Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, spoke on Sunday at the “Forward on Climate Rally” in Washington, D.C. He said, “Science should have decided our course long ago.” He was right. If only environmental policy were based on what science really says, billions of dollars would not have been wasted trying to “contain climate change,” as 350.org nonsensically demanded of President Obama this past weekend.
No matter what Mr. McKibben and Al Gore tell us, experts in the field understand that climate science is highly immature. We are in a period of “negative discovery,” in that the more we learn about climate, the more we realize we do not know. This problem is compounded by the fact that much of the data used by campaigners to try to convince the public that we are in an unusual period climatically is either wrong or highly suspect.
Rather than “remove the doubt,” as Mr. Gore tells us should be done, we must recognize the doubt in this, arguably the most complex science ever tackled.
The confidence expressed by Mr. Gore, Mr. McKibben and Mr. Obama that mankind is causing dangerous climate change is a consequence of a belief in what professors Chris Essex (University of Western Ontario) and Ross McKitrick (University of Guelph) call the “Doctrine of Certainty.” This doctrine is “a collection of now familiar assertions about climate that are to be accepted without question” (“Taken by Storm,” 2007).
Mr. Essex and Mr. McKitrick explain, “But the Doctrine is not true. Each assertion is either manifestly false or the claim to know is false. Climate is one of the most challenging open problems in modern science. Some knowledgeable scientists believe that the climate problem can never be solved.”
Yet, as long ago as 1989, Mr. Gore insisted there was “no dispute worthy of recognition” about the dangers of man-made climate change. Since then, his certainty, and that of the U.N. and most member governments, has solidified into a dogma that few politicians, media, educators or industry leaders dare question.
Yet that dogma is being questioned by more and more reputable scientists who are finally speaking out in an organized fashion. For example, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) shows that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has unjustifiably downplayed research that suggests variations in solar output have far greater impact on global climate than all human activities combined. The NIPCC demonstrates that much of the science being relied upon by governments to create multi-billion dollar climate policies is likely wrong.
Climate change and extreme weather have always happened and always will, no matter what we do. Therefore, instead of foolishly trying to stop them from occurring, we need to adapt to such phenomena by preparing our societies for these inevitable events.
Adaptation measures would include burying electrical cables underground, reinforcing buildings and other infrastructure and preparing for a continuation of sea level rise. We must also ensure reliable, affordable energy so that we have the power to heat and cool our dwellings as needed. For this reason, the president must expand, not shrink, the use of America’s cheapest, most reliable and most abundant energy source — coal — which generates half the country’s electricity. Replacing significant amounts of conventional fossil fuel and nuclear power with intermittent and diffuse sources such as wind and solar power, as groups like 350.org are demanding, is irrational.
It is time to listen to reputable experts who say that, while someday we may be able to meaningfully predict climate, it is not possible now. The science fiction of attempting to actually control global climate through impractical energy policies will simply leave us hungry and freezing in the dark.
That may not be a comforting thought for the thousands who braved the elements to demonstrate on the Mall on Sunday, but that is the true climate reality.
Tom Harris is the executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition and an adviser to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.