Blinded by Science
By George Will
Sunday, February 21, 2010
WASHINGTON -- Science, many scientists say, has been restored to her rightful throne because progressives have regained power. Progressives, say progressives, emulate the cool detachment of scientific discourse. So hear now the calm, collected voice of a scientist lavishly honored by progressives, Rajendra Pachauri.
He is chairman of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the 2007 version of the increasingly weird Nobel Peace Prize. Denouncing persons skeptical about the shrill certitudes of those who say global warming poses an imminent threat to the planet, he says:
"They are the same people who deny the link between smoking and cancer. They are people who say that asbestos is as good as talcum powder -- and I hope they put it on their faces every day."
Do not judge him as harshly as he speaks of others. Nothing prepared him for the unnerving horror of encountering disagreement. Global warming alarmists, long cosseted by echoing media, manifest an interesting incongruity -- hysteria and name calling accompanying serene assertions about the "settled science" of climate change. Were it settled, we would be spared the hyperbole that amounts to Ring Lardner's "Shut up, he explained."
The global warming industry, like Alexander in the famous children's story, is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Actually, a bad three months, which began Nov. 19 with the publication of e-mails indicating attempts by scientists to massage data and suppress dissent in order to strengthen "evidence" of global warming.
But there already supposedly was a broad, deep and unassailable consensus. Strange.
Next came the failure of The World's Last -- We Really, Really Mean It -- Chance, aka the Copenhagen climate change summit. It was a nullity, and since then things have been getting worse for those trying to stampede the world into a spasm of prophylactic statism.
In 2007, before the economic downturn began enforcing seriousness and discouraging grandstanding, seven Western U.S. states (and four Canadian provinces) decided to fix the planet on their own. California's Arnold Schwarzenegger intoned, "We cannot wait for the United States government to get its act together on the environment." The 11 jurisdictions formed what is now called the Western Climate Initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, starting in 2012.
Or not. Arizona's Gov. Jan Brewer recently suspended her state's participation in what has not yet begun, and some Utah legislators are reportedly considering a similar action. She worries, sensibly, that it would impose costs on businesses and consumers. She also ordered reconsideration of Arizona's strict vehicle emission rules, modeled on incorrigible California's, lest they raise the cost of new cars.
Last week, BP America, ConocoPhillips and Caterpillar, three early members of the 31-member U.S. Climate Action Partnership, said: Oh, never mind. They withdrew from USCAP. It is a coalition of corporations and global warming alarm groups that was formed in 2007 when carbon rationing legislation seemed inevitable and collaboration with the rationers seemed prudent. A spokesman for Conoco said: "We need to spend time addressing the issues that impact our shareholders and consumers." What a concept.
Global warming skeptics, too, have erred. They have said there has been no statistically significant warming for 10 years. Phil Jones, former director of Britain's Climatic Research Unit, source of the leaked documents, admits it has been 15 years. Small wonder that support for radical remedial action, sacrificing wealth and freedom to combat warming, is melting faster than the Himalayan glaciers that an IPCC report asserted, without serious scientific support, could disappear by 2035.
Jones also says that if during what is called the Medieval Warm Period (circa 800-1300) global temperatures may have been warmer than today's, that would change the debate. Indeed it would. It would complicate the task of indicting contemporary civilization for today's supposedly unprecedented temperatures.
Last week, Todd Stern, America's Special Envoy for Climate Change -- yes, there is one; and people wonder where to begin cutting government -- warned that those interested in "undermining action on climate change" will seize on "whatever tidbit they can find." Tidbits like specious science, and the absence of warming?
It is tempting to say, only half in jest, that Stern's portfolio violates the First Amendment, which forbids government from undertaking the establishment of religion. A religion is what the faith in catastrophic man-made global warming has become. It is now a tissue of assertions impervious to evidence, assertions which everything, including a historic blizzard, supposedly confirms and nothing, not even the absence of warming, can falsify.