The Politics of Weather
Since colleges and universities are engaged in an orgy of renaming things—buildings, programs, maybe even the institutions themselves—I'd like to offer a suggestion about an important renaming opportunity. The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, for example, really ought to rename itself "Indoctrination U." As a recent report on The College Fix revealed, that campus of UCCS is offering to indoctrinate students about the dangers of anthropogenic climate change (formerly known as "global warming"). Only one perspective on this subject will be tolerated.
The three professors teaching the class—Rebecca Laroche, Wendy Haggren and Eileen Skahill—I include their names in case you have the misfortune of attending UCCS so that you can avoid them—announced in an email that "We will not, at any time, debate the science of climate change, nor will the ‘other side’ of the climate change debate be taught or discussed in this course.”
Love those scare quotes around "other side," Comrade! “Opening up a debate that 98% of climate scientists unequivocally agree to be a non-debate," they continue "would detract from the central concerns of environment and health addressed in this course.”
Gee, and I thought it was only 97% of climate scientists were we (wrongly) said to agree with Al Gore.
I feel sorry for students trapped in those reeducation camps. I'd like to do something to help. One thing I can offer is the alternative that Profs. Laroche, Haggren, and Skahill want to deprive their students of. So, to all students at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, help is on the way. Just head over to The New Criterion and for an extremely modest consideration you can download a PDF of our recent pamphlet called The Climate Surprise: Why CO2 is Good for The Earth. (You can also get a hard copy of the pamhlet here.)
The pamphlet is based on a conference The New Criterion hosted in March in collaboration with The CO2 Coalition, whose data those UCCS profs should study but won't. The pamphlet includes essays by six distinguished scientists, William Happer, Craig Idso, Roy W. Spencer, Richard S. Lindzen, Patrick Moore, and Bruce M. Everett. You can also see a clip of an interview we conducted with the great Mark Steyn, who is being sued by the climate fraudster Michael Mann, here. Finally, as a teaser, here is my introduction to the pamphlet, "The Politics of Weather." Just don't let Profs. Laroche, Haggren, and Skahill catch reading such dangerous literature:
Are you weary of the weather wars? Are you alarmed by the extensive beachhead that “pro- gressive” culture warriors, clad in the (borrowed) raiment of science and fired by a moral fury wor- thy of an early-twentieth-century temperance campaigner, have secured in the public debate? You will be grateful, then, for Mark Twain’s 1892 novel The American Claimant, which be- gins with an advisory about “The Weather in This Book.” “No weather will be found in this book,” Twain explains. “This is an attempt to pull a book through without weather.” What a relief! For it is impossible to turn anywhere in our enlightened, environmentally conscious world without being beset by lectures about one’s “carbon footprint” and horror tales about “global warming,” “rising seas,” and imminent ecological catastrophe.
It was with this in mind that The New Criterion partnered this spring with the CO2 Coali- tion, a Washington-based think tank dedicated to combatting misinformation about the effects of CO2 and fossil fuels, on a conference to pon- der The Climate Surprise: Why CO2 Is Good for the Earth.1 We might have added “and for you, your loved ones, and the economy,” but we did not wish to appear gratuitously provocative.
Let me return to Mark Twain. It is not, he once observed, so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. Rather, the mischief is caused by things that we “do know that ain’t so.”
For example, we all “know” that carbon dioxide is “bad for the environment.” (In fact, it is a prerequisite for life.) We “know” that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reaching historically unprecedented and dangerous levels. (In fact, we have, these past centuries, been living through a CO2 famine.) We “know” that “global warming”—or, since there has been no warming for about eighteen years, that “climate change”—has caused a sudden rise in the seas. (In fact, the seas have been rising for the last 20,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age.) We “know” that, when it comes to the subject of climate change, the “science is settled,” that “97 percent of scientists” agree that global warming is anthropogenic, which is Greek for “caused by greedy corporate interests and the combustion of fossil fuels.”
It’s really quite extraordinary how much we do know that ain’t so.
When I was growing up in the rural fastness of the moderately great state of Maine, adults were always talking about the weather. Their conversations were edged by an admi- rable stoicism. “If you don’t like the weather,” they often said, “just wait.” It’s too bad that Al Gore didn’t spend more time in Maine. He might have learned an awesome secret, one that I will now impart to you: the weather changes. Sure, there are long-term trends. But as the following essays demonstrate, those are not nearly so alarming as the climate hysterics claim. In fact, they are not alarming at all.
It was about two decades ago that the Har- vard philosopher Harvey Mansfield made the observation that environmentalism is “school prayer for liberals.” I remember tittering when I first read that. It was an observation that had a dual advantage. It was both true— environmentalism really did seem like a reli- gion for certain leftists—and it was also amusing. How deliciously wicked to put a bunch of white, elite, college-educated folks under the same rhetorical light as the Bible-thumpers they abominated. Ha, I thought to myself, ha!
Well, I am not laughing now. In the intervening years, the eco-nuts went from being a lunatic fringe to being lunatics at the center of power.
Item: early in March, Loretta Lynch, Attorney General of the United States, acknowledged that the Justice Department had discussed taking civil legal action against the fossil fuel industry for “denying” the “threat of carbon emissions.” Item: on March 31, Investors’ Business Daily re- ported that the attorneys general in sixteen states—now it’s twenty—had formed a coali- tion to investigate and prosecute companies that don’t agree with them about climate change. In other words, those dissenting from the or- thodox position about climate science would be punished. Item: on April 9, Bloomberg News reported that the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, was subpoenaed by the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands to disgorge a decade’s worth of documents regarding its work on climate change, a massively burdensome and expensive demand illustrating the mournful adage that when it comes to the law “the process is the punishment.”
