Andrew Leonard at Salon makes a good point about what has come to be called (inevitably) “Climategate.” Yes, the hacking into private e-mails was a criminal act, but the apparently unethical behind-the-scenes behavior of the scientists involved is bound to shake public confidence in climate science, whether or not such a response is reasonable. As Leonard makes clear, the only thing for defenders of the science to do is to publicly explain why this information doesn’t alter the scientific case for human-caused climate change. Anything else will just look like they’re trying to avoid the main issue.
The only meaningful response to this crisis is to get out in front, explain the context of each and every e-mail, and address forthrightly whatever improprieties may or may not exist. Because there may well be more to come.
Nothing I’ve seen indicates that this changes anything as far as the science goes (see here and here for starters), but in a country where one party mostly doesn’t believe climate change is happening and (at least) half of the other party will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing anything about it, you can’t cede the p.r. war to the other side or hope that it will just go away. There are very powerful vested interests dedicated to stopping any serious action on climate change; they’re not just going to drop this.