08 August, 2005

"The Theology of Global Warming"

This commentary piece by James Schlesinger in today's Wall Street Journal is too good to miss. If you don't have a subscription, get one - or find a newsstand and pick up today's copy. The piece addresses a topic that I've talked about before (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here): the instantiation of environmentalism (and global warming specifically) as a kind of secular religion against which no fact-based heresy will be tolerated lest it erode the blind, unreasoning faith of true believers. Simply calling it a religion begins to explain much about how the 'debate' is conducted and how the word "science" is at risk of becoming merely a sound that people make with their mouths - signifying nothing.

Mr. Schlesinger is no right-wing madman. Not only did he serve in the Carter administration (as the first Secretary of Energy, starting in 1977), but he initiated the DOE's Carbon Dioxide Effects and Assessment Program. Maybe someone worth listening to?

In referring to the theology of global warming, one is not focusing on evidence of the earth's warming in recent decades, particularly in the Arctic, but rather on the widespread insistence that such warming is primarily a consequence of man's activities -- and that, if only we collectively had the will, we could alter our behavior and stop the warming of the planet.

It was Michael Crichton who pointed out in his Commonwealth Club lecture some years ago that environmentalism had become the religion of Western elites. Indeed it has. Most notably, the burning of fossil fuels (a concomitant of economic growth and rising living standards) is the secular counterpart of man's Original Sin. If only we would repent and sin no more, mankind's actions could end the threat of further global warming. By implication, the cost, which is never fully examined, is bearable. So far the evidence is not convincing. It is notable that 13 of the 15 older members of the European Union have failed to achieve their quotas under the Kyoto accord -- despite the relatively slow growth of the European economies...

The issue of climate change urgently needs to be brought down from the level of theology to what we actually know. It is, of course, quite likely that the greenhouse effect has to some extent contributed to global warming -- but we simply do not know to what extent. The insistence that global warming is primarily the consequence of human activity leaves scant room for variation in solar intensity or cyclical phenomena generally.

Over the ages, climate has varied. Generally speaking, the Northern Hemisphere has been warming since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 17th century. Most of the global warming observed in the 20th century occurred between 1900 and 1940, when the release of greenhouse gasses was far less than later in the century. Between 1940 and 1975, temperatures fell -- and scientists feared a lengthy period of global cooling. The reported rise in temperatures in recent decades has come rather suddenly -- probably too suddenly given the relatively slow rise of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

We must always bear in mind that the earth's atmosphere remains a highly complex thermodynamic machine. Given its complexities, we need to be modest in asserting what we know. Knowledge is more than speculation...

Much has been made of the assertion, repeated regularly in the media, that "the science is settled," based upon a supposed "scientific consensus." Yet, some years ago in the "Oregon Petition" between 17,000 and 18,000 signatories, almost all scientists, made manifest that the science was not settled, declaring:

"There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate."

...science is not a matter of consensus, as the histories of Galileo, Copernicus, Pasteur, Einstein and others will attest. Science depends not on speculation but on conclusions verified through experiment. Verification is more than computer simulations -- whose conclusions mirror the assumptions built in the model. Irrespective of the repeated assertions regarding a "scientific consensus," there is neither a consensus nor is consensus science. [emphasis added]
I've barely skimmed the surface of a piece that's required reading for anyone who wants to weigh in on this topic, (i.e., pretty much everyone.)

UPDATE I: Welcome Anchoress, Atlas Shrugs and Sigmund, Carl & Alfred readers! While you're here, check out the archives. It's an eclectic mix - from the personal to the geopolitical. Have fun and comment away, (politely, of course.) And yes, Kobayashi Maru is a silly pseudonym. If you lived where I do, you'd understand. :)

UPDATE II: The Anchoress found a great link to James Glassman over at Tech Central Station, and his essay: "Way, Way Beyond Kyoto":
...the United States announced in Vientiane, Laos, last week that it was joining five other nations - China, India, Japan, South Korea and Australia -- in a new pact that offers a refreshing and effective alternative route to tackling the problem of climate change... Many professional environmentalists, for whom Kyoto is a matter of religious fervor, are disarmed and dismayed. "There's really nothing new here," said Jeff Fielder, an analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York.
No Jeff, not for you there probably isn't. Franchise broken. New game. Kewl. Anchoress' original post on this from August 3rd is here: "Hate him all you want, President Bush has vision, he is uninterested in theorizing and gabbing about a problem and is keen to actually DO something."

UPDATE III: Running for the Right has a great homemade chart correlating sunspot activity with temperatures in the Northern hemisphere over a 30-year period. It may not represent anything in particular, (correlations like this are notoriously easy to find between wholly unrelated subjects such as rabbit populations and sunspots), but it raises the question of how similar charts purporting to 'prove' global warming's inexorable man-made rush to destruction are equally open to question.

UPDATE IV: Finally doing the back research I should have done yesterday, I discover this bit from John Hinderaker over at Powerline from July 28th, writing about the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate:

It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile... What distinguishes this plan from the Kyoto protocol is that it will actually lead to a major reduction in carbon emissions! This substitution of practical impact for well-crafted verbiage stunned and infuriated European observers. I doubt that the pact will make any difference to the earth's climate, which will be determined, as always, by variations in the energy emitted by the sun. But when the real cause of a phenomenon is inaccessible, it makes people feel better to tinker with something that they can control. Unlike Kyoto, this agreement won't devastate the U.S. economy, and, also unlike Kyoto, the agreement will reduce carbon emissions in the countries where they are now rising most rapidly, India and China. Brilliant. [emphasis added]

That reminds me of this oldie-but-goodie from Bob Geldof, speaking in July, 2003 about combating AIDS in Africa:
"Clinton talked the talk and did diddly squat, whereas Bush doesn't talk but does deliver," said Mr. Geldof, an Irish musician and activist who in 1985 staged the world's largest rock concert to combat starvation in Africa. "You'll think I'm off my trolley when I say this, but the Bush administration is the most radical, in a positive sense, in the approach to Africa since Kennedy," he said. [emphasis added]
UPDATE V: I also like this comment from Carlo Stagnaro over at Commons Blog, an excellent source on free market environmentalism that I've just added to my blogroll.
I was quite disappointed, then, when I first saw a comment from Friends of Earth's Tony Juniper: "this is another attempt to undermine Kyoto and a message to the developing world to buy US technology and not to worry about targets and timetables." In fact there is no need to undermine Kyoto, as the Protocol is - in a way - self-undermining. Its most vocal supporter, the European Union, will fail in meeting the targets as the European Environmental Agency openly tells... Apparently some climate fundamentalists, as well as some political actors... value their opposition to the White House more than a move that might well help to reduce future emissions. [emphasis added]