Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Progressives believe that they are the party of enlightenment and science. Conservatives, in contrast, are still enslaved to irrational religious beliefs and fossilized traditions. For progressives, a statement like “97% of scientists believe in global warming” is like saying “the earth revolves around the sun”––a proven fact that only the ignorant or evil will challenge. This belief in the proven reality of their ideological beliefs is why progressives want to concentrate power in like-minded elites, who will supposedly create policy based on “science” and evidence rather than irrational superstition.
No current policy debate better illustrates this dubious faith in technocratic expertise than climate change, the new brand name of global warming. While we have been distracted by Trump’s rhetoric and Hillary’s email scandal, the Obama administration has issued through the EPA the Clean Power Plan, which will force restrictions on coal-fired electric plants. These onerous regulations will drive up electricity costs and damage the economy, all to reduce over the next 15 years CO2 emissions by 32% from 2005 levels. The greater purpose is to slow down the alleged apocalyptic effects of global warming. Yet even if fully implemented, the EPA’s plan would reduce global temperatures by a scant 0.018 degrees Celsius by 2100, a statistical rounding error. But by dint of magical thinking, the EPA assures us that despite the negligible effect on warming, our noble example of damaging our economy for symbolic value will motivate China and India, the current drivers of CO2 increases, to follow our lead and damage their national and economic interests.
So many lies and delusions lie behind this disastrous policy. The biggest is the assertion that human-generated CO2 increases in the atmosphere are the most significant driver of global temperature increases. This claim is presented as a scientific fact, when in reality it is at best a hypothesis, one based on an incomplete understanding of the intricate complexity of global climate, and challenged by numerous contrary data and research.
Quite simply, we do not understand definitively how global climate functions, certainly not well enough to justify a multi-trillion dollar risk to our economy. Global climate is created by numerous systems and feedback loops functioning over vast stretches of time––not just CO2 concentrations, but water vapor, ocean currents, ocean temperatures, the moon’s gravitational pull, and the sun. Despite the assurances of the believers in human-caused warming, these systems and their interrelations are not understood adequately enough to pinpoint one factor as the most critical for temperature increases.
Take the sun, obviously our planet’s most important source of heat. According to NASA, over the past 400,000 years––the period when modern man arose–– temperatures have been 3 degrees Celsius higher than today. Those higher temperatures occurred during “interglacials,” periods between ice ages. We live today in the interglacial that began around 12,000 years ago.
According to astrophysicist Milutin Milankovitch these ice ages are created by changes in solar radiation related to the position of the earth relative to the sun. The earth moves in an elliptical path around the sun, and its distance from the sun during its journey varies over time. The axis of the earth also shifts, bringing parts of the earth closer to or farther from the sun. And the earth “wobbles” as it rotates, again changing the amount of heat the earth gets. These recurring cycles of increases and decreases of solar radiation create the cycles of ice ages. If Milankovitch is right, then increases in CO2 by 100 parts-per-million caused by less than two centuries of human use of carbon are at best very minor factors in the long-term extreme changes evident over the last nearly half a billion years, changes humans had nothing to do with.
Then there are the problems with the temperature data used to measure current warming and to establish a baseline for today’s increases. The earth encompasses 96,000,000 square miles, yet the temperatures used in climate change research come from only 6,000 weather stations, thousands of them located in urban heat islands. That leaves 80% of the planet unmeasured. Worse yet, as Paul Homewood discovered by examining raw data from weather stations in Paraguay, the data showing an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius between 1950 and 2014 had been altered from the raw data, which showed a decline of 1 degree. The same change from decline to increase was discovered in two other stations. As Christopher Booker has written of this long tradition of fiddling with the data,
Assiduous researchers have . . . unearthed countless similar examples across the world, from the US and Russia to Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, an 80-year cooling of 1 degree per century was turned into a warming trend of 2.3 degrees. In New Zealand, there was a major academic row when “unadjusted” data showing no trend between 1850 and 1998 was shown to have been “adjusted” to give a warming trend of 0.9 degrees per century. This falsified new version was naturally cited in an IPCC report.
What has happened is the global warming believers “massage” the data to “hide the decline” in temperatures, just as the Medieval Warm Period (950-1250 A.D.) was erased in the infamous “hockey stick graph” in order to obscure an earlier 3 centuries of warming that happened long before humans were pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. So just how reliable are the temperature readings we are told “prove” that apocalyptic global warming is taking place? And let’s not forget that we are approaching 2 decades in which temperatures have been stable despite millions more tons of CO2 added to the atmosphere. The climate change crowd did not anticipate this pause or account for it in their computer models, which is why now they rely on a post hoc “the ocean ate my warming” argument.
The purveyors of global warming, of course, dismiss all this counter-evidence as the work of irrational “deniers” or minions of oil and coal-mining corporations. The irony, of course, is that it is the climate-change believers who are behaving unscientifically by using ad hominem attacks and appeals to authority to ward off critical examination of their hypothesis. Genuine science invites such questions and challenges, for only by standing up to such relentless probing can any theory gain legitimacy. The climate change believers sound suspiciously like what Thomas Kuhn famously called “normal science,” which “often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments,” while the so-called “deniers” are engaged in a “scientific revolution” that has been “inaugurated by a growing sense that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature.”
Contrary to the U.N. and progressives like the president, then, the science is not “settled.” Belief that anthropogenic catastrophic climate change is a scientific fact is created by cultural and ideological factors like debased romantic idealizations of nature, boutique marxiste dogma about the evils of free-market industrial capitalism, and fashionable guilt over the alleged crimes and depredations of the West––all ideas that are luxuries only the rich and well-fed can afford. Climate change is also a lucrative business for researchers: the U.S. Government Accounting Office calculates that the federal government alone spent $106.7 billion on global warming research and mitigation programs between 2003-2010. That doesn’t include the $16.1 billion between 1993 and 2013 on special deductions and tax credits for “alternative energy,” the boondoggles that have made Al Gore a multi-millionaire.
In other words, what James Madison called “passions and interests” lie behind progressive climate-change advocacy, not science and reason. Under a patina of “science” a trendy nature-worship is practiced, taxpayer money is gobbled up, and the Leviathan state finds more ways to expand its coercive power over the economy and our daily lives, reducing even further our freedom and autonomy. In other words, like most of progressive ideology, climate change advocacy is just business as usual for the fallen human nature that conservatives believe in. Just don’t call it “settled science.”