The Climategate files have led to a reexamination of the science behind climate change, and the arguments of the so-called climate skeptics have been vindicated. It’s time for them to take a deserved victory lap.

But skeptics can’t afford to get cocky.

Elsewhere in PJ Media, there are a number of reactions to the bombshell interview with Dr. Phil Jones, director of the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia and one of the first people to feel the consequences of Climategate. Those other PJM articles cover, in much greater detail than I will, the implications of the interview in which Jones begins to come clean about the machinations of the climate clique. Clarity regarding the science is important, but it’s not the science that has made “climate change” what it is today. To understand that, we need to look at what has really driven the issue into prominence.

To understand that — as always — we must ask: Who benefits, and how?

Start with the scientists. An academic scientist rarely gets wealthy. There have been a lot of mistaken comments over the last months about how specific academics have gotten rich from million-dollar grants, or from half-million dollar “stimulus” awards.

Academics don’t function like that. The principal investigator doesn’t take home the grant. The money is instead split with the university, and the remainder allocated under strict accounting rules to pay for graduate assistantships, post-doctoral appointments, research expenses, and things like travel. (See a discussion of this at PJM: “Climategate: Who Benefits when the IPCC Lies.”)

The academic scientist’s reward isn’t directly from the money. The grants mean more opportunities for research, more publications, and more press coverage, all of which contribute towards the quest for the Holy Grail of academic life — tenure at a well-known institution.

Increasingly, universities cut out indirection and simply let it be known that tenure doesn’t come unless you bring in a large dollar amount of external support.

When the issue of climate change became politically charged, publishing a paper on global warming put you on a fast track: There was grant money to be had, lots of it … if you supported the apocalyptic CO2-driven model.

There were publications to be had, if — as we saw from the Climategate emails — you supported the climate clique’s theory. (If you were a journalist, as we say with Andrew Revkin at the New York Times, it helped to be known as “reliable.”)

There were conferences to speak at. Those conferences, centered on a popular topic with UN support, tended to be in places like Tahiti, the Canadian Rockies, or Swiss ski resorts. But you’d only get invited if you were contributing to the Cause.

Express any note of skepticism — as, for example, the Pielkes have — and you could expect a spanking. First you would lose access to the good journals; eventually you would suffer from glaring ad hominem attacks.

Once the theory of anthropogenic, CO2-forced global warming was politically established, it’s no wonder that the “scientific consensus” leaned in that direction.

So how did the theory become politically established?

Some true believers among the scientists, like James Hansen of NASA, had been pushing the notion that humans were ruining the world since long before the AGW theory was popular. These true believers pressed their agenda with politicians, and found plenty who saw it as important.

The politicians tended to be on the left side of the political spectrum. There is a natural confluence of interests among believers who feel people should be forced to reduce their environmental impact and politicians who feel that industry is inherently suspect and must be controlled by government.