever the case, it is clear that public opinion on global warming is now as muddled as the science seems to be. While there appears to be growing skepticism about the theory of man-made climate change, there still appears to be a willingness to accept measures to curb climate emissions."

The hype in the days before the Durban conference pales in comparison to the excitement before Copenhagen - in the UK, the media appear far more interested in discussing domestic measures such as energy bills than international talks. Although the Guardian obviously know their be-sandled audience still loves a bit of interactive climate diplomacy timeline.

No doubt there will be some follow-up articles, with climate skeptic commentators continuing to plough their furrow, but with no Copenhagen-sized bubble to burst with the release of old emails, wider enthusiasm appears to have waned sooner rather than later.

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