Free Markets, Free People

Bill McKibben

Wondering why the right is skeptical of AGW

Bill McKibben wonders why the right is so down on man-made global warming.  He’s convinced it’s the hottest thing to come along politically since woman’s suffrage.  What is it we folks on the right don’t get?  Or is it we have a vested interest in other things that run contrary to wanting to see this problem solved.

Hmmm.  First, I’ve always believed that climate change occurs.  It seems to me that the left has suddenly awakened in a world in which the climate is changing for the first time.  Obviously that’s not the case and, as someone said, the only thing consistent about the climate is change.  So to address an implied question of the McKibben piece, the right certainly understands and accepts climate change as a reality of life.

However, that brings us to the second question – how significant is man’s part?  That’s where we differ.  Most of those who are skeptics question the science that claims man’s part is significant – more significant than the natural forces out there such as the sun and clouds and, well, just about everything else.  Add into that the fact that the present “science” claims that a trace gas of which we add a trace amount is the one primary reason for the rise in global temperature.

Uh, yeah, still not buying.  Factor in that until science decided otherwise, that gas was a trailing indicator of warming – not a cause.  There in a nutshell is the objection to the thesis that says any warming (or cooling apparently) is caused by man.  And we further object to the notion that if we would just stop emitting carbon (something that is and has been an integral part of our lives since our species emerged) all this would be fine.

McKibben is sure, at least on the political side, that it’s all about the right and oil:

One crude answer is money. The fossil fuel industry has deep wells of it—no business in history has been as profitable as finding, refining, and combusting coal, oil, and gas. Six of the ten largest companies on earth are in the fossil-fuel business. Those companies have spent some small part of their wealth in recent years to underwrite climate change denialism …

But as most know who keep up with this, their contributions pale into significance with the government grant money that has flowed unceasingly to the other side for years.  And, many claim, that’s had a significant part in corrupting the science.  The most recent to say this is Professor Harold Lewis:

A TOP American professor has quit a prestigious academic body after claiming that global warming has become a “scam” driven by “trillions of dollars” which has “corrupted” scientists.

Professor Harold Lewis, 87, described his “revulsion” at last year’s leaked “Climategate” emails which appeared to show scientists at East Anglia’s world-leading Climate Research Unit rigging evidence in favour of man-made climate change.

He branded man-made climate change “the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud” he has ever seen.

The scientists involved have been cleared of wrongdoing by a series of investigations. But Prof Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has formally resigned from the American Physical Society after nearly 70 years as a member.

He claims that the APS, the society for America’s top physicists, has refused to engage in proper scientific debate about climate change and ignored climate sceptics.

McKibben offers a second reason.

Conservatives possess some new information about climate science. That would sure be nice—but sadly, it’s wrong. It’s the same tiny bunch of skeptics being quoted by right-wing blogs. None are doing new research that casts the slightest doubt on the scientific consensus that’s been forming for two decades, a set of conclusions that grows more robust with every issue of Science and Nature and each new temperature record.

After telling us it is a massive conspiracy funded by the oil companies, we’re told that it’s just a tiny bunch of contrarians doing no research.  And note how he swings the phrase “scientific consensus” around.  Really, how 20th century is that?  I thought by now even the most ardent of warmists had figured out that real science has nothing to to with “consensus”. 

Finally – note that he simply ignores those recent findings that destroy his hypothesis that no new research supports the skeptical side.  Except of course that which has talked about sun spots, the fact that there’s been no real warming over the last ten years and the trend is toward a colder climate, not a warmer one.  Skip all that and he may have a point.

But mischaracterization by McKibben isn’t confined to just global warming.  He even mischaracterizes the right’s role in the civil rights movement – a common and easily rectified mistake if one would only do some research. Speaking here about a recent poll of conservatives who found Jimmy Carter to be one of the worst presidents ever, he says:

If Jimmy Carter was the worst guy the country ever produced, we’re doing pretty well—but surely it was his nagging reminders that there were limits to our national power that account for his ranking. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote an embarrassed piece earlier this fall about the failure of conservatives to take climate change seriously—it was the ’70s, “a great decade for apocalyptic enthusiasms,” that turned many of them off, he concluded. That’s not much of an argument—it’s like saying “conservatives mostly got it wrong on civil rights, so let’s never listen to them again about liberty and freedom.”

But, of course, conservatives didn’t get it mostly wrong about civil rights – their vote was the critical part of passing the legislation that Democrats tried to filibuster and block.  Yes, they were “Southern Democrats”, but they certainly weren’t “conservatives”, i.e. “the right”.

Anyway, this all boils down to McKibben wanting a carbon tax and assuring us that if we’d do that and do it quickly we’d probably be 90% of the way to solving the problem.  Of course, no word from the sun as to whether it would cooperate if we’d just take a bit more money into government for our emissions.  After McKibben chastises his lefty friends for their desire to do away with the internal combustion engine, he gives us this simplistic “solution” in its place.  And then wonders about the right’s skepticism? 

Finally McKibben appeals to the tradition of right intellectualism hoping that it will reassert itself and go along with the Chicken Little faction.  I wonder – given his obvious unfamiliarity with the real arguments of the right and the science that supports it if perhaps that intellectualism has already “asserted” itself and is calling on the left to do the same.

Don’t hold your breath.