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Memo to Climategate Hacker: Poor Nations Don't Want Your Kind of Help

Posted on 25 November 2011 by dana1981

Aside from containing the B-list, benchwarmer stolen emails, the main difference between this round of Climategate and the last is that this time the Climategate hacker revealed the motivation behind his crime in a READ ME file:

"Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day."

"Every day nearly 16.000 children die from hunger and related causes."

"One dollar can save a life" -- the opposite must also be true.

"Poverty is a death sentence."

"Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilize  greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels."

Today's decisions should be based on all the information we can get, not on hiding the decline.

In short, the hacker believes that money spent on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate human-caused climate change is money not spent on alleviating poverty.  Thus, by hacker logic, mitigating global warming will lead to the deaths of many poor people.  However, the hacker's logic in making this argument is fundamentally wrong in every conceivable way, as Richard Black with the BBC also correctly surmised.

Poor Nations Want Climate Mitigation

The poorest nations, whose people the hacker claims to be concerned about, want serious international action to address climate change:

"African, Least Developed Countries and countries of the ALBA alliance in Latin America have agreed to work together to ensure that the Durban Climate Conference later this year delivers outcomes that strengthen the climate regime, cut emissions and deliver on climate finance"

In fact, the poorest nations want to set a more aggressive, 1.5°C global warming limit target (as opposed to the current 2°C international target).

So the hacker's motiviation - to undermine efforts to mitigate climate change - is the exact opposite of the goals of the poorest nations.  In fact, the poorest nations are so serious about this goal that they have agreed to work together to try and maximize the progress made towards climate mitigation at the upcoming Durban climate conference - the same conference the hacker appears to be attempting to derail by releasing the stolen email benchwarmers a week before it begins.

There is a very good reason why the poorest nations are pushing so hard for climate change mitigation.

Poor Nations Will be Disproportionately Impacted by Climate Change

An unfortunate irony of climate change is that the poorest nations, which have contributed the least to the problem, will tend to experience the brunt of the effects (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Per capita emissions vs. vulnerability to climate change, from Samson et al. (2011)

Samson et al. (2011) found that African nations in particular are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts despite generally producing very low CO2 emissions.  In addition to being in vulnerable regions, poorer nations lack the resources to easily adapt to rapid climate change, which poses something of an ethical dilemma for the wealthier nations.

The poor nations have contributed the least to the problem, will experience some of the worst impacts, and have the least resources to adapt to them.  Is it any wonder they're pushing for international action to mitigate global warming?

Our Hero's Resumé: Hacker and Expert Quote-Miner

The hacker's "logic" is based on a quote from a Scientific American article about an International Energy Agency (IEA) report:

"Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilize  greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels."

However, like the emails he stole, the hacker has quote-mined and grossly misrepresented the Scientific American article and the IEA conclusions.  Of the referenced $37 trillion, the same article later notes that 

"$26 trillion in 2008 U.S. dollars through 2030 is needed for energy projects to meet growing energy demand, if the world continues on its current energy-use trajectory and remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

Another $10.5 trillion must be spent to lower energy-related greenhouse gas emissions over that span to meet a lower-carbon scenario"

So the actual cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not $37 trillion, but less than one-third of that amount, at $10.5 trillion.  But the hacker's misrepresentation of Scientific American and the IEA report doesn't stop there.  A few paragraphs later, the same article notes:

"Additional investment needed to meet the lower-carbon scenario would be offset by $8.6 trillion in health, security and energy savings benefits, the report says.

IEA warns that delaying emission curbs will be disastrous -- and would add far more to the already considerable costs needed to adopt lower-carbon alternatives."

So now the cost of reducing emissions has dropped from $37 trillion to less than $2 trillion, without even taking into account the benefits associated with mitigating climate change.  And as discussed above, a large chunk of those benefits will be experienced by poor countries, if we can manage to curb climate change and its impacts.  In fact, the IEA warns that delaying action to address climate change - which is exactly what the hacker is trying to do - will ultimately result in higher costs.

It's also worth noting that the hacker has presented us with a false dichotomy by assuming that a dollar spent on climate change is a dollar not spent on aiding the poor.  There's no reason we can't do both, and in fact international efforts to address climate change will both involve reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing funds to poorer countries to help them adapt to its consequences, in addition to developing low-emissions infrastructure of their own.

Speaking of quote-mining misrepresentations, the source of the hacker's "Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day" quote is Rabbi Michael Lerner, who also said:

"global climate change, a product of irresponsible forms of industrialization and use of scientific and technological knowledge divorced from ethical concerns, has caused a deepening of the starvation and malnutrition that afflicts our planet."

