Science Is Not A Matter Of Opinion

Mitch Berg highlights a petition in which thousands of scientists state their opposition to the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

The problem with both the theory and the petition opposing it is that consensus has nothing to do with science. It doesn’t matter what the scientific community thinks about the issue, what matters is whether a result is reproducible and fits the observed world.

The scientific “consensus” in the 19th Century was that light had to have some kind of medium to move through in the same way that sound waves need air to travel. Except in 1897, the Michelson-Morley experiment demonstrated that there is no such “aether”. Most importantly, that result is reproducible by anyone. That is how science is supposed to be conducted.

The “consensus” about global warming is not science. It has nothing to do with science. It is opinion, and nothing but. Anthropogenic global warming theory says that the increase in global temperatures should cause oceanic warming which should drive more frequent and powerful hurricanes. Except the data doesn’t support that contention—ocean temperatures are not rising as AGM theory would expect them to and there’s no hard evidence that global warming would have any significant effect on hurricanes at all.

The difference between opinion and science is that science isn’t about “saving the world” (that sort of thing is for cheesy Sci-Fi movies), but about observation and experimentation. If global warming were subjected to serious scientific inquiry (rather than self-interested “studies” based on limited computer models), most of it would fall apart under the weight of its own hyperbole.

There’s an easy way to add scientific rigor to the study of global warming—make it double-blind. The team that comes up with the model should not be the one verifying it. Instead, the model should be evaluated by two separate teams—one using real-world data and the other using random data. If both detect a warming trend, there’s reason to believe that the model being used is flawed. The IPCC’s infamous “hockey stick” graph is an example of a theory that could have been easily debunked in that way—if the same algorithm used to create that graph is fed purely random data it still produces the same “hockey stick” pattern. It wasn’t that there was a dramatic surge in global temperatures in the last century, it was that the algorithm was faulty.

So long as global warming advocates continue to treat global warming “deniers” as akin to Holocaust deniers, they shouldn’t be taken seriously. Real scientists don’t belittle alternative theories and skepticism, they welcome it. Skepticism and empiricism is the foundation of hard science.

It doesn’t matter what any given group of scientists think, what matters is what the data shows. The reality is that the data does not support the theory that humanity has caused an unprecedented warming trend in the Earth’s climate. The reality is that we don’t fully or completely understand how Earth’s climate works. We don’t know how ocean currents and wind systems like El Nino and La Nina affect the global climate. We don’t fully understand the relationship between solar activity cycles and climate. Anyone who says that they can say with absolute certainty that human activity is raising temperatures is a charlatan. We simply don’t have all the evidence, all we have are guesses, and guesses that so far aren’t being matched by empirical evidence.

The planet is on a warming trend, but we don’t fully understand the scope, the cause, and we certainly aren’t about to be wiped off the Earth by a temperature change that’s paltry in comparison to historical changes in climate like the Medieval Warm Period or the massive disruptions in climate caused by the Krakatoa explosion in the 19th Century. It may be a perfectly good idea to minimize CO2 emissions regardless of whether anthropogenic global warming is right or not, but we shouldn’t be basing policy on blatant fear-mongering and politicized science.

The politicization of science over global warming is a greater affront to scientific principles than even the “intelligent design” debate. While ID is a fringe theory, the more we establish that it’s perfectly acceptable for scientists to step into the role of policymaker rather than maintaining an attitude of skepticism and rigor, the more we chip away at the very foundation of scientific reasoning itself.

McCain’s Climate Change Plan: Great Politics, Terrible Policy

Scott Johnson has a deeply skeptical look at Sen. McCain’s new “climate change” policy

. From a standpoint of policy, that skepticism is well warranted. The political story, however, is entirely different.

The political reality is this: global warming concerns are part of the political landscape now. Too many voters have bought into the hype to stake a position on the theory that climate change doesn’t matter in this election. While that is bad science, that is also the political reality the GOP faces. For that matter, even if there is no man-made global warming, there’s no reason why America shouldn’t be looking ahead to an age of increasing scarcity of oil. The more power America gets domestically from renewable resources, the fewer petrodollars flow into the hands of two-bit tyrants like Hugo Chavez. Some “green” policies make sense for other reasons than environmental hysteria.

The problem with the McCain approach is that it gets the politics right, but makes for atrocious public policy. For example, a “cap and trade” system would necessitate a massive new government bureaucracy and raise America’s energy prices. The Congressional Budget Office has found that the current Lieberman-Warner bill amounts to a trillion dollar tax increase in a time when Americans are already finding it hard to pay for energy. Even more troubling, this tax would be incredibly regressive, its impacts adding more stress to families barely able to pay for heat and fuel.

Republicans should have a plan that reduces our dependence on sources of energy that produce pollution. However, that should not mean abandoning political principles or the rules of basic economics. The GOP should push for more clean nuclear power, tax credits for research and development of clean fuel sources, and should embrace something like Bob Zubrin’s flex-fuel plan (using cellulosic ethanol rather than burning what we eat). There are plenty of economically viable ways for the U.S. to “go green,” but we need policymakers willing to support those sound policies.

