Friday, December 8, 2017

Politics, Science, and National Unity

Congressman Rush Holt: Lawmakers need to use a scientific approach to formulating views: So heads a New Jersey Star-Ledger guest column by former NJ Congressman Rush Holt, published last December in response to Donald Trump’s election and his subsequent selection to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The first few paragraphs put forth, seemingly, a sound argument. After acknowledging that politics can be contentious, Holt writes:

I recognize, of course, that policymaking does not take place in a laboratory. I am not suggesting that science should be the only factor that lawmakers consider. But when it comes to the factual basis lawmakers use to inform their policy views, and to decide on a process for evaluating whether a particular policy has worked or failed, science should be the tool of first resort.

The stakes for our democracy are high. Many Americans are fearful that our elected leaders have forgotten how to find common ground, or don't want to, and that they continue to make assertions in disregard for each other. A scientific approach to formulating views and evaluating policies will provide politicians what they need to hone their proposals and, perhaps, walk back from some of their previous positions. That's not easy - I know, I've been there - but political arguments must resolve into policy choices at some point. Those choices should be pragmatic and informed by hard evidence and sound reasoning.

Having laid this reasonable-sounding groundwork, Holt’s real motive becomes apparent: It’s really a plug for Leftist policies regarding climate change and energy:

The stakes for our planet are high. We know, based on the work and expertise of the vast majority of climate scientists and virtually every leading scientific organization in the world, that human-caused climate change is real and dangerous. It is folly to ignore this scientific consensus - obstinate and irresponsible in the extreme.

And yet, a climate-change doubter has been put forward as the possible head of the Environmental Protection Agency in the next administration. There is no reason for such an appointment when there are scientists of every political stripe who adhere to the scientific method, have the humility to accept when they are wrong, and would be willing to serve their country if asked by an incoming president. I urge the president-elect and every incoming member of Congress to make use of the country's deep pool of talented scientists to serve as political appointees, staff members and outside experts.

What about scientists that dispute the alleged consensus?  The “hard evidence and sound reasoning,” it turns out, means disregarding reasoned analysis of the hard evidence of those who disagree. We as a nation must unite, says Holt, behind the statist climate agenda of the Left.

I left these comments:

The stakes for our planet are high. We know, based on the work and expertise of the vast majority of climate scientists and virtually every leading scientific organization in the world, that human-caused climate change is real and dangerous. It is folly to ignore this scientific consensus - obstinate and irresponsible in the extreme.

But should science be held up as an infallible authority? Climate change dogmatists routinely use the terms “scientists say” to shut down debate on their political policies and “climate denier” to smear anyone who dissents from their reliable energy-hostile statist “solutions.” Science—all science—should be consulted, not obeyed. We as reasoning individuals should do the evaluating.

What about political science? History and theory have demonstrated that political and economic freedom for individuals leads to steady human progress. Shouldn’t that knowledge and experience be integrated into the energy policy discussion regarding climate change? Voluntary consumer choice in a free market, not government coercion, should determine the energy sources we use.

What about the science of morality? Is it wrong for humans to change the climate, and the environment generally, in pursuit of human benefit? What is our moral standard of value? Is it maximizing human well-being and flourishing? Or is it minimizing human impact on the planet? Climate change dogmatists routinely assume the premise that human-caused climate change is bad per se. But is it? By what standard is it bad? Considering that the progress humans have made since the dawn of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, the overwhelming weight of the evidence is that human-caused climate change, to the extent humans are the cause, is a very manageable and acceptable side-effect—and not necessarily all bad. The standard policymakers choose will determine if the policies they pursue will be constructive or destructive of human well-being.

What about the science of economics, which tells us that reliable, economical energy is vital to industrial civilization. Reliable, economical energy has made the environment much safer and climate dangers much more manageable for humans. Without it, immense human suffering would result. This is important because the more consistent environmentalists insist on eliminating fossil fuels and nuclear power regardless of whether any viable alternative exists (These are the naturalists, whose moral standard of value is minimal human impact). What about the demonstrated benefits of fossil fuels? Shouldn’t they be objectively weighed against the catastrophic negative impact on humans of outlawing them in the name of climate change? Where are the champions of fossil fuels?