Somehow we don't think he would appreciate being quote-mined to make an argument in favor of continued reliance on fossil fuels and the associated impacts on the poor.

Continued Ignorance about 'The Decline'

The most widely-misunderstood quote-mined comment from the first round of Climategate pertained to the phrase "hide the decline."  This time around, the hacker claims that today's decisions are being based on "hide the decline," but this reveals complete ignorance about the meaning of the phrase, which refers to the divergence between global temperatures (which we know are going up) and tree rings in certain parts of the world (which suggest that temperatures have declined slightly over the past 50 years).

We know that these tree rings are wrong, because we have much more accurate surface temperature stations which have monitored global temperature over this period.  In fact, ironically, we have learned since the first round of Climategate that the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (CRU), from which the hacker stole these emails, has actually underestimated global warming.

Our decisions about the climate aren't based on tree rings.  They're based on the fact that the planet is warming rapidly, humans are primarily to blame, and the consequences of that warming will be predominantly negative (especially for poorer nations).

Hacker Generously Donates Two-Year-Old Turkey

The Climategate hacker misguidedly seems to believe he can help the poor by feeding them his two-year-old turkey.  However, the poor nations have explained the type of help they want, and it's the opposite of the stale leftovers the hacker is offering.  They have concluded that we can best help them by addressing human-caused climate change.  This conclusion is based on the body of scientific evidence, and a few stolen and quote-mined emails don't change the scientific reality that the planet is warming dangerously rapidly, human greenhouse gas emissions are the dominant driver of that warming, and the resulting climate change will hit the poorest nations the hardest.

If the Climategate hacker were truly interested in helping the poor, he would help them achieve their scientifically-based goals rather than committing crimes in an attempt to undermine their efforts.  With friends like the Climategate hacker, who needs enemies?

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Comments 1 to 26:

