New Jersey columnist Paul Mulshine had a nice article in the NJ Star-Ledger chastising the New York Times for its “example of outrageous media distortion.” It concerns the Times’s coverage of the 2015 United Nations climate change conference. The title of Mulshine’s article is The only climate question that counts: What will the consensus be in 20 years?.
Mulshine compares today’s anthropogenic global warming “consensus” to prior failed scientific consensuses, notably the early 1980s “consensus in the reporting on the connection between cholesterol and heart disease that was discredited as more data came in.” Then, as now, there was a minority of dissenters (deniers?). Well, those deniers turned out to be right: The “consensus” collapsed.
Of course, today’s global warming consensus has been distorted by politicians and policy makers to support their draconian climate change policies. But as Mulshine points out,
The consensus in question applies only to the idea that CO-2 may have some role in trapping heat in the atmosphere. There is no consensus whatsoever on how much heat will be trapped or whether it will be enough to cause climate disruption.
Mulshine then cites physicist Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, who “argues that far from harming the planet, atmospheric CO-2 may have a positive effect by increasing plant growth.”
Mulshine is a knowledgeable long-time critic of the climate catastrophist establishment. Not surprisingly, his column drew in an avid advocate for the catastrophists. Below are my thoughts on a few select passages from the correspondent screen-named k_dorf, who left extensive commentary.
[On the much-touted 97% “consensus”]
But if 97% of doctors were telling me I had cancer, I'd probably get treatment, just in case.
The 97% figure, as used by the climate catastrophists, is a fraud. Climate catastrophists trot out the “97% of scientists agree” claim in the same nature as religionists trot out “God said”; as a witch doctor-like claim to final, absolute,and unchallengeable knowledge. The purpose of the claim is, like “the science is settled” claim, is to shut down dissent and debate and close minds on the alarmists’ anti-fossil fuel agenda. The 97% figure is so broad as to be meaningless. Yes, 97% agree that humans’ carbon dioxide emissions are likely a contributing cause of climate change. But as to the question of whether humans are the primary cause of global warming, only 0.5% explicitly agree; 1/194th of the supposed “consensus.” And even that figure is meaningless, since it tells you nothing about whether global warming is good or bad, or how much so, or what, politically, should be done about it, if anything. When I hear some climate catastrophist back up their viewpoints by asserting that “97% of scientists agree,” I see a witch doctor, not a reasonable person.
[On the possibility that the “consensus” could be wrong]
Even if we aren't sure, we still have to do something--we either have to convert to clean energy, or we have to keep burning fossil fuels. Given the likelihood of bad effects from staying with fossil fuels, we should start moving towards clean energy, as a kind of insurance. . .against the serious, and deadly, consequences of climate change.
What insurance do we have against the possibility that the climate alarmists’ quasi-religious faith in “green” energy doesn’t pan out, and we’re left with widespread energy poverty? Solar and wind are highly uneconomical, which is why they need massive subsidies accompanied by burdensome taxes and regulations to hamper fossil fuel competitors. Furthermore, Solar and wind are burdened with two intractable technological problems; diluteness and intermittency. This is why “green” energy needs fossil fuels to back them up. The problems of economic viability, diluteness, and intermittency will dog “green” energy for decades to come, if those problems can ever be solved. Nowhere on Earth is an independent, stand-alone “green” energy generating plant on the drawing boards, let alone operational. What if fossil fuels have been outlawed—the ultimate goal of the climate alarmists—and those problems can not be solved? Lack of energy, not climate change, is the real danger for humans. The second is eminently manageable, as long as we have plentiful energy. The first would be catastrophic beyond anything man has ever encountered, leading to mass poverty, misery, and death.
First, the climate catastrophists told us to fear global warming. Then, when unusually cold weather struck, they broadened the threat to climate change. Now, they must be finding the need to cover their asses further. The very fact that climate alarmists are now starting to peddle the insurance analogy as justification for forging ahead with their anti-industrial, anti-fossil fuel energy poverty schemes—“we may be wrong about catastrophic climate change, but let’s do it anyway”—indicates that they’re getting scared that the facts are starting to catch up to them.
[On another correspondent’s charge that k_dorf is guilty of the “appeal to authority” fallacy by playing the “97% consensus” card]
I'm not appealing to authority. I'm appealing to experts.
This is a difference without a distinction. If you treat experts as infallible authorities, rather than as sources of information and explanation from which you can draw your own conclusions, you are guilty of appealing to authority.
[On Mulshine’s reliance on Freeman Dyson to support his case]
Dyson is an expert in physics. Mulshine is citing his views on climate.
To rely on experts in only one narrow discipline, to the exclusion of all others—e.g., to ignore physicists, energy experts, economists, etc.—is dogmatism. Climate scientists can find correlations. But you need physics to find causality. You need energy experts to help you decide on energy policies. You need economists to offer cost-benefit analysis on things like the carbon tax-and-redistribute scheme. Actions have consequences. You need the big picture, not blinders.
