I have been something of an agnostic on climate change. The politicization of the issue has become so pronounced that it is impossible to have a rational discussion on the issue with either side. Every piece of evidence that emerges for or against global warming and its anthropogenic nature is dismissed or embraced, depending on one’s point of view.
Currently, those who believe the human race is doomed unless we do something about carbon emissions are in the ascendancy, largely as a result of a clever media campaign and a demonization of global warming detractors. But reading science publications – even those geared toward a general audience – reveals a still lively debate among scientists on many, many issues that those who seek to politicize the issue have already declared settled. How much is industrial activity to blame? Just how fast is the phenomena occurring? How bad will it get? Is there anything we can do about it?
Based purely on scientific evidence, there is no doubt that the world is getting warmer – something that has been occurring since the end of the last ice age. There is compelling evidence that human industrial activity over the last 100 years is, in fact, having an effect on temperature although there are still some responsible skeptics who attempt to make a case otherwise. I personally find their evidence less and less convincing as the years go by.
How much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are actually making their way to a level in our atmosphere where they would raise temperatures? No one knows. Models trying to predict those levels of carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere have not been very good. This is not because the phenomena is not occurring but rather because of a lack of raw data that would improve our modeling and allow us to glimpse the future.
Even if the climate is changing, is there anything we can do about it? No one is sure. Lowering emissions may indeed slow down or even eliminate excess global warming. Then again, it may not have any effect at all.
And here is where politics insinuates itself into the debate to the detriment of science as well as the debate itself. Scientists argue whether the Greenland glaciers are growing or shrinking, whether the Antarctic ice cap is melting, whether the cyclical nature of sunspots are to blame for the increase in temperature, even whether polar bears are at risk of becoming extinct or not. But it is politicians and advocates who argue about climate change “solutions” and charge their opponents with being mindless fanatics or anti-science zealots depending on whose ox is being gored.
Where does that leave rational, thoughtful science enthusiasts like you and me who may not have the technical acumen to judge the efficacy of scientific arguments but who try and follow the debate anyway?
On the outside looking in, I’m afraid. Not committing to either camp in this debate means that we are ignored, even ridiculed for not seeing “the truth” of global warming – as if it were some kind of religion that demanded obeisance to a set of beliefs rather than a hard eyed look at the evidence. Recognizing the danger of climate change while trying to maintain a certain skepticism about evidence coming from both sides is enough to drive those of us who respect the scientific method to distraction. But we can certainly examine the political climate in which the debate takes place.
And here is where you will find the most bizarre collection of anti-globalists, anti-capitalists, “sustainable growth” nuts, and population control fanatics allying themselves with Third World kleptocrats in order to soak the west with “carbon offsets” and other gimmicks without reducing emissions by one single molecule. This was the now defunct Kyoto agreement, the first attempt by this motley coalition to radically alter western industrialized civilization.
At least on the other side of the political coin with the most organized efforts to debunk global warming there is the rationality of promoting an anti-warming agenda based largely on economic interests. Lost profits may not be a very noble reason to oppose efforts to reduce emissions but at least it has logic so sorely lacking on the other side.
This then is the political atmosphere in which charge and counter charge is hurled back and forth, with the global warming cadres spewing nonsense about comparing skeptics with “Nazis” while the skeptics accuse climate change advocates of being Luddites.
To say that most conservatives fall into the latter category is a given. Their natural enemies are found in the NGO’s, the non-profits, and the UN offshoots who seek to undermine capitalism and free markets while strangling economic growth – all in a good cause, of course. And the fact that they want to carry out these draconian measures while much of the scientific debate still rages causes most conservatives to blanch when any proposals to fight climate change are proposed.
I believe this to be a shortsighted and wrongheaded approach to the political problems of climate change. There is something to be said for the global warming advocate’s argument that we simply can’t afford not to do anything. Simply ignoring the problem as Republican Presidential candidates are doing is not only bad politics, it’s bad science as well. As Tigerhawk points out, we risk much by not engaging in the debate over what to do about climate change:
The key is to separate the increasingly convincing scientific arguments substantiating the fact of anthropogenic climate change from the remedies for that change, which can take many forms and will shape the world in which we live for generations to come. In theory it should be easy to do so—after all, one can never derive what “ought” from what “is.” The fact of anthropogenic climate change does not tell us what we ought to do about it. Unfortunately, politicians, activists, lawyers, journalists, and other advocates specialize in claiming, falsely, that “what ought” follows inexorably from “what is,” no matter how intellectually dishonest those claims may be. My advice to conservatives, therefore, is that we stop arguing about whether human activity causes global climate change and start getting in front of solutions that will accelerate the creation of wealth over the long term.(Hat Tip: MVG)
The fact is, there is plenty that we can do as a society to lower our emissions without experiencing the kind of catastrophic pain that would have been caused by following Kyoto dictates. Start with our automobiles – developing sensible timetables to drastically lower emissions from cars would be an excellent start. This would almost certainly force automakers to heavily invest in hybrid technology while improving the performance and lowering the price of those kinds of cars.
We could also start building nuclear power plants to replace the old, carbon spewing coal fired plants that have caused other environmental problems like acid rain. Small scale development of solar, wind, and geothermal power would also contribute to a lowering of emissions, despite the fact that industrial scale power production using those methods of generating electricity are extremely expensive and inefficient.
And doing what America does best – invent, improve, and innovate – spurred on by the free market will no doubt produce other solutions down the road. Hydrogen powered cars, more efficient public transportation, and things unimagined and unglimpsed will contribute in the future to reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases.
All of these are conservative alternatives to the bloated, government centered, confiscatory ideas advocated by Al Gore and his acolytes in the Democratic party as well as the even more draconian measures advocated by global warming advocates overseas or in the United Nations.
The political question is simple; can conservatives continue to ignore the implications of climate change? Or, as Tigerhawk writes, should we get out in front of the issue to advocate “solutions” that are mostly market based and not so damaging to our economy?
Color me a skeptic who thinks the time has come for conservatives to step up on this issue.