Then there is this question: Should science funding be politicized, as it is now because of government funding of scientific research? What good is the “scientific consensus” when most research scientists rely on politicians for funding? Is it really a consensus that “human-caused climate change is real and dangerous?” Dangerous, to what degree? To whom or to what? Or is the much-touted “97% consensus” a fraud; nothing more than a wide diversity of scientific viewpoints mashed into a loose and essentially meaningless “consensus” that climate change is real and humans play a role, which no one disputes. We need the separation of science and state if we are going to have a fair and objective discussion of political policy based on science.

Should “scientific” prediction and speculation be equated with what is scientifically demonstrated? We have been hearing for decades that imminent catastrophe awaits humans because of climate change. Catastrophe, we are constantly told, is what “scientists say.” Yet life keeps getting better and safer for more and more people around the globe as reliable energy from fossil fuel use keeps growing. And no climate catastrophe. Only more and more failed predictions. Climate catastrophe, to quote Annie, is “always a day away.” Climate catastrophe is speculative. Mild, manageable, partly beneficial warming is the reality—as are the enormously greater benefits of fossil fuels. If someone said we should eliminate vaccines and antibiotics because they have some negative side effects, Holt would probably say—rightly—that they are crazy. But that’s where fossil fuel enemies are today.

It is the Left that is "obstinate and extreme." This article is just another plug for statist policies hiding behind science. If science is to be the common value that holds America united, then the climate change Left must stop demonizing and silencing rational dissenters to its political energy policies. The unchallenged premise is that climate change is bad and fossil fuels should be eliminated. This side has been in charge for too long. The climate catastrophists must stop hiding behind science and answer the dissenters openly and honestly. The dissenters are as much, if not more, attuned to science than the catastrophists ever were. It’s about time we had a balanced debate. Our energy security depends on rational pro-energy policies, not anti-climate change dogma. We may now, hopefully, get that from a Trump Administration.

Related Reading:

The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the 21st Century—Ronald Bailey

1 comment:

Mike Kevitt said...

Philosophy as well as science should be considered by lawmakers in making policy. Philosophy along with science should determine what facts to consider to form policy and evaluate success or failure.

The country and our elected leaders are divided on fundamental philosophy. So, common ground can't be found and shouldn't even be sought. Instead, the philosophical issue must be resolved the only way it can be. Science helps as per the philosophy.

But, given the philosophical divisions, science merely solidifies and extends divisions. Political arguments and policy choices resolve into philosophies. One philosophy must be made operative, the term setter, to the exclusion of all others. That philosophy must be informed by hard evidence and sound reasoning. Otherwise, there's only boundless division.

Pragmatism has no place in any rational philosophy or science, only maybe in other philosophies and sciences, which are all irrational.

The basic philosophical division is between reason and non-reason. The philosophy shouldering aside all others must be a philosophy of reason. That's the only human, pro-life resolution of divisions.

In human life and human relations, this philosophy must be unalienable individual rights, thus yielding laissez-faire capitalism and politics. All this derives from the fundamentals of egoism, reason and reality. All this, in turn, is geared to human life and its improvement, starting with the individual.

The foregoing, human life, is what's at stake for the individual and for mankind.

If there is real and dangerous climate change to humans, whether natural or human caused, or both, as determined by rational science, then, of course, something needs to be done about it. As per individual rights, law and government does NOT take the lead. Government already took the lead proper for government to take, in 1789, and must stick solely with that. It only keeps performing its proper function, as always, applying it to all human relations as they come and go, including the actions of private interests which, thru the market, take the lead on climate change.

A rational public energy policy (neither pro nor con) is nothing more than law and government simply performing its proper functions. The science involved is that of criminology, policing (law enforcement) national defense and politics. Climate science informs private interests, not law and government.