August 15, 2009
Five Reasons to Doubt Clima-geddon
As public polls stubbornly refuse to go their way, climate alarmists are amazed the public has failed to adopt their level of alarm. Many of them attribute this failure to various types of defective thinking. Calgary Professor David Mayne Reid, for example, has suggested that the public suffers from: a fear of unpleasant truths; a genetic incompetence at managing slow-motion disasters; a problem with short-term economic thinking; selfishness; ignorance; excessive humility about humanity’s impact on climate; and misinformation campaigns by evil businesses.
I’d like to offer up five reasons (which don’t imply moral or genetic defects) why ordinary people might not accept the catastrophic modeling exercises and horror stories alarmists confuse with actual climate change data.
First, people instinctively and rightly doubt those spinning end-of-the world stories, demanding a “wrenching transformation” of society, and who promote a radical social agenda independent of (and pre-dating) their climate concerns. People know from experience that, as H.L. Mencken observed, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” People have seen other eco-scares rise and get de-bunked over and over again; they have seen untold millions die over eco-scares such as the misguided crusade against DDT that has killed tens of millions in Africa.
Second, despite propaganda, people realize the evidence we have about climate change is not only geographically spotty, it covers barely an eye-blink in geologic history. Until very recently, temperature recordings were taken with inaccurate thermometers, using unscientific methods, biased by urbanization, technological changes, and weather stations moving about and going into and out of existence due to economics, politics, and other factors. Satellites and weather balloons provide far higher quality data (if shorter in duration), but they show very little evidence of manmade global warming. In short, people understand, as Carl Sagan pointed out, that “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and that climate alarmists don’t have extraordinary evidence.
Third, people understand that correlation is not evidence of causality. Yes, some warming (and the side-effects of that warming such as early-onset spring) has correlated with greenhouse gas emissions. But then, so has increased height of the average human being, the number of people getting high-school and college diplomas, the number of women in the workforce, the percentage of the world population that speaks English, the number of countries embracing democracy, the number of people saying “can you hear me now” into a cell phone, and a few thousand other trends that may or may not be causally related to each other.
Fourth, people instinctively and rightly doubt those who claim to be able to predict the future. Climate models are not “data,” they are mathematical constructs subject to the garbage-in-garbage-out problem inherent in all such models. Anyone who missed the fact that economic models (which are modeling something considerably less complex than the climate) failed to predict the implosion of the world’s economy recently must have been living in a cave. The same is true for those who have missed the fact that the last 10 years have failed to warm despite increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, and that satellites have failed to detect the signature “hot-spot” in the tropical troposphere that climate theory predicts.
Fifth, people recognize politics when they see it. They see China, the world’s largest emitter, refusing to cap its emissions, and demanding massive amounts of transferred wealth. They see India doing the same thing, and neither country taking responsibility for building Paul Ehrlich’s “population bomb,” which will inflict vastly greater environmental harm over the next 100 years than the developed world has inflicted to date or will ever inflict in the future. People have watched as Europe’s eco-taxes and emission trading system have inflicted economic damage without environmental benefit, and they’ve watched once-glorious California sacrifice its massive economy on the altar of environmental correctness.
In summary, there are ample reasons to doubt the claims of climate alarmists such as Al Gore, James Hansen, and David Mayne Reid; the doubts do not imply the general public is morally or genetically defective, and incapable of “proper thought” about climate change science or policy.
Kenneth P. Green
is a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute where he analyses public policy relating to energy and the environment. An environmental scientist by training and experienced policy analyst, he has authored numerous policy-oriented publications including monographs, magazine articles; newspaper columns; encyclopedia and book chapters; and even a textbook for middle-school students entitled Global Warming: Understanding the Debate. Prior to joining AEI, Dr. Green analysed environmental policy for 8 years with California's Reason Foundation, and analysed Canadian policy issues for three years at The Fraser Institute.