Over the last few weeks, I have been following the recent developments regarding global warming and the so-called “climate-gate” with somewhat bemused interest. On the eve of the Copenhagen conference, which is being billed by global warming advocates as the greatest climate change summit of all time and the last best hope for our planet, an unknown hacker manages to steal a hundred megabytes worth of emails from a climate research unit which appears to show climate researchers cooking the books to “hide the decline” and squelch skeptics. Now honestly, I don’t know what to think of these particular emails. I’m sure if I really wanted to, I could hack into someone’s email and find a few out-of-context quotes to make them look suspicious too. Whatever these emails ultimately mean, I highly doubt they actually prove the existence of some vast scientific conspiracy to hoodwink the world into believing climate change is real. If their is any fraud in climate research, a more likely explanation is simple bias caused by politically motivated funding of research, rather than a deliberate conspiracy.
The real problem here is the politicization of science in the first place. After the climate-gate incident, I read numerous news articles talking about how poll numbers of people who believe climate change is real showed substantial drops, primarily among Republicans. In these articles, there were many quotes from scientists lamenting the fact that the existence of human-caused climate change is a political issue, subject to the latest opinion polls and the whims of the uneducated populace. I lament this too, but for a different reason. The reason global warming has become a political issue (besides the aforementioned funding issues) is because it long ago ceased to be about science and is now primarily a policy debate. Instead of sticking with what they do best, making observations, crunching numbers, and concocting theories, scientists have strayed far out of their usual realm and have directly entered the world of policy debate.
It’s one thing for scientists to tell us that climate change is occurring; it’s quite another for them to attempt to dictate the exact ways in which to solve this alleged “problem.” When scientists stop being scientists and start proposing policies like politicians, is it any wonder that science becomes politicized? It would be one thing if they just laid out the facts and gave a few possible solutions, then stepped back and let governments debate the best course of action in a rational manner that takes into account all the pros and cons. But they have not done this. Instead, scientists and global warming advocates have put all their eggs in one basket, dogmatically clinging to drastic global carbon emission cuts as the one and only way to solve the problem. Then they come up with doomsday scenarios of rising sea levels, flooded cities, famines, plagues, wars etc. in an attempt to claim that unless the world takes immediate action to reduce carbon emissions to pre-industrial levels, it’s the end of the world as we know it. Such scare tactics are nothing more than the clear tactics of petty demagogues to incite fear and motivate action out of a false sense of urgency.
Never mind the fact that such reductions in carbon emissions will come at the cost of trillions of dollars and millions of lost jobs. Never mind the fact that they would require nearly a complete reordering of the global economy to accomplish. Never mind the fact that even if these reductions are possible, they would only reduce global temperatures by a few fractions of a degree at most. To the global warming evangelists, it has become a cardinal sin to engage in even the most basic types of cost-benefit analysis when it comes to taking steps to mitigate global warming. Instead, they expect unquestioning allegiance to whatever plans they propose, no matter what the cost, because we owe it to “the planet.”
Many people over the last few weeks have remarked the climate change has become almost a sort of religion. Indeed the similarities are striking. You have a large movement of people motivated by a pseudo-religious fervor, passionately accepting whatever their leaders tell them through blind faith, while speaking in vagaries about “taking action” and bringing hope and salvation to mankind. They are on a crusade to “save the planet” motivated by some sort of quasi-pantheistic love of “nature,” which they are devoted to at all costs in an endless quest to atone for the “sins” of mankind in polluting the Earth with our very presence. For such people, their entire lives have become bound up in this cause, and there is no price too great to pay to achieve it.
What is ultimately needed in the climate change debate is to cut through the extremist rhetoric on both sides and make an honest evaluation of our options. Let’s say for the sake of argument that climate change really is occurring, and that it is in fact caused by humans. Ultimately yes, in the long term we will probably want to reduce carbon emissions to prevent the problem from increasing. But is the threat really so bad as to mandate such drastic actions as are currently being proposed in the Copenhagen treaty and in President Obama’s cap-and-trade bill? What is the threat exactly? Probably the worst effect most commonly cited is rising sea levels, but according to the Heritage Foundation, “Even the United Nation’s 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (putting aside for a moment the Climategate-fueled concerns that this study is overly alarmist) projects 7 to 23 inches of sea level rise by century’s end.”
Okay, so the oceans might rise two feet in the next 100 years. Is that really worth spending trillions of dollars of government funds, millions of jobs lost, massively higher energy costs, and a greatly decreased standard of living for every person on Earth, or at least the developed world? I’ve got another idea. Why don’t we just adapt to climate change instead? Surely 100 years is enough time to build sea walls or dikes protecting low lying cities that could be threatened with flooding. Sure there are other problems posed by climate change as well, but if we see the problem coming this far in advance, we should be able to come up with some way to simply adapt to the immediate problems posed by global warming while waiting for technologies to be developed that offer a more permanent solution, without bankrupting every country on Earth and effecting a total restructuring of the global economy to get there. Climate change policies should not be immune to cost-benefit analysis, and if the costs of a proposed policy far outweigh the potential benefits it should be rejected. This is something that climate change advocates have so far refused to even consider.
Rather than carrying on with end-of-world predictions and dogmatic insistence that their way is the only way to solve this problem, global warming advocates need to be open to alternate solutions, including ones which leave carbon emissions untouched for the present and focus on adapting to a changed climate instead. Perhaps if we acknowledged that it simply is not feasible to reduce carbon emissions to pre-industrial levels *right now* (at least without reverting to a pre-industrial society), and focused on a more practical solution that doesn’t demand such great sacrifices in the name of a problem we are still not sure even exists, we could actually get somewhere. But until climate change advocates are willing to compromise and stop insisting that the entire world bow to their every demand, that is not going to happen, and the only result they’ll ever produce is a string of failed treaties like Kyoto and a swath of economic devastation in their wake. Is that really worth it?