Back in August, I said "Seems we can look forward to the same sort of lies, manipulation, and manufactured outrage about climate change we're currently enjoying about health care." I hate to say "I told you so", but as we see the same sort of wacko conspiracy theories and the same sort out-of-context quoting as was applied to the health care debate being applied to the stolen emails and documents from the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University...well, I told you so.
So what's really going on here?
First, some background on the science. We know, as certainly as we know anything, that the greenhouse effect is real, that carbon dioxide, methane, ozone (essentially, ozone up high good, ozone down low bad), and CFCs are greenhouse gasses whose presence in the atmosphere makes the planet warmer.
We know for certain that human activity -- the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, certain agricultural techniques -- is adding to levels of these gasses. CO2 levels have risen from about 280 to nearly 380 ppm over the past century and a half, and this CO2 does not come from the oceans outgassing CO2. It's from burning fossil fuels and from deforestation.
These points are simply not open for debate among rational people. If you wish to dispute them, please go wait in line behind the creationists, the "death panel"ers, the "birthers", the "a missile hit the Pentagon and the WTC was brought down with a controlled demolition!" variety of "9/11 truthers", and the Holocaust deniers. Thanks.
We also know with a high degree of certainty that the planet is warming up. This conclusion takes us into the realm of history, which is never as certain as physics or chemistry -- we can't re-run history like we can a physics experiment. And our knowledge of history is very biased: we have the best data from regions where there were literate civilizations, and have to rely on paleontological methods for the rest of the world. Still, while the details are fuzzy, our certainty that the planet warming is very high. That doesn't mean that measured surface temperatures for every year will be warmer than the previous one, any more than every day in May is going to be warmer than the one before.
You can see some some pictures and some details of the temperature trends here and here.
Knowing that the planet is warming, and knowing that we're doing stuff that tends to make the planet warm up, most people would jump to the conclusion that the first is caused by the second.
But scientists are professional skeptics, and thus have to account for extraordinary possibilities. It could be merely a coincidence: the planet does have natural warming and cooling cycles and natural fluctuations in atmospheric CO2 levels. Real skeptics recognize that this would be an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence -- something on the order of claiming that "yes, Smith pointed a gun at Jones and pulled the trigger, and Jones got a hole in him and died, but the wound actually came from a meteorite that coincidentally hit that precise place at that exact time". Possible, but not something that's going to be accepted over the more usual explanation -- Smith shot Jones -- without some significant evidence.
Real skeptics remain open to the presentation of such evidence, but so far, none has come to light. Proposals that the warming can be accounted for by changes in cosmic rays or by changes in solar luminosity (i.e., the the sun getting brighter; see also Peter Laut's paper here) -- changes that would have to just happen to correspond with the uptick in industrial activity -- haven't panned out.
On the other hand, corporate shills, or those who hold to religious beliefs that their god gave mankind the planet to tear up like a spoiled kid messing up a fancy car, or that "property rights" or "markets" are more important than people, have strong incentive to deny the science. Instead they hold that the IPCC, NASA, NOAA, the National Academy of Sciences, the science academies of Brazil, China and India, and numerous other scientific organizations, are all engaged in a sinister conspiracy, with the apparent goal of undermining the national sovereignty of the U.S. and restricting it's God-given right to spew whatever it wants into the atmosphere, in order to...well, that part of the batshit crazy conspiracy theory has never been clear to me. I guess climatologists just hate freedom.
Given the politicization of science, and the prevalence of this sort of batshit crazy conspiracy theory, we can perhaps understand why some climatologists would express frustration -- even express it rudely -- in e-mail intended to be private, shop-talk between colleagues.
So, with that background, let's look at a few of the bits of stolen e-mail causing the most buzz. Time and space only permits me to refute a small part of the batshittery here, but if you want to dig deeper, the discussion threads at realclimate.org are a good place to start.