February 19, 2010
"catastrophic free fall"
By STEVEN F. HAYWARD
The climate-change campaign is in catastrophic free fall.
Nearly every day brings a new embarrassment or retraction for the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the supposed gold standard for "consensus" science. The withdrawal this week of BP, ConocoPhillips and Caterpillar from the main US business lobby for greenhouse-gas controls is the latest political blow to the campaign.
The anti-warming lobby long demonized skeptics as the moral equivalent of Holocaust deniers while warning of climate "tipping points." Now, the "Climategate" scandal that broke in November is looking like a true tipping point: The leaked e-mails have done to the climate-change debate what the Pentagon Papers did for the Vietnam War debate 40 years ago -- changed the narrative decisively.
For years, skeptics have been pointing out serious defects or gross exaggerations in the climate narrative -- glaciers that weren't actually melting; weak or incomplete data in the records of surface temperature that supposedly proved unprecedented warming; a complete lack of backup for claims that storms and drought are growing more severe. Plus, global temperatures have been flat for the last decade -- increasingly falsifying the computer models that project our doom.
The media long ignored every criticism, and generally joined the climate campaigners in denouncing skeptics for their turpitude. Now it's playing catch-up.
The latest bombshell is an admission from Phil Jones, the East Anglia University scientist at the center of the "Climategate" scandal: He says his raw data (a vital resource for those claiming climate change) is in such disarray that it probably can't be replicated or verified.
He also admits that the medieval warm period may have been as warm as today -- devasting the claim that today's temperatures are the clear result of modern industry. More, he agrees that there's been no statistically significant warming for the last 15 years.
Jones hedged a bit on all these points, but it is telling that he broke ranks from the climate campaigners, who increasingly resemble a two-year-old having a tantrum as they stoutly deny the medieval warm period and that global temperatures have flattened out.
But the climate campaign's most ludicrous contortion is its response to the recent record snowfalls across the eastern United States. Ordinary citizens, repeatedly shoveling snow from their sidewalk, see global warming as a farce.
In answer, the climate campaigners note that "weather is not climate" and that localized weather events are consistent with climate "change." They may be right -- yet these are the same folks who jumped up and down claiming that Hurricane Katrina was positive proof that catastrophic global warming had arrived, even though the strong 2005 hurricane season was followed by four quiet years for tropical storms that made a hash of that narrative.
The ruckus exposes the greatest problem of Al Gore & Co.: They've pointed to any weather anomaly -- cold winters, warm winters, in-between winters -- as proof of climate change. That is, they can't name one weather pattern or event that would be inconsistent with their theory.
The citizenry seems to prefer common sense -- opinion surveys show declining public belief in global warming.
That outcome was predictable. Nearly 40 years ago, the distinguished political scientist Anthony Downs outlined the "issue-attention cycle," a five-stage process.
The public, activists and (especially) the media first discover an issue, then grow euphorically alarmed over it and agitate for action, generating piles of scary headlines.
Then comes the crucial third step -- where the public comes to recognize that the problem has been exaggerated or misconceived, and notice the price tag for sweeping action. This happened last year with the US debate over the "cap and trade" anti-warming bill, followed by the collapse of the Copenhagen process.
That set the stage for Downs' fourth step: declining public interest and media attention -- which yields the last stage, the post-problem.
The climate-change circus isn't yet ready to join such past enthusiasms as the "population bomb" or the Club of Rome's "Limits to Growth" nonsense: It has too much political and institutional momentum behind it, and there is no other ready outlet for the nearly endless supply of environmental zealotry.
But the whole climate campaign now resembles a Broadway musical that has run too long, with sagging box office and declining enthusiasm from a dwindling audience. Someone needs to break the bad news to the players that it's closing time for the climate horror show.
Steven F. Hayward is the F.K. Weyer haeuser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of the forthcoming "Almanac of Environmental Trends."