In watching a couple of TV discussions on “Global Warming” this past week, I noted a clear whiff of desperation emanating from the zealots. (Of course, it is now re-branded as “Climate Change,” a marketing change made necessary by the inconvenient fact that the earth’s temperature has stopped rising since 1998.) According to Al Gore the polar ice cap is supposed to be gone by now, but it is still there and the polar bears are just fine. When the evidence is against you, it gets harder and harder to convince people that they should give up air conditioning and cars in order to respond to the “crisis” you are trying to whip up.
George Will said the other day that when a politician tells you that “the debate is over” it generally means two things: (1) that the debate is raging and (2) he is losing. The Wall Street Journal published a poll of 15 current issues and asked readers to rank them in order of importance. Global Warming (or Climate Change) finished dead last. So why are the Global Warming alarmists losing?
First, let’s recall what the so-called “science” of climate actually is. I put the word “science” in scare quotes because if it is a science at all it is one just in its infancy. A natural science is empirically based. It formulates theories and ways to test those theories by experiments. For example, when Einstein formulated his general theory of relativity, he made predictions for the deflection of starlight by the sun during the total solar eclipse of May 29, 1919. When these predictions proved to be accurate, he regarded it as confirmation of his theory and he justifiably became famous over night. This is how science works.
Now, can you think of a similar example of how the so-called theory of climate change has made specific predictions that have come true? The IPCC 2007 report stated that the glaciers on the Himalayan Mountains were melting so fast that they would disappear by 2035, which, if true, would have catastrophic implications for the water supply of both India and China. Then it came out that this prediction was not based on a peer-reviewed scientific article but on an interview with a scientist in a popular magazine, despite the IPCC’s assurance that its findings were all based on peer-reviewed scientific papers only. (Basically, the whole IPCC report is one giant literature review; the UN does not actually do the scientific research itself.) The Guardian of Britain, (hardly a right-wing rag!), reported that the “The UN’s climate science body has admitted that a claim made in its 2007 report – that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035 – was unfounded.” Skeptics like me think that this is not a mere “mistake” but simply one of the many examples of the politicization of science with which the IPCC report is riddled. An interesting tidbit later in the Guardian article seems to me to lend support to my suspicions:
Georg Kaser, an expert in tropical glaciology at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and a lead author for the IPCC, said he had warned that the 2035 prediction was clearly wrong in 2006, months before the report was published. “This [date] is not just a little bit wrong, but far out of any order of magnitude,” he said.
The editors of the IPCC 2007 were warned before publication that this was a mistake; they had a chance to correct it before it went public. Why was it left in? The only answer that makes sense is that it was just too juicy to give up; it has emotional-political punch and such tidbits are necessary for the propaganda work of the global warming zealots. Besides, most scientists are too intimidated by the global warming industry to speak out. The Climategate emails revealed a cabal of climate scientists conspiring in secret to keep the papers of dissenters from global warming orthodoxy from being allowed to publish in scientific journals. Millions of dollars in funding and career paths are on the line and a significant number of people stand to make millions and even billions of dollars from government subsidies of renewable energy and from trading in carbon credits. So dissent is not tolerated; they are not burning us at the stake yet but they clearly wish they could.
The point is that whenever the global warming lobby makes specific predictions they do not come true. The only way they ever get true predictions is by making them so general that every possible event in the future counts as confirmation. You often hear them saying that “extreme weather” is a result of climate change. But you don’t hear things like: “Storms of such as such specifications have increased by such and such a percentage over the past ten years in the following specific areas of the globe as predicted by so and so in 1997.” You don’t hear precise predictions based on actual knowledge; you just hear things like “the weather is getting wilder so it must be climate change.” But when weather is within historically normal parameters and someone points this out the answer is always a condescending: “weather is not climate.” But as soon as there is a high-profile storm in the news, weather is evidence for climate change. People notice this sort of thing and it breeds skepticism.
Last week Barack Obama went to California, where major Democratic party donors are fervent climate change believers and are demanding that he “do something.” He made a speech in which he blamed climate change (i.e. carbon emissions) for the drought in the Central Valley. The problem is that the drought in the Central Valley is the result of environmental activism and government regulation, not climate change. The Central Valley would be a desert if not for irrigation and advanced water systems. Such a water management system was built in the 1960s and was designed to withstand a five-year drought. But a federal judge ruled that 3 million acre-feet of water must be diverted from the Central Valley and flushed into the ocean in order to save an endangered species of smelt. The House of Representatives passed a bill two years ago that would have reversed this situation and gotten the needed water to the farmers, but Obama threatened to veto it. So now we know what it cost to save the smelt: the destruction of Central Valley agriculture and a billion dollars. This is madness. First, the meddlesome activist government creates a problem and then attempts to ride to the rescue to solve it by flushing a billion dollars out into the ocean with the smelt. And all this lunacy is justified by appeal to “climate change.” No wonder people are fed up with global warming fanatics and don’t want to hear any more about it.