  1. Personally, I reckon that this is just a faintly plausible attempt at a 'noble' justification - I seriously doubt that concern for the poor is an actual motivation... And, as you eloquently point out, even if it were - it's wrong.
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  2. The US has a $15 trillion deficit by using fossil fuels badly, eating to much and by pretending to create free markets. The responsibility for this is modern political ideology and economics (left and right). What has the deficit achieved?? Not a lot, politics in the US has taken a path for the worse, resulting in political trench warfare and lines drawn that can not be crossed. Even if $37 trillion dollars were needed world wide, it seems like a small price to pay considering the massive long term benefits in securing energy systems that will be around for thousands of years, rather than a 200 or so. I actually consider many AGW skeptics today to be modern luddites, afraid of the new and exciting world of real technology developments. For some time now, the real cutting edge has been in renewables and 'green' technology. It is really pushing people and companies to do more with less.
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  3. And why didn't he release all of the mails two years ago. By holding back the truth he has allowed the ecofascists to suck the blood out of the poor for two whole years! FOIA has blood on his hands!
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  4. It seems that the poor and those most at threat of AGW are running out of patience, Climate change: vulnerable countries consider 'occupying' Durban talks. Well, there you have it. It seems the hackers are engaging in criminal activity for all the wrong reasons (not that criminal activity is ever justified). That or their "noble cause" is just a front for their vendetta against climate scientists and them preventing action being taken to mitigate AGW. I'm beginning to think it is the latter. I see Dr. Pielke Sr.and his son have no trouble quote mining the stolen emails to further their personal agendas. Tsk tsk.
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  5. Illegal hacking, selective quote mining, misrepresentation. Some example these skeptics set forth, although it's standard ops from we have seen so far. I note that the "side" so vocal against climate action is also where the most belly aching is heard on helping poor countries. That tune obviously changes according to the need of the moment. Some ideologues are definitely adept at improvisation and can even be said to be "playing outside."
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  6. Albatross, Dr Pielke has copiously demonstrated here the extent of his double standards. When challenged on it, all he could do was try to change the subject, so what else could be expected?
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  7. You can read the full ALBA-LDC statement for Durban here . The original figures for 10,5 trillion $ additional investment in 450 scenario compared to Reference Scenario in WEO 2009 report are here and here .
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  8. The fact is that most developing Countries will benefit far more from relatively cheap (in both the medium & long term) distributed energy generation projects(like bio-gas derived from various waste streams, coupled with localized solar, wind & micro-hydro projects) than they would from large, centralized power generation projects which will have a large land-use footprint, create enormous amounts of toxic waste and/or cost a lot in ongoing non-renewable fuel. I know which approach I'd pick if I was seeking to alleviate poverty....just as I know which approach I'd use if I was seeking to line the pockets of the big resource corporations (like Rio Tinto & BHP).
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  9. That is absolutely correct Marcus. Distributed solar energy is economically a better option for many Africans:
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  10. My view is that the readme is a smockscreen to try to hide the identity of the hacker. He uploads the emails to a Russian server. He artificially sets the date on the files to hide his time zone in the newest batch of emails. He creates a readme file to suggest his aim is to protect the poor. Yet first time round he made a few mistakes. The most serious was leaving time zone information on the zipped files, where was his time zone? -5 GMT, most likely Eastern Canada or USA. He is not really interested in protecting the poor at all.
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  11. Most likely the thief does believe what he says about the poor countries but it is not his sole or even main motivation. If the time zone information is correct then he probably did it from ideological motives.
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  12. Whoever is really willing to help the poor I'm sure would not miss any chance. They need food AND water AND health care AND education AND ... [long list here]. A liveable environment is one of the prerequisites. The problem, then, is not who wants to help the poors and who does not, it's the perception that climate change is not a threat, which may turn out to be a fatal mistake. Providing food, water or whatever without helping them building their future will result in their being poor forever, surely not a desirable outcome, not to me at least.
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  13. Is there any significance in the reference to FOIA? Wasn't the file named FOIA or something? In the UK the media etc. usually refer to the 'FOI Act', where as American media outlets often refer to 'FOIA'. Do a Google search and you'll see the difference. If I was an American hacker who hadn't thought about it to much, I would probably go straight for FOIA as a name.
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  14. While you say that the poorer countries are the ones most concerned about climate change, that is not really the case. (-snip-)
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Political/ideological statements snipped. Please see the warning you were given here.
  15. Patrick @14, "The poorer countries are the noisiest on this issue because they have their eyes on the massive transfers of money from the developed countries." What an offense statement. You provide no evidence for your hypothesis other than an opinion piece from a blog. You are also forgetting to mention that the poor nations are the ones demanding a drastic reduction in GHG emissions. They do not need or want your kind of "help", do not claim to speak for them or know what they wish based on one person's rant on a blog.
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  16. Patrick, this is a science blog where assertions, especially outrageous ones, are expected to be supported by data. That poorer countries are the one most vulnerable to climate change is very well documented (see AR4 for starters). Your opinion piece by contrast appears to be a political narrative designed to appeal to right-wing sensitivities without supporting evidence.
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  17. Speaking of Africa... While Africa has successfully avoided conflict over shared water courses, it will need greater diplomacy to keep the peace as new research warns that climate change will have an effect on food productivity. Climate change introduces a new element of uncertainty precisely when governments and donors are starting to have more open discussions about sharing water resources and to consider long-term investments in boosting food production," Alain Vidal, director of the CGIAR’s Challenge Programme on Water and Food (CPWF) told more than 300 delegates attending the Third International Forum on Water and Food being held in Pretoria, South Africa from Nov. 11 to 18. GCIAR unites agricultural research organisations with the donors. "To prevent this uncertainty from undermining key agreements and commitments, researchers must build a reliable basis for decisions, which takes into account the variable impacts of climate change on river basins." Source: “A Threat to Food Security in Africa's River Basins” IPS, Nov 15, 2011 To access this in-depth article, click here.
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  18. Global leaders will gather next week in Durban, South Africa to determine how to cap global warming at two degrees Celsius. This limit would entail de facto agreement to a global carbon budget of no more than 660 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions between now and 2050, climate science says. But at the current pace of emissions, countries will blow through the entire carbon budget before 2025. After 17 years of negotiations, the 193 nations in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) charged with developing a strategy to ensure global warming does not exceed two degrees Celsius have failed to curb the growth of carbon emissions. In Durban, they will engage once more in what has ballooned into extraordinarily complex negotiations mired in political blame games and arguments over money. No one thinks that situation will change anytime soon. Source: “Radical Change Needed at Durban Conference, Experts Say” by Stepehn Leahy, IPS, Nov 24, 2011 To access this in-depth article, click here.
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  19. As she surveys her small, bare plot in Zimbabwe's capital, farmer Janet Vambe knows something serious is happening, even if she has never heard of climate change. "Long ago, I could set my calendar with the date the rains started," the 72-year-old said. Nowadays, "we have to gamble with the rains. If you plant early you might lose and if you plant late you might win. We are at a loss of what to do." Paramu Mafongoya, a University of Zimbabwe agronomist, says Vambe's worries and those of millions of other poor farmers — most of them women — across Africa are a clear sign of the impact of climate change on a continent already struggling to feed itself. Changes have been noted in the timing and the distribution of rainfall on the continent. Zimbabweans say the rainy season has become shorter and more unpredictable, Mafongoya said. Climate change "is a serious threat to human life," Mafongoya said. "It affects agriculture and food security everywhere." Source: “Climate change hits Africa's poorest farmers” AP, Nov 26, 2011 To access this in-depth article, click here.
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  20. Thanks John. Good resources.
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  21. Paul D @2 "... politics in the US has taken a path for the worse, resulting in political trench warfare" Your comments are Political... "....I actually consider many AGW skeptics today to be modern luddites" AND ad hominem...... Both are against the Comments Policy Comments Policy
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    [DB]  The relevant portions of the Comments Policy you refer to are:

