On top secrets and climate change
The Washington Post has done a great job with its series showing that in the wake of 9/11, hundreds of private companies and nearly 854,000 people have gone to work in classified areas. Are they doing a great job? Maybe. There hasn’t been another 9/11. Are they trampling civil liberties? Maybe.
From years of observing Washington, my worry is that the new security bureaucracies are just like other bureaucracies — featherbedded with five people for each one who’s needed, groaning under the weight of senior managers who do little but fight over the signing of memos, dedicating 75 percent of daily time and effort to the staff’s own comforts and sinecure.
But we’re not allowed to question them because everything they do is secret! Set aside that federal agencies long have stamped TOP SECRET on newspaper articles or commercial airline itineraries. Federal personnel love the word “secret,” and all its variations, because it makes them seem more important.
In the post 9/11 reality, calling offices and companies TOP SECRET exempts them from scrutiny of need or cost-effectiveness. Where there is no scrutiny, there is overspending, empire building and fraud. How much of the last few years’ run-up in the national debt may trace to waste and featherbedding in the numerous new agencies and contractors hiding behind a claim that they are tracking down terrorists?
It was sad to hear on Monday of the death of climate researcher Stephen Schneider, 65, of Stanford University, whom I knew slightly and debated on two occasions. Schneider was a true believer in the dangers of global warming. He was a warm and broadminded man, open to the opinions of others. He exhibited none of the shrillness that colors the climate-doomsday crowd.
Schneider thought greenhouse gas regulation would not happen until a reasonable middle ground is found between the doomsday left and naysayer right. No such middle ground is in view on any current horizon — this week’s acrimonious collapse of talks in the Senate about a greenhouse gas bill is evidence. Harsh, strident ideology on both sides is a reason the Senate bill failed. If all players in the climate change debate had even half the personal grace and geniality Schneider possessed, progress would be proceeding apace.
A small sidelight of Schneider’s career was that he played himself in the 1993 CBS miniseries Fire Next Time — nothing to do with the great James Baldwin book. The show depicted a United States reduced to ruins by global warming. Plus, survivors were in constant danger of exposure to bad dialogue! Set in the year 2017, the miniseries was classic Hollywood galimatias, showing a post-apocalyptic landscape unlike anything projected even by worst-case analysis. In the miniseries, Schneider appears as an aging scientist, lamenting that nothing was done while there was time. I wish he had been given the chance to live until 2017 and see that the world will be mostly fine.
Though scientific evidence of climate change continues to accumulate, polls show public belief in global warming is softening. A minor reason is the Climate-gate nonsense — the posting, on the Web, of hacked emails showing that prominent scientists on the global warming left were using data gimmicks while trying to shout down skeptics. Perhaps, but whoever did the hacking was violating the confidentiality of the correspondence of others, and we ought to be suspicious of the motives of unethical people.
Why hasn’t there been a backlash against the Climate-gate hacker — would we applaud someone who stole letters from a neighbor’s mailbox? The University of East Anglia, the place that was hacked, also looks bad, since its much-publicized “vindication” of the researchers involved was conducted by a committee paid for by the school. Of course the hired hands “vindicated” the organization that signed their paychecks! But enough already of Climate-gate.
More important to rising disbelief in climate change is that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations agency that produces global warming studies, allowed itself to be hijacked by Al Gore and a few other phonies. When the IPCC shared the Nobel Prize stage with Gore, it consented to being equated in the public mind with Gore’s relentless self-promotion. A decade ago, the IPCC was apolitical. Now it’s a marketing organization, selling the climate-doomsday brand. A new authority on climate change is needed to supplant the IPCC.
Also diluting belief in climate change is high-and-mighty behavior of some – surely not all — in the science community. Recently the environmental radio show Earthbeat ran a segment in which Susan Hassol, who’s in the instant-doomsday camp, claimed that scientists researching global warming are subject to “McCarthyism.” McCarthyism? Most climate scientists enjoy academic tenure, while being darlings of the P.C. cocktail-party circuit.
Last year the federal government awarded $7 billion in climate change research grants, making life cushy for climate scientists. I don’t recall Joe McCarthy giving billions of dollars to State Department China hands! One climate pessimist, Michael Mann of Penn State, has indeed received unfair treatment from the far right, but then again Mann is a holier-than-thou type who is quick to denounce those who disagree with him, and one reaps what one sows.
Crying McCarthyism merely because scientists who make political claims receive political criticism — what else would you expect? — is self-righteous. This is the sort of behavior Stephen Schneider would have nothing to do with, and yet another reason his loss is felt.