Let’s Be Reasonable About Climate Change

First, I think it is important to be clear about my views on anthropogenic climate change: I think it is quite reasonable to assume that it must be happening. I think it is foolish to assume that we can relocate entire forests* and change the composition of our atmosphere without any environmental consequences. Even if we do not affect average temperatures, we will probably significantly change weather patterns at some point. However, I think that the extent and speed at which it is happening are often grossly exaggerated – or, at least, stated as indisputable fact without sufficient proof. In making their claims and fighting the good fight, climate change activists often reveal a few things about themselves that they might not want people to know and might not even realize themselves.

(*Yes, I do know that we have more forest land in the United States now than we did in 1900, but much of it has been moved, and much of its fauna did not move with it.)

Problems with Obsessive Climate Change Activists

1. They are politically motivated.

The general view held against the skeptics is that their arguments are politically motivated. Well, let us settle that right here and now: They are. Of course they are! Skeptic senators and representatives have campaign coffers full of funds from oil and gas companies. Skeptic voters often work for oil and gas companies or live in economies that rely heavily upon those companies – and they buy a lot of gasoline too. However, the claim that the other side is not politically motivated is complete nonsense. Yes, many of the skeptics are in the pockets of Big Oil. However, it would be extremely disingenuous to say that elected officials championing the climate change cause are not receiving any campaign bucks for doing so – and that the organizations giving them those bucks are honestly 100% concerned with protecting the environment and are not ultimately disinterested political machines merely looking for more power.

In 2010, Al Gore tried to direct attention away from the politicized nature of his crowd’s efforts by saying that climate change was a “moral issue,” the implication being that government should use that as a reason to become even more actively engaged in the issue. Compare that with statements made by countless leftists about how government should not get involved in abortion (even though they do want the government to get involved by funding it), homosexuality (even though they do want government to get involved by officially advocating and institutionalizing it), and any number of other social issues because the government should stay out of “moral issues”. So which is it? Does the fact that it is a “moral issue” make it something that the government should get involved in or not? If we have any decency, we will admit that every political issue is a moral issue and that many moral issues are political issues.

2. Often enough, they are not exactly being scientific.

The recent fiasco on Reddit in which climate change skeptics were blackballed from commenting because their claims were supposedly unscientific is only one of many cases in which people have seemed to think that consensus equals fact. Expert consensus is certainly something to be respected – especially by lay people – but it is not fact. Consensus has been wrong many times in the scientific community, which is why the scientific community tends to welcome a certain level of dissent. Those who, like Al Gore, say that this is “settled science” and “incontrovertible” are actually acting in opposition to the scientific method rather than in accordance with it. Dr. Ivar Giaever, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) in 2011 out of disgust for the group’s unwillingness to entertain dissent on the matter of climate change. As Giaever said, “In the APS, it is okay to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?” Challenging President Obama’s assertion that the matter was “beyond dispute,” a list of over 100 climate scientists signed a statement in 2009 in which they communicated their professional opinion that he was very much incorrect in this assertion. Indeed, at one point, some probably said that Newton’s corpuscular theory of light was “incontrovertible” and “beyond dispute.”

3. They exaggerate. Grossly. (And they are sometimes demonstrably wrong.)

One of the biggest falsehoods propagated by the climate change movement – and still believed by many – is that the melting of polar sea ice will result in higher sea levels. This is contrary to basic physics. If you fill a glass of ice water to the brim and let it sit, will the melting of the ice cause it to overflow? No. It will not. This is because H2O displaces more space as a solid than as a liquid. Therefore, while the melting of glacial ice like that on Greenland and Antarctica does cause sea levels to rise, the melting of sea ice actually causes sea levels to fall. The entertainment of such patently false ideas makes it difficult for the climate change people to claim the scientific high ground.

