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The Simplistic Worldview Of Global Warming

Robert Samuelson has a great editorial in Newsweek which takes his own magazine to task for presenting a piece on global warming that tries to paint the issue as a simplistic morality tale:

If you missed NEWSWEEK’s story, here’s the gist. A “well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change.” This “denial machine” has obstructed action against global warming and is still “running at full throttle.” The story’s thrust: discredit the “denial machine,” and the country can start the serious business of fighting global warming. The story was a wonderful read, marred only by its being fundamentally misleading.

The global-warming debate’s great un-mentionable is this: we lack the technology to get from here to there. Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to cut emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 doesn’t mean it can happen. At best, we might curb emissions growth.

Global warming is pure hype. Even if the science is sound, the policy certainly is not: the Kyoto Treaty is worthless, carbon credits are a scam, and the technology to replace fossil fuels is likely to be decades away. Samuelson notes that even if the global warming crusaders get their way, it won’t make a difference: China isn’t going to reduce emissions because we tell them to, and the developing world is rapidly become the central source for CO2 being dumped into the atmosphere.

The reality is that for all the environmentalist doomsaying, the reality is that the planet’s climate varies all the time: Greenland wasn’t given its name for irony’s sake. The figures showing a massive increase in temperatures in the last few years have been shown to be the result of incorrectly processed data. The idea that there’s no room for debate whether anthropogenic global warming exists or not is an idea that directly contradicts science — science is not about consensus, but about reproducible results.

What is truly hypocritical about the global warming lobby is how the argument goes that those who question the status quo on anthropogenic global warming are all part of some sinister cabal. No one seems to question the idea that those who flog those theories do so out of their own sense of self-interest — there’s no quicker way to get funding than to use global warming hysteria, and the global warming lobby has been funded to the tune of $25 billion since 1990. The notion that those who oppose the anthropogenic theory are all in the pockets of Big Oil while those who push it are without conflicts of interest doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny.

Global warming studies should be conducted under rigorous scientific conditions using the same double-blind methods commonly used to eliminate bias in drug tests. If most global warming studies were conducted in that way, much of the hysteria would evaporate as sensationalism was kept in check by hard science.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way the system works, and the constant global warming fear-mongering from the media will undoubtedly continue so long as it sells newspapers and gets academics plenty of government funds — and after that it will be replaced by whatever invented scare captures the popular imagination.

Samuelson is right — global warming should not be turned into yet another crudely politicized issue. Global warming isn’t a simplistic morality tale in which the good environmentalist movement fights the evil forces of Big Oil. Our world is far more complex, and every “solution” for global warming creates tradeoffs, many of which would fundamentally impact our way of life in unpredictable ways. Even some of his suggestions, like a gas tax, are hardly easy pills to swallow — we complain bitterly about the plight of the “working poor” in this country — are we willing to burden them even more in order to slightly reduce our collective carbon footprints.

Good policy involves a logical and rational look at the consequences of any given policy — and when we have a group of people whose tendency towards oversimplification and fear-mongering in control of policy, bad things happen. The climate change debate needs careful study, not hair-shirt politics — unfortunately, there almost none of the former and all too much of the latter.

4 responses to “The Simplistic Worldview Of Global Warming”

  1. I mostly agree with this post, except for this assertion from the article you quote:

    “The global-warming debate’s great un-mentionable is this: we lack the technology to get from here to there. Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to cut emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 doesn’t mean it can happen.”

    2050 is 43 years away; and, in technological terms, 43 years is a hell of a long time, especially these days. Given the increasing push in efficiency technologies, clean energy, nuclear (fission and fusion) research, electric/hydrogen cars, mass transit development, etc; the thought that in such a time frame it’s possible to cut emissions by such an extreme amount is hardly far-fetched. If Schwarzenegger had set the goal at 2025, though, he’d be out of his mind.

    My biggest beef with the environmental movement these days is that they’re never able to acknowledge the dramatic wins that they’ve had in the last several decades. Since the founding of the EPA and the environmental legislation of the 1970’s, the US has made marked improvements in the quality of our air and water; not to mention the most successful international environmental initiative ever, the CFC ban, which has dropped CFC production to less than 1% of 1990 levels and allowed the Ozone layer to begin healing (atmospheric scientists estimate that the ozone hole should heal completely by the 2060’s, provided there is no reversal in the policy).

    And, amazingly enough, in the same time period since the 1970’s, we’ve gone through a massive economic expansion. Economic progress doesn’t necessarily require pollution, if it’s accompanied by efficiency and innovation. Too bad so much of the environmental movement seems more interested in selling doom, gloom, and asceticism than a high-tech ecotopia.

  2. Mark says:

    While I tend to be skeptical at some of the more drastic prognoses for curbing global warming, the “let’s wait and see what further studies prove and look for cheaper alternatives to emerge” approach you endorse was the same mindset that caused a certain bridge in Minneapolis to crumbe 12 days ago.

  3. Eracus says:

    “the “let’s wait and see what further studies prove and look for cheaper alternatives to emerge” approach you endorse was the same mindset that caused a certain bridge in Minneapolis to crumble 12 days ago.”

    So….the bridge collapse was Jay Reding’s fault?? Who knew?? And here I thought it was because our taxes aren’t high enough and that evil genius Karl Rove was somehow behind it all. Dang! Nobody ever tells me anything…

    Shame on you, Jay.

  4. Ken Tillotson says:

    Hypothetical anthroprogenic global warming is another fear-mongering tactic not unlike the 911 fantasy of 19 islamic hijackers that live in caves. Little old ladies would have beaten any would-be hijackers to death with their purses. Look out Al Gore !