“Climate change” has suffered significant setbacks in the past year. First there was Climategate. Then the Copenhagen conference ended without binding agreements on either mitigation or adaptation. This was followed quickly by Glaciergate, Amazongate, Kiwigate and serious challenges to the credibility of Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Next, professor Phil Jones of the United Kingdom’s Climatic Research Unit (and lead author of the IPCC chapter on temperatures) admitted that there has been no statistically significant warming for 15 years. Then “hockey stick” promoters finally acknowledged that there indeed was a Medieval Warm Period.
These events, coupled with the economic downturn and the education efforts of climate realists - those who take a balanced perspective of climate change - have impacted public opinion. Now, a significant fraction of the public regards the past century’s warming as primarily natural and a human-induced global-warming catastrophe as improbable. So public support for expensive greenhouse-gas-reduction policies has eroded.
Republican climate skeptics have taken control of the U.S. House of Representatives, thereby killing any chance of federal “cap-and-trade” legislation for now. Republican congressional leaders also have vowed to use every trick in the book to block Environmental Protection Agency carbon-dioxide (CO2) regulations scheduled to start on Jan. 2. And, not surprisingly, the United Nations’ 2010 Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, is failing, with Mother Nature helping to dampen warming fears as an early winter sets in across the Northern Hemisphere.
Some commentators tell us that this is the beginning of the end of the climate scare. More likely, it is just the end of the beginning. If this were a hockey game, the first period would have just ended with a couple of quick goals by climate realists. But alarmists built up a 5-0 lead while realists were still learning to play. The score is now 5-2, with most of the game yet to go. While it is appropriate for realists to revel in their late-period success, it is vastly premature to celebrate.
Through the tireless work of hundreds of thousands of mostly unpaid activists, aided by unquestioning journalists, grant-seeking scientists, pandering politicians, opportunistic or naive industries and well-meaning but misinformed citizens, climate campaigners made “stopping global warming” a cause celebre. The warmists’ message was pounded out, free of charge, daily for years: “We in the West are causing a planetary emergency and the poor of the world are the primary victims.” Celebrities, leading scientists and charismatic mega-fauna such as the polar bear were recruited as the faces of responsible environmental stewardship.
As a result, massive donations from left-wing foundations poured in to groups focused on promoting alarm. With unprecedented resources at their disposal, climate campaigners hired communications and legal exerts to help craft long-term, often ruthless strategies to sway public opinion and frighten industry away from effectively defending itself. Meanwhile, throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, nature cooperated. Global warming, later to become “climate change,” was ready for prime time.
It wasn’t long before scientifically illiterate politicians faced intense pressure to “do something to save the planet.” And so, instead of helping educate the public about climate realities or even seeking qualified alternative opinions, they capitulated, signing international agreements prescribing crippling restrictions on “global warming pollution.” Western governments then diverted billions of dollars of public money to help finance climate alarmism, resulting in the creation of countless climate-change public- and private-sector jobs. These bureaucrats then rewarded activists with yet more grants and donations, which were used to push governments and industry to do still more.
Today, climate alarmism is de rigueur “science” in virtually all public schools, colleges and universities. Most mainstream media, corporations, even churches and essentially all environmental organizations promote the now politically correct view of human-caused climate change. Aside from President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, not a single prominent world leader contests the hypothesis that humanity’s CO2 emissions are causing dangerous global warming. The fact that the basic science behind the scare is crumbling appears to have no impact on these groups. Instead, science is cherry-picked to prop up public policy that has more to do with pleasing vested interests and satisfying social ideology than protecting the environment.
There simply is too much money and political capital, and too many reputations are at stake for alarmists to back down. After their late first-period letdown, environmental activists have stepped up their campaign to keep governments and media from falling off the climate-change bandwagon. Literally hundreds of millions of dollars are still being funneled into promoting alarm and futile solutions. In the third quarter of this year, the McKnight Foundation alone donated $26 million to the Climate Works Foundation, a group originated in 2008 with roughly a half-billion dollars in start-up funding.
As a result, the worldwide climate movement continues to enjoy significant successes. For example, Australia’s new prime minister has just called for a countrywide price on CO2. Across the world, “climate-safe energy solutions” such as wind turbines still receive billions in subsidies. This has led to soaring energy costs in many jurisdictions, where dangerous brownouts and blackouts await if such programs aren’t canceled quickly and replaced by lower-cost and more effective solutions to the need for more power.
As we enter into the second period of the climate game, no one should be under the illusion that victory will be quick. Although they are still behind, climate realists finally have earned some respect. But we can be sure alarmists are strategizing to bring the contest back under their control. Now the game is going to get really interesting.
Tom Harris is the executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC). Bryan Leyland is ICSC’s founding secretary and energy issues adviser.