Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Global Warming Skeptic Departs from His Script

In today's Wall Street Journal, Holman Jenkins has some fun with global warming. But in doing so, he only half-heartedly recites the standard script of the global warming sceptic-- that his scepticism is motivated by a disintersted look at the science. As he departs from this script, he reveals another side of the global warming sceptic-- someone who thinks that science is just a game used to justify preconceptions and pursue self-interest.

A global warming sceptic such as the President, Jenkins asserts, is like a child who assertively questions the existence of Santa Claus. But instead of praising the child's "reason and practicality," the "grown-ups in the room mutter about his poor social skills." Ha! Get it? Bush is like a child who doubts the existence of Santa Claus! The "grown-ups in the room" seem to be the other leaders of the G-8 countries, who apparently go along with the fiction of global warming just because it would be socially awkward not to.

This appears to be a new argument against global warming; Citizen Cain has not before encountered the idea that mature person don't really believes in global warming, but just go along with the idea so as not to spoil the mood. But that's just what Jenkins argues, with respect to business leaders who have embraced the need to address global warming, such as John Browne of British Petroleum. If you "listen between the lines" of the statements of these businessmen (with the exception of Shell's chairman, Lord Oxburgh), they're going along with the consensus not because they accept "the inevitability of carbon-driven global warming." Rather, these tycoons "see a cornucopia of tax breaks flowing from emerging Western consensus to treat carbon as a problem."

Maybe so. But the natural function of a businessman is, after all, to seek opportunities for profit, not to opine on climate science. Shouldn't we turn to scientists rather than businessmen for the grown-up opinion on the existence or non-existence of global warming? Jenkins recites the usual sceptical words about how the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and climate is a "conundrum" and a "puzzle," and how predictions of disaster are based on a "dismayingly large speculative element." But when Jenkins gets around to citing an actual scientist, he starts to get very interesting and, perhaps unintentially revealing.

Jenkins cites only one climate scientist in support of his view-- the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels. But strangely, Jenkins doesn't call him a climate scientist, but rather an "opponent of mandatory carbon restraints." Michaels, says Jenkins, "readily concede(s) the claim that CO2 is raising the earth's temperature." Say what? The grown up in the room seems to believe in Santa Claus! What's going on here? Jenkins explains that Michaels makes this concession "because all the evidence points to the effect being small and innocuous."

So let's be clear. Jenkins is saying that Michaels concedes the reality of global warming only because he also has evidence that the effect with be "small and innocuous." Not because the evidence says that global warming is real, but because he can concede the point and still get away with being an "opponent of mandatory carbon restrictions." Competing theories which argue that even small changes in average temperature could have very serious consequences are similarly not motivated by scientific work, but rather have been "forced" by the desire to maintain "dire climate scenarios."

Surely Michaels would not agree with Jenkins' description of his scientific process. When Michaels has been assailed because his research is funded by energy interests, he has defended himself as a disinterested scientist who justs needs to get his funding where he can find it, and who conducts his work without regard to what his funders want. And I'm not saying he isn't. But the idea of disinterested science sure doesn't seem to exist in Jenkins' world.

A final word about Michaels. While Jenkins portrays a situation where the weakness of global warming theories has been revealed, Michaels could be used as an example of how the reality of global warming has been confirmed. Michaels is a leading propent of the view that global warming isn't a dire problem. But even he has opined that "It's easy to establish that the warming that began around 1970 is indeed largely from human influence." He further argues that if the warming proceeds at a constant rate, the average global temperature will rise about 1.2°F over the next half-century, which is at the lowest end of the range predicted by most climatological models. Michaels believes that warming will proceed at a constant rate, but other scientists, disagree. Other scientists also argue that even a small average rise in temperature could be accompanied by more drastic changes in climate on a local level.