[On the benefits of a government-enforce conversion to “clean energy”]
Even if we're wrong about climate science (which I don't think we are), the move to clean energy can only help us--reduced pollution, energy independence (which I'll address separately) and, when done properly, an economic boost.
Help us? Not if so-called “clean energy” is imposed by government force. Only if left to free market forces; i.e., the cumulative, voluntary, uncoerced choices of consumers and producers. The very fact that the catastrophists and the “clean” energy industry have joined forces to push for government to force us into a conversion is proof that, as primary, dependable energy sources, solar, wind, et al are crap. True improvements don’t need force. To the extent governments allow free markets to function, superior technologies have no problem superseding established ones. Technological advance can not be stopped, if consumers are convinced that the new is better than the old. Scribes couldn’t stop the printing press. John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil couldn’t stop the electric light bulb. Horse and buggy makers couldn't stop the automobile. IBM couldn’t stop the personal computer revolution. Eastman Kodak couldn’t stop the digital photography revolution. If “green” energy really is better and cheaper, it’ll win over fossil fuels. But if government forces uneconomical, unreliable energy on us, that would be a real catastrophe; a human catastrophe, as opposed to the phony climate catastrophe that, like Annie’s “tomorrow,” always seems to be a day—or a year or a decade or a century—away.
First of all, subsidies are regressive. If something costs more in human and capital (monetary) resources than the market value of the end product, that’s regression toward poverty, not progress toward prosperity. Money stands for wealth produced. Wealth represents resources consumed. If it costs more money to produce something than the end product is worth, resources are destroyed, not created. Wealth and thus prosperity have been destroyed, not created. Market-based profits represent value created. Subsidized “profits” represent value destroyed. That’s why subsidized production—including most of today’s alternative energy industry—is destructive. So, there is no “economic boost.” There’s never any economic boost from the broken window fallacy, and subsidized solar and wind are manifestations of that fallacy.
Moreover, the wealth destruction wrought by “green” energy subsidies translates into a net loss of productive jobs. Never mind “green jobs.” “Green jobs” is a red herring. The issue is not jobs. The government could put millions of people to work building giant piles of rocks (pyramids). The issue is remunerative jobs—jobs that actually create value, as opposed to welfare jobs that replace real, value-creating jobs. You need to look not only at what is seen—the “green” jobs—but what is not seen—the jobs destroyed or not brought into existence. What is not seen is the alternative spending and investment not made because of the shift of money from other areas of the economy to the subsidies for economical “clean” energy investments.
Less pollution is not desirable if our lives become worse. It would be better and more humane to keep the benefits of superior fossil fuel energy and work to minimize the pollution side effects, as we’ve been successfully doing for decades. Weighing the positives against the negatives is crucial. More reliable energy with less pollution should be the goal, not less reliable energy for marginally less pollution. Besides, “clean” energy is not all that green.
In regard to energy independence, the fracking revolution has dwarfed every other recent energy technology. Fracking didn’t need force to emerge and gain wide acceptance among drillers or consumers. It required only relatively free markets and protection of private property rights, both of which are strong in America. If energy independence is the goal, free energy markets, not government favors to one energy source at the expense of others, is the way to go. Energy independence, though it sounds good, is, in my view, an unrealistic abstraction. We don’t need to produce every drop of energy within our borders to be energy independent. Leaving aside countries that present national security risks, such as Iran, all we need is a vibrant, domestic and global free trade system, so that energy can be produced and traded without restriction.
[On a carbon tax]
And a properly designed policy, such as a rising fee on fossil-fuels, with 100% of the proceeds then returned to household in a monthly dividend check, would actually boost the economy.
And if you want to help, I recommend: http://citizensclimatelobby.org/.
The alleged “boost to the economy” is another example of the broken window fallacy. But there’s more to it than that. Environmentalists have been likened to watermelons—green on the outside, red on the inside. This is meant to say that environmentalists are necessarily former communists. It’s not true, although statists of every stripe—including communists—have flocked to environmentalism as a path to political power. But the Citizens Climate Lobby’s ridiculous carbon tax-and-redistribute scheme lends credence to the watermelon analogy.
In actuality, Environmentalism is worse than communism. Yes, this is a harsh statement, given communism’s bloody record. But, Environmentalism is anti-humanism. Communists, at least, profess the goal of spreading prosperity around, even though in reality their policies only spread the poverty. Environmentalists hold the natural state as their standard of value. Since humans survive and thrive by altering and improving the natural state to human benefit, human prosperity and well-being is at odds with environmentalists’ standards. Whereas communists superficially value prosperity, environmentalists explicitly oppose it. Long term, Environmentalism, as an ideology, is more of a threat to human life than communism ever was.
Climate and energy must be considered from the humanist perspective, not an environmentalist perspective.
The Environmentalists’ War on People—Ari Armstrong for The Objective Standard
'97% Of Climate Scientists Agree' Is 100% Wrong—Alex Epstein