Update May 4 at the end
People may not have noticed that subtly, without fanfare, the climate battleground has shifted from the science to the policy. Like everyone else climatists were caught unawares by the election of US policymakers skeptical of the need to “fight climate change.”
But the surprising development is how activist tactics are still geared mainly to push on the claim of “settled science”, when that is not any more the focal point for the opposition. I don’t know who created the strategy for nominees, but in confirmation hearings, to a man and woman they all refrained from denying the science. Sanders and the other true-believing senators pressed hard to get heretical statements, but failed.
Now the activists have turned up the heat with science marches every weekend. Activists keep pushing on the science because their policy agenda is even less believable.
The marchers’ signs show they depend on three suppositions, like a three-legged stool:
- Humans are making the planet warmer.
- The warming is dangerous.
- Government can stop it.
The first point is what alarmists claim is settled science, and where others have doubts about the data, the models and the theories. Expressing those doubts gets you labeled a denier. After years of alarmists refusing to debate that first point, they now want to talk about nothing else. Apparently they think that only the first point matters; once that is admitted, everything else follows.
To their surprise, policymakers, and now even some journalists are shifting the ground to the other two wobbly legs, where the assertions have even less support.
A perceptive journalist writing for the LA Times sees how the game is changing. Jonah Goldberg wrote yet another piece of independent thought coming from a previous uncritically warmist newsroom. Bret Stephens just trolled the left with his supposed climate change denialism. Excerpts below.
The most amusing show over the weekend was the collective case of the vapors across the liberal left establishment over Bret Stephens’ first column at the New York Times on the perils of certainty, particularly on the topic of climate change.
When someone says that he is not denying climate change and concedes that it is real, that is “classic climate change denialism”? Huh. What words do we have left for people who call the whole thing a “hoax”? In civil debates, when someone concedes much of your premise, the proper reaction is not to scream “liar!” or “heretic!”
And that brings me to the second, and more amusing, thing about all of this. You’ve been trolled, people.
As a fellow columnist, I doff my cap to you, sir.
It wasn’t hard to trick liberals into going off-sides. In the past, Stephens was a more acid-tongued critic of climate change research. But the column in question was a model of restraint that, when read by non-ideologues and non-combatants, must seem utterly reasonable, even a tad banal. Stefan Rahmstorf, a prominent German climate scientist, wrote a lengthy, sanctimonious letter explaining why he was cancelling his subscription to the New York Times. Nothing in the letter addressed anything Stephens wrote in his column.
The Washington Post’s Eric Wemple found it hard to constrain his dismay. “May it suffice to say, however, that the many, many people who care passionately for the planet found it an exercise in climate-change denialism.”
Wemple’s a clever fellow. I’m sure he understands Stephens’ point about the dangers of certainty, particularly based on sophisticated mathematical models that have been proven wrong in the past.
What I think sailed past Wemple and so “many, many people” was Stephens’ subtler point about the sanctimonious condescension of people who claim to be motivated solely by their passionate care for the planet.
Stephens’ heresy here isn’t in denying climate change; it’s in refusing to concede that one group of people has a total monopoly on defining not just the problem but the acceptable responses to it. Such dissent is not a crime against science; it’s a threat to a guild. And the guild took the bait.
Update May 4
Bret Stephens published a new post today that digs into the policy failures, specifically biofuels with references to other shortcomings, such as emissions trading. Climate of Unintended Consequences
In other words, the three central claims made in the Department of Energy paper quoted at the top of this column were misleading or wrong. Factually wrong. Wrong for the environment. Wrong for taxpayers. Wrong for the allocation of government funding and scientific research. Wrong for our energy mix. Wrong politically: Whatever else we conclude about ethanol, the one thing that won’t soon go away is the biofuel lobby in Washington.
And wrong for the reputation of climate science.
In recent years, some climate activists — Al Gore notably among them — have owned up to their biofuels mistake. More recently, we’ve seen some acknowledgment of other errors, having more to do with policy than science.
Thus, today there’s a keener appreciation that cap-and-trade regimes such as Europe’s ambitious Emissions Trading System have been costly failures, with one study suggesting the E.T.S. had “limited benefits and embarrassing consequences” in terms of emissions — at an estimated cost to consumers of some $280 billion.
There’s also been some acknowledgment that Germany’s Energiewende — the uber-ambitious “energy turn” embarked upon by Angela Merkel in 2010 — has been less than a model for others. The country is producing record levels of energy from wind and solar power, but emissions are almost exactly what they were in 2009. Meanwhile, German households pay nearly the highest electricity bills in Europe, all for what amounts to an illusion of ecological virtue.
Still, what acknowledgment there’s been has generally been belated, grudging and rarely self-reflective. What’s missing is an understanding of the harm that can be done when do-something impulses and eco-cure boosterism become turbocharged by government power and subsidized business.
The lessons are legion but, more often than not, unlearned. We need to make policy choices based less on moral self-regard and more on attention to real-world results.