The GOP has good reason to grumble at McCain’s energy policy, but the fact that it talks about climate change is not it. It would be nice for more politicians to stand against the bad science behind the global warming movement, but in an election year you have to pick and choose your battles, and this year the GOP needs to have an energy policy on the table to compete on this issue.

The Next Global Warming Meme

ABC News has a piece on this year’s unusually active tornado season. While ABC was careful to note that there’s no real scientific evidence tying an increase in tornados to global warming, a lack of scientific evidence has never stopped the environmentalist lobby from making dire pronouncements before.

In somewhat related news, a majority of British citizens see global warming hysteria as an excuse for more tax revenues to the government. It’s heartening to see so many people exercising their critical reasoning skills these days.

Glenn Reynolds says it best:

It seems large majorities of voters believe that climate-change talk is mostly an excuse to raise taxes. So is this in spite of all the PR about global warming, or because of all the PR about global warming? It’s been pretty heavy-handed. Anyway, as I’ve said before, this is why if you want to implement carbon taxes, etc., they need to be revenue-neutral. And it’s also why, if our “leaders” want us to treat this as a crisis justifying public sacrifice, those leaders need to act as if it’s such a crisis themselves, instead of treating it as an opportunity.

It’s Time For A Real Energy Policy

Jim Geraghty of NRO’s Campaign Spot blog notes a survey that show that global warming is a major political issue in New Hampshire. While much of the global warming issue is alarmist hype, that hype has sunk in. However, even for global warming skeptics the necessity for a smarter energy policy is clear. We can’t live off of fossil fuels forever, and whether the days of “peak oil” will arrive in one year or 100, it will happen some day.

The usual conservative answer is that the market will decide what technology becomes the fuel of tomorrow. Which is all fine and true, but people want some kind of plan now. We have the problem of needing fuel, yet having key fuel sources being in hands of places that are unstable or hostile. The reality is that our dependence on Middle Eastern, African, and Venezuelan oil is a problem of national security, and the Republicans are not sufficiently serious on how we will deal with this problem.

The next answer is to boost domestic production. That’s all fine and good, but that still isn’t enough. We can expand our percentage of domestic oil, but we can’t insulate ourselves from the world oil market. We can’t produce enough domestic oil to meet our needs, and countries like China and India expand, the demand for oil will keep pushing prices up regardless.

Geraghty suggests a couple of policy stances that will help the GOP on this issue:

I’m a big believer that the Republican candidate ought to have something to say on global warming and carbon emissions beyond “the science isn’t clear” and “the market will take care of this.” Find some deserving target of environmental scorn and pledge to crack down on polluters; turn environmental protection into a law-and-order issue. Mock the Democrats’ hypocrisy on this issue. Promise to build wind turbines off the coast of Ted Kennedy’s Nantucket estate. Point out that the GOP wants to finance innovation while the Democrats want to tax energy.

That last sentence is key. What the GOP needs to do is back a 21st Century energy policy. The best analogy is the stock market: you’d be an idiot to hold all your money in one stock. Right now our portfolio is almost entirely based on oil, with a few alternative holdings. What we need is a diversified energy portfolio. Ethanol is one solution (although it’s economically inefficient, it’s politically popular). Biodiesel is one. Wind power is one. Hydroelectric power is another.

But there’s one issue that could significantly impact America’s energy independence, and that’s nuclear energy. The GOP needs to get behind the policy of removing the governmental roadblocks to safe, clean nuclear energy. It’s fundamentally conservative in that it involves removing governmental barriers to private enterprise. It’s also environmentally conscious in that modern nuclear technologies produce minimal waste and product significant amounts of power. As this excellent book points out, there is a strong case that nuclear energy needs to be a key part of America’s 21st Century energy agenda.

There isn’t a “magic bullet” to fix all of our energy woes. Instead, the GOP needs to be aggressively pushing a package of reforms that includes expanding domestic sources of energy, pushing for more efficiency through tax credits and other incentives, and bolstering several different alternative energy sources and letting the market determine which ones work and which ones don’t.

There’s no reason why one can’t have solid conservative principles and still be environmentally conscious, and there is a real need for a more aggressive stance on environmental and energy issues by Republican candidates. Energy is a national security issue, and while the GOP doesn’t have to charge headlong into the politics of fear surrounding global warming, they do need to have a coherent and competitive energy and environmental agenda.

The “progressives” aren’t progressive on energy—they want more big-government solutions that will slow down the development of real alternatives. But in order to win on this issue, conservatives can’t be afraid to take a stand. Again, the GOP candidate who can get conservatives for conservation on their side will have an edge against those others who no real plan to preserve America’s energy independence and the environment at the same time.