Galileo would know just how those climate dissenters feel. In 1633, he was hauled up before the Inquisition (not for the first time) for broadcasting the heterodox opinion that the earth revolves around the sun. Ninety-seven percent—maybe more—of those in charge of things in the seventeenth century knew that Galileo had it all wrong. The earth was the center of the universe and the sun traveled around it. Everyone knew that. Galileo was threatened with torture and prison; he recanted. The authorities settled on house arrest for the rest of his life. Tradition tells us that on his way out of court he muttered mutinously “E pur si muove,” “And yet it moves.”
When I mentioned to friends that The New Criterion was helping to organize a conference about climate change, a common response was, “Isn’t that outside your usual area of in- terest?” Not really. The New Criterion is not a scientific journal, and the truth is that I know hardly any more about the actual science of climate change than Al Gore—i.e., very little indeed. But the contemporary obsession with climate change involves several avenues of hu- man concern, some of them at the very center of our concerns at The New Criterion.
Yes, the debate over climate change does involve hard science, which is to say that it involves the historical record about what actu- ally has happened and careful modeling about what is likely to happen later on, given what we know about the physics and biology of the eco-sphere.
Most of the following essays deal in accessible detail with this aspect of the subject. Let me mention by way of preface one fact that is often lost—or, rather, that is deliberately obscured—by many non-scientific parties weighing in on the debate. It is this: the science about mankind’s influence on climate change is far from settled. Steven Koonin, who was undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Obama’s first term, summed up this truth with pithy finality in a much-read article for The Wall Street Journal. The contention that the “science is settled” with respect to climate change, he wrote, is “misguided,” i.e., it is wrong. “It has not only distorted our public and policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions, and the environment. But it also has inhibited the scientific and policy discus- sions that we need to have about our climate future.”
But of course science is only part of the issue. You cannot read far into the literature on climate change before you realize that science is often dragged in as window dressing for the real issues, which are political, on the one hand, and economic, on the other.
The two hands, it is worth pointing out, belong to the same body and are working to feed the same maw.
Considered as a political movement, environmentalism may, as Harvey Mansfield said, betray a religious or cult-like aspect. But for every true believer in the religion of Gaia, there is a squadron of cynical opportunists eager to exploit the new paganism of earth-worship for decidedly secular ends. We’ve heard a lot about the radical community organizer Saul Alinsky these past seven plus years. A fundamental rule of thumb for a paid-up Alinskyite radical is that “the issue is never the real issue.” In the present context, that means that “climate change” is largely a pretext. For some, it is a pretext for personal enrichment. Consider, to take but one egregious example, Al Gore, who peddles the philosophy of Chicken Little, on the one hand, and has managed to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars by exploiting various government-subsidized “green energy” initia- tives, on the other.
Climate alarmism can also be a pretext for the redistribution of wealth on a global scale. You can never be green enough, Comrade, and climate change offers a potent pretext for the consolidation of governmental power: it is, as one wag put, the “killer app” for extending governmental control.
Like the House of the Lord, governmental control is a domicile of many mansions, from intrusive, prosperity-sapping regulation to the silencing, intimidation, dismissal, and even the legal prosecution of critics. Indeed, in its transformation of critics into heretics we see once again the religious or cult-like aspect of radical environmentalism. One argues with a critic. One must silence or destroy a heretic. Galileo would have understood exactly how this new Inquisition would proceed. And this brings me to one of the most frightening aspects of the gospel of climate change: its subordination of independent scientific inquiry to partisan political imperatives. Scientific inquiry depends upon the freedom to pursue the truth wherever it leads, regardless of
political ideology or vested interest. Recently, climate hysterics and their political and academic enablers have begun describing those who disagree with them about the science of climate change as “climate deniers.” The echo of “holocaust deniers” is deliberate and pernicious. A “holocaust denier” is someone who denies an historical enormity. But a so-called “climate denier” is merely someone who disputes an ideological construct masquerading as a scientific truth. The irony, of course, is that this farce should proceed in an era in which science and technology have remade the world for the benefit of mankind.
Climate-change hysteria takes issue with those benefits, which is why it has also been a pretext for the systematic attack on specific industries and technologies—the coal industry, for example, or fracking. The goal of the attack is, as Obama’s top science advisor John Holdren put it in a book he co-authored with the climate alarmist Paul Ehrlich, “A massive campaign . . . to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States.”
A “massive campaign . . . to de-develop the United States”: ponder that. Mr. Holdren lamented that the idea of de-development was subject to “considerable misunderstanding and resistance.” I for one am happy about the resistance. Indeed, I wish it were stiffer. But as for misunderstanding what “de-development” means, I have to take issue. We know exactly what it means. It is the same thing that Luddites and anti-capitalists have always meant: the impoverishment and immiseration of the mass of mankind just so long as the perquisites for the self-appointed nomenklatura persist un- disturbed. It was to challenge this noxious and politically motivated assault on truth, free speech, and prosperity that The New Criterion and the CO2 Coalition joined hands. E pur si muove, indeed.
Battling this pernicious ideology is a multi- faceted task. But since the evangelists for climate alarmism like to wrap themselves in the mantle of science, it is appropriate that we begin to unsettle the putatively settled consensus about climate change with a few elementary scientific lessons, illustrated in the following essays.