    • No politics. Rants about politics, ideology or one world governments will be deleted.

    Paul D was fairly even-handed in his discussion of politics, so it cannot be construed as a rant.

    • No ad hominem attacks. Attacking other users or anyone holding a different opinion to you is common in debates but gets us no closer to understanding the science. For example, comments containing the words 'religion' and 'conspiracy' tend to get deleted. Comments using labels like 'alarmist' and 'denier' are usually skating on thin ice.

    Since Paul D is not addressing anyone specifically, but is referring to "many AGW skeptics" he is, at worst, "skating on thin ice" with his use of the word luddite:

    1. One who fears technology (or new technology, as they seem pleased with how things currently are...why can't everything just be the same?)

    2. A group led by Mr. Luddite durring the industrial revolution who beleived machines would cause workers wages to be decreased and ended up burning a number of factories in protest
    A luddite generally claims things were "just fine" back in the day, and refuses to replace/update failing equipment/software/computers on the basis that they were just fine 10 years ago.
  22. bill @1 You say... I seriously doubt that concern for the poor is an actual motivation... The Comments Policy states.... "You may criticise a person's methods but not their motives."
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    [DB] Please cease with the Concern Trolling.  Thank you.

  23. Karl an 'ad hominem' attack has to be directed at a person, not a loosely defined group of people. Regarding my observation of America. It was an observation and an expression of disappointment in the current situation. I am on record as being critical of all current political ideologies, whether left or right.
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  24. Oh and BTW, I have in the past had my comments deleted by moderators here. Yes it is annoying, but life goes on and one finds ways of expressing ideas within the context of the rules.
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  25. I see that what constitutes an ad-hom was not clarifed for Karl. An ad-hominem argument is a rethorical tactic that consists of attacking the person in an attempt to invalidate the person's message, while the attack on the person has no bearing at all on the validity of the message, whether or not there is any truth to justify the personal attack. It is a logical fallacy. Example: Chris Monckton eats little children for breakfast, therefore his tilted graph is horse-puckey. This example consitutes a logical fallacy and is a true ad-hom argument. Whatever Mr Monckton eats for breakfast has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of his graph, as unspeakable as it may be. Of course we all know that Mr Monckton does not eat little children for breakfast, but whether the accusation is true or false is irrelevant. His tilted graph is horse puckey because taking a graph made by someone else and tilting it at an a angle to make it look different is, in itself, a grotesque misrepresentation that needs in fact no particular refutation. A lot of people confuse ad-hom and personal attack. They are different. An ad-hom logical fallacy does contain a personal attack, but goes beyond and draws a conclusion that does not follow from the personal attack. A personal attack alone is just that. If it does correspond to reality, then it becomes pretty close to a statement of fact, provided the language remains factual. As for the "modern luddites" comment, it can be argued to be a statement of fact. It is not an ad-hom, since no conclusion on the validity of anything is inferred directly from the statement. On ideologies, I definitely agree with Paul D. It's only a few select micro-organisms that have killed more people than ideologies. They certainly are one of the worst ever enemy of mankind.
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  26. UEA's climate scientists have been hounded and falsely vilified because of the hacker's lack of understanding of basic scientific methods. Millions of decent people struggling to come to terms with climate change have been misled by his half-baked information. Most grievously of all, the billions of families who scrape by on less than $2 a day have had their lives put further at risk. What would most help these impoverished families is for the UN climate talks in Durban to result in a strong climate deal. This hacker attack, timed to derail the process once more by falsely undermining the science, is the last thing they need. If the hacker's moral purpose is to help the poor, then he has scored a spectacular own goal “Climategate Hacker Scores Own Goal” Huffington Post, Nov 29, 2011 Click here to access this article.
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