This past month, I received an email from a European friend (who has a doctorate in chemistry) saying: “Dear Richard: Now you are a member of this illustrious club! I am beginning to be afraid! What is going on?” It seems my name had been put on a “Global Warming Disinformation Database.” This past Saturday, The Wall Street Journal in its lead editorial on the “climate police” noted that the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands has demanded that the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) “cough up a decade of emails and policy work, as well as a list of private donors” (as if the First Amendment did not exist), because the institute has had the audacity to question.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has invited more than a dozen state attorneys general to join him in investigating fossil fuel companies and their donations, because they raised questions about some of the “science” used by the global warming lobby. Al Gore joined him at the press conference. This is the same Al Gore who told us back in January 2006 that unless we took “drastic measures” to reduce greenhouse gases, in only 10 years the earth would reach “a point of no return.” Mr. Gore also told us the Arctic Ocean would be largely free of sea ice by 2010 — but the sea ice is still there.
What is going on is nothing more than modern-day Lysenkoism, named after Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko, who had rejected Mendelian inheritance and the evolutionary theory of natural selection, and believed that acquired characteristics of a plant (like grafting of fruit trees) would be inherited by later generations. Lysenko was unable to win his arguments by the empirical evidence or sound theory but, since Stalin liked his ideas, it was made illegal to have any other opinion. Finally, after changes in Soviet leadership, physicist Andrei Sakharov spoke out against Lysenko in the General Assembly of the Academy of Sciences in 1964: “He is responsible for the shameful backwardness of Soviet biology and of genetics in particular, for the dissemination of pseudo-scientific views, for adventurism, for the degradation of learning, and for the defamation, firings, arrests, even deaths of many genuine scientists.”
Lysenkoism is now used in a metaphorical way “to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives.” The problem for those who have been predicting climate catastrophe for the past 25 years is that their predictions have been very far from actual experience, and they are losing credibility with the public (if not the fawning media and political class). Many remember “Climategate” with the false reporting of temperature data, and other scandals. Not one of the major climate models predicted the 15-year hiatus in global warming. All of the predictions overstated what temperature changes have actually occurred, indicating that the models are not properly specified. Rarely will any predictive model get the future precisely correct (whether it is an economic or climate model), but when the outcomes continue to err by significant amounts in only one direction, it becomes apparent that the model is mis-specified or subject to bias.
My heresy and that of the researchers at CEI and many other institutions that have been critical of the so-called global warming consensus is not that we do not believe climate change is occurring — it always has and always will — but that the science of climate change is still too primitive to make definitive predictions about causes and effects. Yes, pumping carbon dioxide into a greenhouse in the sunlight will cause it to warm, but the earth is far more complex than a greenhouse. Remember how the global warming crowd told us we were going to have more tornadoes and Atlantic hurricanes? We have actually had fewer tornadoes and a record low level of Atlantic hurricanes over the last decade.
I have been asking a basic question for some time: What is the optimum level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? No one talks about it because no one knows. We do know the rising level of carbon dioxide has caused plants to grow faster (the earth is getting greener) causing real (inflation-adjusted) food prices to fall, which has been a great benefit to the world’s poor. If we cannot define our target level for carbon dioxide, why are we spending trillions of dollars to reduce it, when even those in the administration admit that all of the measures they are proposing will cause a fraction of 1 degree temperature reduction in a century?
The reason the climate Lysenkoists are so vitriolic in their denunciation of those of us who question is that most of them depend in one way or another on government grants or employment that would disappear if it was determined there was no crisis at hand. The political classes thrive on never-ending crises, because those give them reasons to spend, tax and regulate more. Better to try to shut us up, even if it requires imposing fines and jail time, rather than cut off the climate-crisis gravy train.
• Richard W. Rahn is a member of the board of the American Council for Capital Formation and chairman of Improbable Success Productions.