Another point of misunderstanding is the inflation of data with regards to deforestation. For instance, it has been said that Americans’ toilet paper buying habits – the tendency to favor product that is very soft – is destructive to the environment because one cannot make such soft toilet paper from recycled materials, requiring the cutting down of trees. What people do not realize, though, is that, unlike materials such as metal and plastic, paper is a renewable resource – a crop. Many of the “forests” that are cut down to make that paper were actually planted by paper companies specifically for that purpose. If anything, by facilitating the growth of trees and replanting wood crops as they do, American paper companies do a lot to reduce atmospheric carbon. Even if concerns about overflowing landfills are considered, would we rather have that carbon in the ground or in the air? Another example of exaggerated deforestation claims is the tendency to inflate the numbers when it comes to the reduction of rainforest. While deforestation in the rainforests is certainly a problem, those who tell you that X acres are being cut down and burned every day tend to fail to mention the fact that, in many cases, the same areas of forest are cut and burned repeatedly because forests, being made of plants, have a tendency to grow again once they have been cut down. I say this not because I do not care about the rainforests, but because I do care about the rainforests: exaggeration detracts from legitimacy and makes it easy for people to make oversimplified counterpoints by pointing to your exaggeration.

More importantly than such points of basic scientific ignorance, though, are the cases in which the doomsday projections made by climate change activists have been way off base. One of the most famous of these was that made by Michael Oppenheimer and Robert H. Boyle, who in 1990 predicted that we would basically be facing the end of the world by 1995 due to anthropogenic climate change. We are still waiting. It does not take long to find a whole list of such gems. Even if the general gist of their position were correct – which I think it is – the degree to which such false doomsday prophets obsess over their projections of an ecological apocalypse is infuriating in that it detracts from the legitimacy of actual level-headed people with real concerns about the environment. Anyway, even if such immediate and complete projections of ecological collapse were true, there would be little we could do about them anyway, so they actually tend to compel people toward inaction more than anything.

My Take

Climate change is a real concern, and our rainforests do need to be protected. For that reason, in fighting for the environment, we must maintain a sense of scientific legitimacy. For that reason, we must not resort to heavy-handed measures to silence the skeptics because we are tired of hearing their politically motivated criticisms of statements that were also obviously politically motivated. We must also be willing to accept the possibility that much of what we assume may simply be wrong – admitting to the instances in which that has been the case in the past.

So what should we do?

First, we must strike a balance between ecological and economic concerns. While we say that failed ecological policy will amount to failed economic policy, we must be willing to admit the reverse. Imagine a world in which unfettered and unrealistic policies of environmental protection result in a complete economic collapse. Now imagine what will happen to the environment when everyone starts burning wood and trash to stay warm and when basic services like sewage treatment shut down or are unable to expand due to a lack of economic resources.

Second, we must use government resources to pursue real development of greentech instead of trying to line the pockets of our constituencies. I’m looking at you, A123 systems, and the $200 million federal grant you got to finance an ultimately failed enterprise in exchange for your pittance of a campaign contribution to Barack Obama. (I have an MBA, and I’m thinking about starting a green technology firm. Can I have $200 million in free money too?) Government should never give grants to handpicked technology firms before they have done what needs to be done. If anything, government should issue or guarantee loans or give after-the-fact grants as incentives within a framework of free and open competition.

Third, we have to consider all of the consequences of our actions. While some of us may think that hefty taxes on fossil fuels would be a good thing, the rural poor who make little money and buy a lot of fuel would disagree. It puzzles me that those who are against the FairTax on the grounds that it would be a disproportionately heavy burden on the lower and middle classes are often so enthusiastic about high excise taxes on fossil fuels, as these would have the same effect.

Fourth, as I have already suggested, we need to stop freaking out. It only alienates people and makes us look like idiots when the sky does not actually fall.

Fifth, we must emphasize the other, less controversial reasons to develop green energy. Conservatives love things like energy independence, increased economic efficiency, and higher property values. They will even appreciate things like lower occurrences of cancer due to less particulate matter in the air if we would just explain that instead of screaming about highly debatable figures regarding temperature fluctuations. It is a simple fact that finding common ground is the best way to get things done, so we should ask ourselves: Are we more concerned with bringing about positive change or with using incendiary and overblown rhetoric to mobilize the base and win elections? Something to think about.