WASHINGTON — At a critical time, the uproar over stolen e-mails suggesting that scientists suppressed contrary views about climate change has emboldened skeptics — including congressional Republicans looking to scuttle President Barack Obama's push for mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases.
The e-mail brouhaha, dubbed "Climategate" by doubters, comes as U.S. delegates to the international climate conference in Copenhagen are trying to convince the world that the United States is determined to move aggressively to rein in heat-trapping pollution. To counter the delegates, a group of GOP lawmakers is going to Copenhagen to argue against mandatory greenhouse gas reductions.
The climate skeptics gained political momentum when former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said Obama should boycott the negotiations in Denmark and "not be a party to fraudulent scientific practices" — a reference to the e-mails from computers belonging to scientists at a British climate research center.
Obama is going anyway.
Former Vice President Al Gore, the most recognized U.S. voice on climate change, quickly rebutted Palin and accused the climate deniers in an interview on CNN of "taking things out of context and misrepresenting" what the e-mails actually said.
On Thursday, more than 1,700 British scientists released a statement saying they continue to have "the utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming and the scientific basis for concluding that it is due primarily to human activities."
That hasn't stopped Senate Republicans. More than two dozen sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Thursday demanding an independent inquiry into the e-mails. GOP lawmakers say they will raise questions about what they consider a corruption of climate science at the Denmark conference, where delegates from 192 nations are trying to forge a political deal.
It all began when hackers broke into the computer system of a highly respected climate research center at Britain's University of East Anglia, stole several thousand e-mails spanning a decade between some of the world's leading climate scientists, and three weeks ago put some of the spiciest ones on the Internet.
One referred to using a "trick" that could be used to "hide the decline" of temperatures. Another disparaged the skeptics, and a scientist said "the last thing I need is news articles claiming to question temperature increases."
"These e-mails show a pattern of suppression, manipulation and secrecy," insisted Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a longtime climate change skeptic who is among a group of GOP lawmakers heading for Copenhagen.