Thursday, November 04, 2004


Prof. Derr outlines the reasons why normal scientific caution is taking a back seat. He first outlines the flaws in the scientific claims that mankind is causing global warming and then goes on to say:

"There is much more, in more detail, to the argument of those scientists who are skeptical about the threat of global warming. On the whole, their case is, I think, quite persuasive. The question, then, is why so few people believe it.

Part of the answer is that bad news is good news-for the news media. The media report arresting and frightening items, for that is what draws listeners, viewers, and readers. The purveyors of climate disaster theories have exploited this journalistic habit quite brilliantly, releasing steadily more frightening scenarios without much significant data to back them up. Consider the unguarded admission of Steven Schneider of Stanford, a leading proponent of the global warming theory. In a now notorious comment, printed in Discover in 1989 and, surely to his discomfort, often cited by his opponents, Schneider admitted:

To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we may have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

This sort of willingness to place the cause above the truth has exasperated Richard Lindzen, Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT, who is one of the authors of the science sections of the report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the body responsible for an increasing crescendo of dire warnings. In testimony before the U.S. Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, he called the IPCC's Summary for Policymakers, which loudly sounds the warming alarm, "very much a child's exercise of what might possibly happen . . . [which] conjures up some scary scenarios for which there is no evidence."

This brings us to the second part of the answer, which concerns the political and economic consequences of the policy argument. The IPCC is a UN body and reflects UN politics, which are consistently favorable to developing countries, the majority of its members. Those politics are very supportive of the Kyoto treaty, which not only exempts the developing countries from emissions standards but also requires compensatory treatment from the wealthier nations for any economic restraints that new climate management policies may impose on these developing countries. Were Kyoto to be implemented as written, the developing countries would gain lots of money and free technology. One need not be a cynic to grasp that a UN body will do obeisance to these political realities wherever possible.

The Kyoto treaty would not make a measurable difference in the climate-by 2050, a temperature reduction of maybe two-hundredths of a degree Celsius, or at most six-hundredths of a degree-but the sacrifices it would impose on the United States would be quite large. It would require us to reduce our projected 2012 energy use by 25 percent, a catastrophic economic hit. Small wonder that the Senate in 1997 passed a bipartisan resolution, the Byrd-Hagel anti-Kyoto resolution, by 95-0 (a fact rarely recalled by those who claim that America's refusal to sign on to the treaty was the result of the Bush administration's thralldom to corporate interests).

Most of the European countries that have ratified Kyoto are falling behind already on targets, despite having stagnant economies and falling populations. It is highly unlikely they will meet the goals they have signed on for, and they know it. Neither will Japan, for that matter. The European Union has committed itself to an eight percent reduction in energy use (from 1990 levels) by 2012, but the European Environment Agency admits that current trends project only a 4.7 percent reduction. When Kyoto signers lecture non-signers for not doing enough for the environment, they invite the charge of hypocrisy. There is also the obvious fact that adherence to the treaty will hurt the U.S. economy much more than the European, which suggests that old-fashioned economic competitiveness is in the mix of motives at play here. The absurdity of the treaty becomes obvious when we recognize that it does not impose emissions requirements on developing countries, including economic giants such as China, India, and Brazil. (China will become the world's biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in just a few years.)

A third reason why global warming fears seem to be carrying the day goes beyond these political interests; it involves intellectual pride. Academics are a touchy tribe (I'm one of them); they do not take it kindly when their theories, often the result of hard work, are contradicted. And sure enough, the struggle for the truth in this matter is anything but polite. It is intellectual warfare, entangled with politics, reputations, and ideology; and most of the anger comes from the side of the alarmists. People lose their tempers and hurl insults-"junk science," "willful ignorance," "diatribe," "arrogant," "stupid," "incompetent," "bias," "bad faith," "deplorable misinformation," and more. Consider the fiercely hateful reaction to Bjorn Lomborg's 2001 book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist". He challenged the entrenched and politically powerful orthodoxy and did so with maddeningly thorough data. His critics, unable to refute his statistics, seem to have been enraged by their own weakness-a familiar phenomenon, after all. Or perhaps, with their reputations and their fund-raising ability tied to the disaster scenarios, they felt their livelihoods threatened. In any case, the shrillness of their voices has helped to drown out the skeptics.

Finally, there is a fourth cause: a somewhat murky antipathy to modern technological civilization as the destroyer of a purer, cleaner, more "natural" life, a life where virtue dwelt before the great degeneration set in. The global warming campaign is the leading edge of an environmentalism which goes far beyond mere pollution control and indicts the global economy for its machines, its agribusiness, its massive movements of goods, and above all its growing population. Picking apart this argument to show the weakness of its pieces does not go to the heart of the fear and loathing that motivate it. The revulsion shows in the prescriptions advanced by the global warming alarmists: roll back emissions to earlier levels; reduce production and consumption of goods; lower birth rates. Our material ease and the freedoms it has spawned are dangerous illusions, bargains with the devil, and now comes the reckoning. A major apocalypse looms, either to destroy or, paradoxically, to save us-if we come to our senses in the nick of time.

It is clear, then, given the deep roots of the scare, that it is likely to be pretty durable. It has the added advantage of not being readily falsifiable in our lifetimes; only future humans, who will have the perspective of centuries, will know for certain whether the current warming trend is abnormal. In the meantime, the sanest course for us would be to gain what limited perspective we can (remembering the global cooling alarm of a generation ago) and to proceed cautiously. We are going through a scare with many causes, and we need to step back from it, take a long second look at the scientific evidence, and not do anything rash. Though the alarmists claim otherwise, the science concerning global warming is certainly not settled. It is probable that the case for anthropogenic warming will not hold up, and that the earth is behaving as it has for millennia, with natural climate swings that have little to do with human activity".


Despite their alleged "non-interventionist" or "pro-peace" stance, they have been fairly noisy advocates of international intervention in Sudan, based on much less intelligence and national interest than was available in the run up to Iraq. Indeed their position seems to be based on the idea that foreign policy decision making power should be outsourced to NGOs who are portrayed as completely altruistic, impeccably honest and with no special interest agenda.

At the same time they have been unwilling to acknowledge that the terrorist blowback Australia experienced in Bali and more recently in Jakarta may have more to do with Indonesian Islamists annoyance at our support for East Timorese independence than our minor role in the Afghan War, or the Iraq War, that came later. The captured Bali terrorists have publicly stated that East Timor policy was their motivation.

To the Greens, and the left in general, the idea that a policy they support as just and proper may generate blowback is something they cannot handle, as it would require them to rethink their Vietnam era assumptions about Third World insurgents as humble patriots. The paradox of their noisy support for intervention in some instances and noisy opposition elsewhere is best explained by a famous poet. Robert Frost said that "a liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in an argument". There seems to be a belief that military action in your own interests is inherently wrong, but it's okay if it doesn't benefit you."

(The above comments are from a reader who has more on the subject on his own blog here)


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

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