If you’re thinking of becoming a Republican presidential candidate - and who isn’t these days - you can plan on being pressed on the climate issue. In the wake of last week’s new report from a panel of the National Research Council (NRC) reiterating its old talking points on climate, The Washington Post editorialized that all (read “Republican”) candidates for political office should be quizzed about whether they agree with the “scientific consensus of America’s premier scientific advisory group.”
Although this threat is intended to intimidate Republicans who tend toward queasiness when confronted with environmental issues, the attack is easy to parry and then even to counterattack - that’s why Al Gore and his enviros duck debating so-called “climate skeptics.”
First, let’s dismiss a couple of faulty premises of The Post’s editorial.
While it is true that the NRC operates under the umbrella of the National Academy of Sciences, the NRC panel that authored the report has nothing to do with the prestigious individual scientists who make up the National Academy of Sciences membership. NRC panels are highly politicized and often stacked, and no climate skeptics were included in the panel that wrote last week’s report.
Next, science doesn’t work on a consensus basis. We don’t accept that the Earth revolves around the Sun because most scientists or a group of scientists have agreed to say so. Science is driven by data, not groupthink.
In actuality, the NRC report is more an exercise in political science than climate science.
Skeptics don’t deny global warming or climate change. We think the atmosphere probably has warmed slightly and on an average basis over the past 200 years (for unknown reasons) and we recognize that climate is changing continually, albeit slowly.
We don’t agree, however, that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases are having either detectable or predictable effects on climate - and we have at least two key means of establishing this point.
First, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased by about 8 percent or so since the mid-1990s. According to climate alarmists, this should have caused measurable global warming. But none has been observed, a fact that finally was admitted by climate alarmists in the wake of the Climategate scandal.
Next, if it were true that global temperature was so sensitive and dependent upon atmospheric CO2 levels, then climate models (essentially elaborate scientific formulas) could be constructed to predict accurately the temperature effects from changing CO2 levels. But not only do existing models not predict the future temperature, they can’t replicate the past when historical data is put through them.
But shouldn’t we err on the side of precaution and reduce emissions anyway? As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency already has demonstrated and admitted, we could shut down the United States in terms of CO2 emissions for 100 years and we would make precious little difference in the atmospheric CO2 level - possibly on the order of 5 percent.
Given that an 8 percent increase in CO2 over the past 15 years has amounted to zero global warming, candidates would be on firm ground wondering whether it’s worth wrecking the economy over a 5 percent increase over 100 years.
Candidates should not fall for bogus distractions like melting polar ice, threatened polar bears, bad weather and the like.
The Washington Post wants candidates to be quizzed on what they would do about “the rising seas, spreading deserts and intensifying storms that, absent a change in policy, loom on America’s horizon.”
Natural disasters, topographic changes and population booms and busts have always occurred and will continue to occur. None of these phenomena can be tied scientifically to man-made emissions of CO2. So they are simply irrelevant sideshow issues.
Carbon dioxide should not be referred to as a “pollutant.” It is colorless, odorless and tasteless and is an essential nutrient for plants and, therefore, humans. Alarmists call it “carbon pollution”; the rest of us call it “life.”
One last science point is the Climategate scandal. Alarmists claim that numerous subsequent investigations of the matter by independent groups have failed to uncover wrongdoing or faulty science, but none of these whitewashes were truly independent or anything more than superficial. No input from skeptics, even those mentioned in the emails, was included.
None of this is difficult to learn and articulate. Yet ask almost any Republican politician about any of this, and the best you can hope for from them is an expression of concern about jobs and the fact that China and India aren’t cutting their emissions.
While those are true and valid points, they, too, are sideshow distractions. The central point of the science debate is whether man-made CO2 emissions are causing harm. There is no evidence that they are.
“What if you’re wrong about the science?” or, “Shouldn’t we err on the side of better-safe-than-sorry?” you may be asked. Of course, it’s the alarmists who need to be second-guessing themselves. They’ve been wrong repeatedly and never right since they started forecasting climate doom almost 25 years ago. Give them no quarter.
Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and is the author of “Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them” (Regnery 2009).