The Global Warming Cult is a religious offshoot of Marxism. It rests on the premise that free markets, capitalism, the industrial revolution, and modern, Western society are all evil. If you start from the premise that industrial capitalism is evil, you don’t need much convincing that the increased emission of carbon is a threat to the globe. Even if carbon turns out to be benign and global warming never happens, any weakening of the industrial capitalist order is a good thing for such people. This is why they play so fast and loose with the data and why they are so easily convinced by flimflam. And it also explains why conservatives find the whole spectacle so baffling. They are trying to have an evidence-based discussion with religions fanatics. It won’t work.
The one thing we know for sure is that the climate is always changing. Ever since the last ice age the climate has been getting warmer but there have been blips like the Little Ice Age in the 14th century. The activity of the sun, complex patterns of wind, ice movement, cloud activity and so on make the earth’s eco-system extremely difficult to predict. Currently climate science is based on computer modeling and predictions. These predictions are only as good as the data we feed into the computer; if we omit one variable or fail to allow for one unanticipated change the model is thereby vitiated. Science is about understanding how the laws of physics work and it has heretofore been successful by breaking down problems into smaller and more precise little bits. Once you focus attention on one aspect of reality, one limited set of variables, you can make progress. But climate science is about making predictions about the future of the planet as a whole. To question the bottom line predictions about the eco-system of the planet as a whole for a century in the future is by no means to question every individual bit of scientific knowledge that went into the overall IPCC report. There can be lots of competent scientists contributing lots of legitimate scientific knowledge, but yet the final predictions can, in this sort of situation, easily wander far from what could be considered valid inferences from the available known facts.
I am a skeptic, not about science per se, but only about the political abuse of science by those who profess not to be committed to absolute truth in the first place and who believe that the “noble lie” is warranted in matters scientific. I cheerfully admit:
- That the climate is always changing for a number of reasons, some of which we understand and some of which we do not;
- That the earth has gotten warmer in the past two centuries, which might be due, in part, to the emission of carbon into the atmosphere
- That global warming, if taken to irreversible extremes, might be dangerous
But I do not think that these tentative admissions justify the radical actions that would be needed to reverse carbon emissions to an 18th century level. Specifically, I do not accept:
- That climate science is advanced enough yet to be certain that the warming of the past two centuries is actually caused by carbon emissions;
- That we know for sure, even if carbon emissions are causing dangerous global warming, that mitigation might not be cheaper and more effective than attempting to prevent carbon emissions;
- That scientific debate should be shut down and no further debate should be allowed.
Let us be clear about one thing: if we heed the global warming alarmists and do what they say is needed in order to bring the carbon emissions down to “safe” levels, we must de-industrialize the West and force third world nations to refrain from industrialization. This would hurt so many people, especially the poor, that it would virtually mean the end of our civilization. It could only be accomplished by a global dictatorship imposing its will on all nations by coercion. There is no other way.
The United Nations estimates that it would cost $30 billion a year to end world hunger, yet the world spent more than 10 times that amount on global warming initiatives in 2012. The UN is calling on the nations of the world to “invest” an extra 147 billion a year in wind, solar and nuclear power from 2010-2029. If you add that figure to the current spending, it amounts to approximately $506 billion a year on global warming. This is what I have against global warming policy; the opportunity cost is staggering and the waste is criminal.
In politics, which is what this really is, a good rule of thumb is to ‘follow the money.’ Who stands to gain? Who stands to lose? Who needs climate hysteria in order to feather their own nests? On the one side, those who gain include Obama bundlers who invest in Solyndra-like clean energy start-ups and who then go bankrupt. Al Gore may be the world’s first carbon billionaire; whether that is true or not he has undeniably become ridiculously wealthy beating this drum. The wealthy people who invest in wind farms that are only economically viable on the basis of huge government subsidies are making money hand over fist. Third world dictators, who rub their hands in glee at the thought of wealth transfers from the first world through the UN so that they can pad their Swiss bank accounts are all for it. Even democratically elected third world governments, ever on the lookout for easy money, can rationalize this as “historic reparations” or something while banking the cash even if they know the whole thing is a crock.
On the other hand, who stands to lose? Poor people all over the world benefit from cheap energy costs, primarily because cheap energy means cheap transportation, which means cheap food. Driving up the cost of energy by banning fossil fuels pushes the poorest of the poor deeper into poverty. Middle class taxpayers in the West lose as well as energy bills skyrocket, rolling blackouts occur and taxes go up with all the accompanying unemployment, increased government debt and economic stagnation.
Although the Left thinks this whole boondoogle will result in middle class Westerners paying up and poor third world people gaining wealth, the reality is that economics was never the Left’s strong suit. The truth is that nearly everyone (except for Al Gore and his buddies) will be worse off for banning fossil fuels and subsidizing “green” energy, while transferring money from taxpayers to wealthy investors and corrupt governments.
I am a skeptic because I am not convinced that the policies being advocated by the alarmists will do more good than harm. I am a skeptic because I am suspicious about the motives of those who are so obviously manipulating science in the service of their cause. I am a skeptic because I can distinguish between science in general and overblown claims made by those who replace genuine science with scientism and demand submission to their ideas or else.